A study in the journal Gut1 has reported statistical associations between frequent red meat intake - but not processed red meat consumption, and a bowel disorder called diverticulitis. However, according to Dr Carrie Ruxton at the Meat Advisory Panel, the contradictory results point to a random finding rather than a real, clinical link.
Diverticulitis is caused by chronic constipation leading to bacterial infection, inflammation and pain. Elderly people and adults on low fibre diets are usually affected2. The lesser condition, diverticular disease, is seen in half of older adults and is directly linked with insufficient fibre consumption2.
The analysis in GUT took dietary data from a cohort of 46,461 men in 1986 and linked this statistically with reports of diverticulitis 25 years later. Diets were assessed using self-completed questionnaires. After taking into account factors linked with diverticulitis such as age, smoking and low fibre intakes, men who ate red meat 12 times a week were more likely to develop diverticulitis than men who ate red meat twice a week. However, no statistical links were found when processed meats were examined separately. Moreover, men with high intakes of red meat tended to have less healthy lifestyles, with low fibre, high fat diets, more alcohol, more smoking and less exercise. In a separate analysis, higher fat intakes were also found to be statistically associated with risk of diverticulitis.
Dr Carrie Ruxton comments: "This is yet another exercise where a large observational study is milked to produce statistical links between diet and reported disease 25 years later. It is highly unlikely that the results represent a real causal link between red meat and diverticulitis, particularly as the association was not seen in processed meat, which tends to be higher in fat and salt than fresh red meat. Indeed, the authors themselves noted that "Pathways through which red meat consumption may inﬂuence risk of diverticulitis are yet to be established".
"The best way to lower the risk of diverticulitis and diverticular disease is to boost fibre intakes significantly to 30g per day, as recommended by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition3. Current intakes in the UK are less than 20g4. Lean red meat, around five times a week in modest amounts5, can be a nutritious part of a high fibre diet".
See Diverticulitis study: More bad news for lovers of red meat for further information on the research published in GUT journal.