Eating red meat is associated with poor heart health; Research

By Shilpa Annie Joseph, Desk Reporter
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Do you like to eat meat? If so, here’s an important update for you. A recent observational study has found that eating more red and processed meat is linked to poorer heart health.

The findings were presented at the European Society of Cardiology’s (ESC) Preventive Cardiology 2021, an online scientific congress (ESC).

Dr. Zahra Raisi-Estabragh of Queen Mary University of London and author of the study said, “Previous studies have shown links between greater red meat consumption and increased risk of heart attacks or death from heart disease. For the first time, we examined the relationships between meat consumption and imaging measures of heart health. This may help us to understand the mechanisms underlying the previously observed connections with cardiovascular disease.”

The study included 19,408 participants of the UK Biobank. The researchers examined associations of self-reported intake of red and processed meat with heart anatomy and function.

How was the study conducted?

“Three types of heart measures were analyzed. First, cardiovascular magnetic resonance (CMR) assessments of heart function used in clinical practice such as volume of the ventricles and measures of the pumping function of the ventricles. Second, novel CMR radiomics used in research to extract detailed information from heart images such as shape and texture (which indicates the health of the heart muscle). Third, the elasticity of the blood vessels (stretchy arteries are healthier),” as per the researchers.

The research was adjusted for other factors that might influence the relationship including age, sex, deprivation, education, smoking, alcohol, exercise, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and body mass index (BMI) as a measure of obesity.

Major Findings

The researchers have discovered that eating more red and processed meat was linked to worse imaging measures of heart health across the board. Individuals who ate more meat had smaller ventricles, reduced heart function, and stiffer arteries, both of which are signs of poor cardiovascular health.

The researchers also looked at the association between heart imaging interventions and the consumption of oily fish, which has been related to improved heart health in the past. Furthermore, they have discovered that increasing the amount of oily fish consumed enhanced heart function and made arteries stretchier.

Dr. Zahra Raisi-Estabragh
Dr. Zahra Raisi-Estabragh
Author of study

“The findings support prior observations linking red and processed meat consumption with heart disease and provide unique insights into links with heart and vascular structure and function. It has been suggested that these factors could be the reason for the observed relationship between meat and heart disease. For example, it is possible that greater red meat intake leads to raised blood cholesterol and this, in turn, causes heart disease. Our study suggests that these four factors do play a role in the links between meat intake and heart health, but they are not the full story. This was an observational study and causation cannot be assumed. But in general, it seems sensible to limit intake of red and processed meat for heart health reasons.”

High blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity only partly clarified the associations between imaging tests of heart health and meat consumption. Furthermore, she noted that the study did not look into alternative mechanisms.

“There is some evidence that red meat alters the gut microbiome, leading to higher levels of certain metabolites in the blood, which have in turn been linked to greater risk of heart disease,” concluded Dr. Raisi-Estabragh.

Related: This is what 2 servings of fish per week can do to your heart

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