March 12th, 2012

Bad News for Red Meat Lovers

New results from studies following more than 120,000 health care professionals link red meat consumption to higher mortality, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. In a paper published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, An Pan and colleagues report findings from up to 22 years of observation among 37,698 men enrolled in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study and up to 28 years of observation among 83,644 women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study.

Here are the hazard ratios, after multivariable adjustment, for a 1-serving-per-day increase in unprocessed and processed red meat, respectvely:

  • Total mortality: 1.13 (CI 1.07-1.20) and 1.20 (CI 1.15-1.24)
  • CVD mortality: 1.18 (CI 1.13-1.23) and 1.21 (CI 1.13-1.31)
  • Cancer mortality: 1.10 (CI 1.06-1.14) and 1.16 (CI 1.09-1.23)

The authors calculated that replacing one serving per day of red meat with other foods like fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy, and whole grains would result in a 7% to 19% reduction in mortality over the follow-up period.

In an invited commentary, Dean Ornish writes that cutting out red meat is not only good for the health of the individual, but also good for the health of the planet. He recommends substituting red meat with plant-based foods “rich in phytochemicals, bioflavonoids, and other substances that are protective.” By contrast, Ornish cites studies in mice finding that high-fat, high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets “may accelerate atherosclerosis through mechanisms that are unrelated to the classic cardiovascular risk factors.”

Animal agribusiness, according to Ornish, “generates more greenhouse gases than all forms of transportation combined.” He concludes:

At a time when 20% of people in the US go to bed hungry each night and almost 50% of the world’s population is malnourished, choosing to eat more plant-based foods and less red meat is better for all of us—ourselves, our loved ones, and our planet.

In short, don’t have a cow!

3 Responses to “Bad News for Red Meat Lovers”

  1. Leon Hyman, Ms M.D. says:

    What then would Ruth Chris and her steaks that are slobbered with butter do?

  2. Richard Seedman, DVM says:

    Red Meat-increased risks/my comments


    My Comment

    “Red Meat” is a category shared by disparate constituents.

    Grass fed [high omega-3 FA’s, lower in omega-6 than corn fed], organic [no GMO feeds, hormones, antibiotics, insecticides, parasiticides], pasture rather than feedlot with their high bacterial loads >>antibodies, and immune reactions [cytokines, immune cells], would assist our understanding as either the experimental or control group. And there’s less “marbling” with grass fed than with corn…another variable.

    Is increased morbidity/mortality due to the iron content? Should be easy to find out [serum ferritin, TIBC etc]. e.g. rats: feed red meat vs iron and chicken/tofu/beans. Do pre-menopausal women share the increased hazard of eating red meat? After all, post-menopausal women join men in mortality hazard.

    Does C-V risk vary with genetic/metabolic types? With co-morbidities?

    Does resveratrol undo the hazard [the French Paradox]? Would phytates, or other iron chelators, protect?

    What else do people who eat red meat once every day also eat? Eggs?[ only 2.5 per week raise aggressive prostate cancer risk 81%: LEF Magazine Feb ’12] Salt?

    C’mon guys…let’s get objective! Or maybe even just truly scientific…

    RJ Seedman, DVM

  3. Tina Dobsevage, MD says:

    Probably 95% of what happens to us is related to our genetic make up. The other 5% we influence with diet and exercise. I agree that not all red meat is equal. Also does eating red meat once a month as in a Mediterranean diet really increase risk if our daily lives are ego syntonic and naturally physically active? What if we eat fish twice a week? And is portion size an issue?
    For one dinner with French friends near Paris several years ago, three of us shared a turkey drumstick. The meal was “fleshed” out with salad, vegetables, bread, a small amount of cheese and fruit. Part of the French Paradox is the red wine that accompanies most evening meals and the variety of animal protein consumed.