A new study supports the connection between red meat and increased risk for heart attack
By Caitlin Finlay
Researchers have previously observed a link between consuming red or processed meats and a higher risk for heart disease. Now the first study of the subject to use imaging of heart anatomy and function seems to support that link. The study results were presented in April at Preventive Cardiology 2021, an online conference of the European Society of Cardiology.
The observational study included 19,408 UK participants who reported their own consumption of red or processed meats. This information was then compared with measures of the participants’ heart function. Researchers assessed the hearts using detailed cardiovascular magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), looking at the function of the ventricles, heart muscle health, and the elasticity of the blood vessels.
The results showed that participants reporting a greater consumption of red or processed meats had worse measures of heart health. The overall function of the heart was decreased, the ventricles were smaller, and the blood vessels were stiffer—all measures demonstrating poorer cardiovascular health. Conversely, the researchers found that the consumption of oily fish was associated with measures indicating improved cardiovascular function and stretchier arteries.
Researchers said the association of heart health and the consumption of red or processed meats is likely due to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes.
“It has been suggested that these factors could be the reason for the observed relationship between meat and heart disease,” Dr. Zahra Raisi-Estabragh, study author from Queen Mary University of London, said in a press release. “For example, it is possible that greater red meat intake leads to raised blood cholesterol and this in turn causes heart disease. Our study suggests that these four factors do play a role in the links between meat intake and heart health, but they are not the full story. There is some evidence that red meat alters the gut microbiome.
“This was an observational study and causation cannot be assumed. But in general, it seems sensible to limit intake of red and processed meat for heart health reasons.”