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Eating a lot of red meat can worsen heart function, study finds

Experts are urging consumers to follow healthier diets

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Photo (c) Marcin Adrian EyeEm - Getty Images
Recent studies have highlighted the health risks associated with eating red meat, including a higher risk of conditions like dementia and breast cancer

Now, a new study conducted by researchers from the European Society of Cardiology shows that eating red meat also increases the risk of heart disease. Their work showed that red meat significantly compromises heart function

“Previous studies have shown links between greater red meat consumption and risk of heart attacks or dying from heart disease,” said researcher Dr. Zahra Raisi-Estabragh. “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.” 

Prioritizing heart health

To better understand how red meat negatively affects consumers’ heart health, the researchers analyzed data from more than 19,400 participants enrolled in the U.K. Biobank. While the participants recorded their diets over the course of the study, the researchers focused on three primary health factors: blood vessel elasticity, a cardiac MRI, and muscle strength of the heart. 

Participants with the highest red meat intake had the poorest heart health in every category and were more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease. The researchers found that higher red meat intake was associated with stiffer blood vessels, which can make it harder for the heart to pump blood throughout the body and ultimately increases the risk of disease.

“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,” said Dr. Raisi-Estabragh. 

To figure out why red meat consumption significantly impacts heart health, the researchers identified several different factors that can come into play. Their work found that conditions like obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol can put a strain on consumers’ hearts when coupled with red meat consumption. The team also found that red and processed meats can affect the body on a deeper physiological level that makes heart disease more likely. 

“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,” Dr. Raisi-Estabragh said. 

Moving forward, the researchers hope that consumers take these findings into consideration and make healthier choices that can benefit their heart health down the line. 

“This was an observational study and causation cannot be assumed,” said Dr. Raisi-Estabragh. “But in general, it seems sensible to limit intake of red and processed meat for heart health reasons.” 

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