As is the case with anything, moderation is key. Excessive consumption or use of one thing is bound to be problematic. This is especially true for those who eat red meat consistently. A variety of academic studies have highlighted that red meat consumption can act as a driving factor behind many health problems. This post addresses what some of these health issues are, paying particular attention to the increased risk of heart disease and cancer that red meat can cause.
Health experts have spent a long time debating the long term and short-term risks associated with red meat consumption. Whilst some studies have yielded mildly positive results, for the most part, studies have evidenced mainly negative connotations. Recent studies taken by Harvard Medical School and the British Medical Journal have correlated high intakes of red meat with increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular diseases.
One study done by the Harvard Medical School spanned 25-years and looked to prove the long-term effects of increased red meat consumption. 90,000 men and women who were deemed perfectly healthy were studied and told to fill out food frequency forms every few months. Over this time, about 25,000 people died, 6,000 from cardiovascular issues and 9,500 from cancer. Now people die all the time, but those who were seen to have more red meat in their diets tended to have a higher mortality rate.
One serving per day of red meat equated to a 13% greater risk of dying from cancer or cardiovascular disease. With two servings a day bumping that figure up to 20%. While this is only one study, it offers an extensive collection of participants. It provides us with sufficient long-term data that suggests red meat does not positively impact one’s health.
Heart Disease and Meat
The increased risk of heart disease born from red meat is a result of its high levels of saturated fat. With red meat having the highest levels of saturated fat vs other protein sources, it is said to raise cholesterol levels by a much larger margin. This higher level of cholesterol leads to clogging of arteries and, as a result, presents a host of heart-related health issues. One such condition is an increased risk of heart disease.
Animals are my friends…and I don’t eat my friends.
George Bernard Shaw
However, it is not only the high density of fat in red meat that can lead to heart disease, and there are other factors too. Recent studies done by the European Heart Journal have correlated regular red meat consumption with an increase in a gut bacteria named Trimethylamine N-Oxide, or TMAO.
This bacteria is said to increase the risk of heart disease. The same study showed that those who ate just one serving of red meat per day had 3 times the levels of TMAO in their gut, which gives us a strong correlation between red meat consumption and an increased risk of heart disease.
Red Meat and Cancer
Red meat is classed by the World Health Organisation as a carcinogen, meaning that it is actively seen as a cause for cancer. WHO came to this decision based on the various scientific and academic studies that suggest increasing red meat intake can increase certain cancer formations.
Health experts have concluded that increased intake of red meat can increase your chances of developing colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, and stomach cancer, especially if most of that meat is processed.
The International Journal of Cancer tracked 40,000 women over 7-years and concluded that there was an increased risk of breast cancer in those who ate red meat vs those who did not. Furthermore, the British Medical Journal conducted a study from 2010-2018 on 80,000 American men and women that evidenced higher mortality rates among those that ate red meat, with even half a serving increasing the risk of illness by 10%.
While red meat can never be entirely blamed as “the” cause of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or other dangerous conditions in humans, interestingly, such a variety of scientific studies have correlated red meat consumption and health risk.
While diseases and other illnesses can depend on a host of factors outside of your control, your intake of red meat is something that you can control and decreasing or eliminating that intake, as science had concluded, may well increase your lifespan.
Although red meat is high in protein, iron, and vitamin B12, there are alternatives like beans, chickpeas, lentils, and nuts that offer many of the same nutrients and are far lower in processed fats. Consider trying some of those alternatives instead, and your body might thank you for it.