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The Inflammatory Question: Red Meat Might Not Be So Bad for You After All

Research from the USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center has revealed that red meat consumption may not be directly linked to inflammation, contrary to some prior studies. The team used cross-sectional data from older adults and found that after adjusting for BMI, there was no connection between red meat and inflammation markers. Dr. Alexis Wood emphasizes that any dietary recommendations about red meat should be based on solid scientific evidence.

Inflammation is a risk factor for many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular diseaseCardiovascular disease refers to a group of conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels, such as coronary artery disease, heart failure, arrhythmias, and stroke. It is caused by a variety of factors, including lifestyle choices (such as smoking and poor diet), genetics, and underlying medical conditions (such as high blood pressure and diabetes). Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death worldwide, but can often be prevented or managed through lifestyle changes, medications, and medical procedures such as bypass surgery and angioplasty.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]”>cardiovascular disease (CVD), and the impact of diet on inflammation is an area of growing scientific interest. In particular, recommendations to limit red meat consumption are often based, in part, on old studies suggesting that red meat negatively affects inflammation – yet more recent studies have not supported this.

“The role of diet, including red meat, on inflammation and disease risk has not been adequately studied, which can lead to public health recommendations that are not based on strong evidence,” said Dr. Alexis Wood, associate professor of pediatrics – nutrition at the USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital. “Our team sought to take a closer look by using metabolite data in the blood, which can provide a more direct link between diet and health.”

Methodology and Findings

Wood and her team analyzed cross-sectional data captured from approximately 4,000 older adults participating in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), and recently published their findings in The American Journal of Clinical NutritionThe American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN) is a monthly peer-reviewed biomedical journal in the fields of dietetics and clinical nutrition. Initially established as the Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1952, when it was published by the Nutrition Press, it is currently published by the American Society for Nutrition.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]”>American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Cross-sectional data is a useful source of evidence on how diet affects health; it uses data that is observed with free-living people, without attempting to influence their usual lifestyle. In this way, it may be easier to take results from such studies and apply them to non-research settings.

In addition to assessing participants’ self-reported food intake and several biomarkers, researchers also measured an array of dietary intake metabolites in blood. Plasma metabolites can help capture the effects of dietary intake as food is processed, digested, and absorbed.

Researchers found that when adjusted for body mass index (BMI), intake of unprocessed and processed red meat (beef, pork, or lamb) was not directly associated with any markers of inflammation, suggesting that body weight, not red meat, may be the driver of increased systemic inflammation. Of particular interest was the lack of a link between red meat intake and C-reactive protein (CRP), the major inflammatory risk marker of chronic disease.

“Our analysis adds to the growing body of evidence that indicates the importance of measuring plasmaPlasma is one of the four fundamental states of matter, along with solid, liquid, and gas. It is an ionized gas consisting of positive ions and free electrons. It was first described by chemist Irving Langmuir in the 1920s.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]”>plasma markers, such as metabolites, to track diet and disease risk associations, versus relying on self-reported dietary intake alone,” Wood said. “Our analysis does not support previous observational research associations linking red meat intake and inflammation.”

The Need for Further Research

Because observational studies cannot indicate cause and effect, randomized controlled trials (RCTs) where individuals are randomly assigned to consume a dietary factor of interest or not consume it, are needed as an additional line of evidence to adequately understand if red meat does not alter inflammation. Several RCTs have demonstrated that lean unprocessed beef can be enjoyed in heart-healthy dietary patterns.

“We have reached a stage where more studies are needed before we can make recommendations to limit red meat consumption for reducing inflammation if we want to base dietary recommendations on the most up-to-date evidence,” Wood said. “Red meat is popular, accessible, and palatable – and its place in our diet has deep cultural roots. Given this, recommendations about reducing consumption should be supported by strong scientific evidence, which doesn’t yet exist.”

Reference: “Untargeted metabolomic analysis investigating links between unprocessed red meat intake and markers of inflammation” by Alexis C. Wood, Goncalo Graca, Meghana Gadgil, Mackenzie K. Senn, Matthew A. Allison, Ioanna Tzoulaki, Philip Greenland, Timothy Ebbels, Paul Elliott, Mark O. Goodarzi, Russell Tracy, Jerome I. Rotter and David Herrington, 1 September 2023, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
DOI: 10.1016/j.ajcnut.2023.08.018

Other contributors to this work include Goncalo Graca, Meghana Gadgil, Mackenzie K. Senn, Matthew A. Allison, Ioanna Tzoulaki, Philip Greenland, Timothy Ebbels, Paul Elliott, Mark O. Goodarzi, Russell Tracy, Jerome I. Rotter and David Herrington.

The study was supported by the Beef Checkoff. Wood was supported, in part, by the USDA/ARS (Cooperative Agreement 58-3092-5-001). Mark Goodarzi was supported by the Eris M. Field Chair in Diabetes Research. Jerome Rotter was supported, in part, by the National Institutes of HealthThe National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the primary agency of the United States government responsible for biomedical and public health research. Founded in 1887, it is a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The NIH conducts its own scientific research through its Intramural Research Program (IRP) and provides major biomedical research funding to non-NIH research facilities through its Extramural Research Program. With 27 different institutes and centers under its umbrella, the NIH covers a broad spectrum of health-related research, including specific diseases, population health, clinical research, and fundamental biological processes. Its mission is to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]”>National Institutes of Health grants from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (DK063491), from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (UL1TR001881), the CHARGE Consortium, and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI; R01HL105756).

Source: SciTechDaily