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Friday, March 16, 2012

Red Meat Increases Mortality

There's been a lot of buzz lately about a study that came out this week demonstrating increased mortality associated with eating red meat.  The more servings of red meat consumed, the shorter your life span.

The article was published in this week's Archives of Internal Medicine.  The study evaluated over 37,000 men and over 83,000 women who were enrolled in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS) or the Nurses' Health Study (NHS), with up to 28 years of follow-up.  Subjects were asked about their consumption of processed and unprocessed red meat, fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, dairy, and fruits and vegetables.

One serving per day of red meat, processed or unprocessed, was associated with a significant increase in mortality, including all-casue mortality, death from cardiac casues, and death from cancer.  The risk increased with increasing consumption of red meat.

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The researchers suggest that 9.3% of deaths in men and 7.6% of deaths in women could be prevented  if everyone consumed less than half of a serving of red meat per day.

Is this surprising news?  No.  But it is one of the largest studies demonstrating increased mortality with meat consumption.

Dean Ornish wrote an excellent commentary.  He discusses the consequences of decreasing our consumption of meat -- not just improved health, but also more grain resources to feed the hungry, and less impact on our environment.

I also enjoyed Kathy Freston's commentary on the Huffington Post, "Meat is the New Tobacco."  It's an interesting perspective.  We now universally recognize that tobacco leads to illness and death.  Now we have strong data demonstrating that meat consumption has the same effect.

This is great motivation to encourage people toward a plant-based diet.  But, in the words of Dean Ornish, "We have a spectrum of choices; it's not all or nothing."  When you exclude some meat and animal products and include more whole-food plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole-grains, your health will improve.

Pan A, Sun Q, Bernstein AM; et al. Red meat consumption and mortality: results from 2 prospective cohort studies [published online March 12, 2012]. Arch Intern Med. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.2287.

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