Harvard red meat study highlights cancer risk

By Mike Stones

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Related tags: Red meat, Meat

Eating a diet high in red meat shortens life expectancy, warn researchers at Harvard Medical School
Eating a diet high in red meat shortens life expectancy, warn researchers at Harvard Medical School
Diets high in red meat reduce life expectancy through an increased risk of cancer and cardio vascular disease, according to the results of a new study from Harvard Medical School.

The research, which draws on 28 years of research, involved more than 120,000 people throughout the United States.

The scientists found that adding an extra portion of unprocessed red meat to a person's daily diet increased the risk of death by 13%. An extra portion was the equivalent to two rashers of bacon or one hot dog.

It increased the risk of fatal cardiovascular disease by 18% and of cancer mortality by 10%.

Heart problems

Adding an extra portion of processed meat shortened life expectancy even further. The risk of death rose by 20%, the risk of death from heart problems by 21% and from cancer by 16%.

But replacing red meat with fish, chicken or nuts reduced the risks. The researchers noted: “We estimated that substitutions of one serving per day of other foods (including fish, poultry, nuts, and legumes, low-fat dairy and whole grains), for one serving per day of red meat were associated with a 7% to 19% lower mortality risk.

“We also estimated that 9.3% of deaths in men and 7.6% in women in these cohorts could be prevented … if all the individuals consumed fewer than 0.5 servings per day (approximately 42g/day) of red meat.”

But the results were disputed by Dr Carrie Ruxton of the British Meat Advisory Panel. Dr Ruxton told The Guardian​ newspaper: “The study was observational, not controlled, and so cannot be used to determine cause and effect.”

British Heart Foundation

The British Heart Foundation said that red meat could be eaten safely as part of a balanced diet.

The study Red Meat Consumption and Mortality​ was published online by the journal Archives of Internal Medicine​. To read the report summary click here​.

Meanwhile, in January, FoodManufacture.co.uk reported the results of a Swedish study which claimed eating processed meat, including bacon and sausages, was linked to a 10% increase in the risk of pancreatic cancer.

To read our report, click here​.

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3 comments

Correlations

Posted by Jim L.,

Basically this correlates red meat consumption in an uncontrolled study based on self-reporting. As one scientist said of another study: 'We hope they all lie consistently.'

The authors state the high red meat eaters were more obese, less fit, and smoked more, but controlled for that in the analysis.

Stating that changing meat consumption would change mortality is an opinion, not a fact.

The study apparently did not control the rest of the diet. Did high meat eaters eat more or less vegetables, more or less processed carbs, etc? Nor do we know the red meat source. Was it grain or grass fed? What about the cooking methods - was it fried on a hot or low heat?

So, it is hard to assign any utility to this "study."

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Naturally Fed Red Meat

Posted by Tom Beeston,

It would be interesting to hear people's thoughts on effects of differing rearing methods. Is naturally-fed grass beef different from intensively produced grain beef? Or is pork from outdoor pigs different from intensively farmed?

I cannot help but consider animals eating feeds that they have not evolved to be eat could be less healthy. Could that in itself could be a major factor?

Is their any independent evidence to support or disprove this as a theory?

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Meat and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Posted by Dr. Karl A. Bettelheim,

I would like to draw readers to a publication of ours linking meat consumption with SIDS:

Pearce, J.L., Luke, R.K.J. & Bettelheim, K.A. (2004) Infection and food: a factor in sudden infant death syndrome? FEMS Immunology and Medical Microbiology 42:66-75.

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