A new study conducted by Massachusetts’ Tufts University and the Cleveland Clinic has looked at the correlation between red meat and heart disease.
The observational research project was published in the peer-reviewed journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology. It found that a serving of red meat can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease by 22 percent.
A similar study last year linked red and processed meat consumption with an increased risk of 18 percent.
The study observed 3,931 men and women, who had no history of cardiovascular disease at the start of the project. They were followed for an average of 12.5 years, during which time they submitted regular blood samples. They also answered questions about their diets.
Fish, poultry, and eggs were not found to be “significantly” connected to heart disease, but red meat was conclusively linked.
Collected data has been scrutinized to try and unpack the correlation, with numerous suggestions made. One of the most viable explanations appears to be the way meat affects the gut microbiome.
When digested by gut bacteria, red and processed meats produce metabolites in the blood. These have been shown to contribute to cardiovascular disease and stroke risk.
“The interplay between diet, the gut microbiota, and microbial-generated metabolites increasingly appear to be a novel pathway linking [animal-source foods], especially red meat, to cardiovascular health,” researchers from Tufts University study said.
Connecting heart disease to red meat intake
Researchers also note that the study is limited: dietary habits were self-reported and observational methodologies cannot prove cause-and-effect events.
However, the research does provide a basis for clinical studies. These should investigate the relationship between red meat consumption and coronary health.
In addition to metabolites, high blood sugar and saturated fat, plus increased inflammation, all associated with eating red meat, are being considered as potential root causes of increased heart disease risk.
The markers represent a shift away from previous thinking that blood pressure and cholesterol are the biggest issues associated with meat consumption.
“Most of the focus on red meat intake and health has been around dietary saturated fat and blood cholesterol levels,” said co-lead author of the study Meng Wang, Ph.D.
“Based on our findings, novel interventions may be helpful to target the interactions between red meat and the gut microbiome to help us find ways to reduce cardiovascular risk.”
Could plant-based foods reduce heart disease risk?
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US. It kills one person every 34 seconds and costs the country at least $229 billion per year. According to the CDC, it was responsible for one in five deaths in 2020.
Last year, two new studies revealed that plant-based whole foods diets may reduce the risk of heart disease. A key takeaway was that “it’s never too late or too early to start a plant-based diet.”
Plant-based omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to be as effective at reducing heart disease risk as seafood-derived alternatives.
Alpha-linolenic acid, found in foods such as flax seeds and nuts, was found to be especially effective when introduced into an already healthy and whole foods-rich diet.
Personal and planetary health
In addition to personal well-being benefits, moving away from meat consumption is widely recommended for the health of the environment.
Animal agriculture is a significant driver of the climate emergency. It creates at least 14.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and contributes to around 91 percent of Amazon deforestation.