- High consumption of red meat may lead to a 58% higher risk of developing diverticulitis, a colonic inflammatory disorder, in men.
- Although a direct cause and effect relationship is not confirmed, limiting red meat intake could be beneficial due to established links to heart disease and certain cancers.
- Diverticulitis is a common condition amongst older Americans, with estimated hospitalizations close to 200,000 every year.
- Swapping one daily serving of red meat for fish or poultry could potentially reduce the risk of developing diverticulitis by 20% on average.
- A diet centered around plant-based meals, limiting red meat consumption, is advocated for maintaining good health.
Recent studies suggest a possible link between high consumption of red meat and an elevated risk of a colonic inflammatory disorder known as diverticulitis in men.
Diverticulitis, characterized by severe abdominal pain, nausea, and constipation, can result in complicated conditions such as colonic perforations or obstructions.
According to the study, men who consumed red meat in large quantities were 58% more prone to developing diverticulitis in comparison with those who ate sparingly.
Naturally, these findings do not confirm a cause-and-effect relationship, as explained by senior researcher Dr. Andrew Chan, a gastroenterologist at a Boston Hospital.
Regardless, there are existing reasons to consider moderating red meat consumption, given the established links to heightened risks of heart disease and some types of cancers. “This research reinforces the thought of limiting the red meat in your meals”, said Dr. Chan.
Detail On Diverticulitis
With age, it’s not uncommon for tiny sac-like pouches to develop in the lining of the colon; a condition seen in more than half of Americans aged 60 and above, based on the U.S. National Institutes of Health data. However, around 5% of these individuals might develop diverticulitis where the pouches get inflamed or infected. It’s estimated that nearly 200,000 Americans get hospitalized for diverticulitis every year.
The research published in the journal Gut, involved a comprehensive long-term study on over 46,000 male medical professionals. Over 26 years, 764 men developed diverticulitis. The risk was exceedingly high amongst men high on red meat intake, that is, they were 58% more likely to be diagnosed with diverticulitis as opposed to those on a lower intake.
Obviously, multiple differences could exist between men who are high on meat consumption and those who are not. Hence, such factors as older age, smoking, obesity, low exercise, and inadequate fiber intake—all associated with higher diverticulitis risk, were accounted for. Still, red meat showed a connection to a higher risk, particularly unprocessed meat like steaks and burgers.
Exploring Alternatives to Red Meat
Lona Sandon, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas, suggests the need for more variety in protein choices. She says, “It’s good to switch red meat with fish, poultry, or plant-based proteins like tofu, beans, and legumes.”
No association was noticed between poultry or fish and the risk of diverticulitis in this study. Using these figures, researchers estimated that swapping one daily serving of red meat for poultry or fish could reduce the risk of diverticulitis by 20% on average. “There might be a benefit from substituting red meat with fish or poultry,” suggested Dr. Chan.
The reason why red meat might contribute to diverticulitis isn’t clear. However, Dr. Chan pointed out that the food people eat can influence the gut’s microbiome—the huge collection of bacteria residing in the digestive tract. Indirect evidence suggests that a high intake of red meat can contribute to constant low-level inflammation in the body. This, in turn, might escalate the risk of diverticulitis.
Due to the male-centric focus of the study, Dr. Chan believes that future research should investigate if the same patterns apply to women. Meanwhile, he suggested that women, like men, should aim for a healthy diet, limiting red meat consumption.
Sandon agrees, “The Dietary Guidelines for Americans advocate a majority plant-based diet for promoting good health—including that of the colon. Half your plate should be fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains, plus you should vary your protein choices.”
The U.S. National Institutes of Health provides more information on diverticulitis.