Consuming Even Small Amounts of Red and Processed Meats Increase Mortality Rates

Eating red and processed meats – even in small amounts – may moderately increase the risk of death from all causes, especially cardiovascular disease (CVD), according to a study by Loma Linda University Health researchers who published their findings in Nutrients.

“A question about the effect of lower levels of intakes compared to no-meat eating remained unanswered,” said lead author Saeed Mastour Alshahrani, a doctoral student at Loma Linda University School of Public Health, in a press release. “We wanted to take a closer look at the association of low intakes of red and processed meat with all-cause, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer mortality compared to those who didn’t eat meat at all.”

Minimal Meat-Eating Adventists Studied

The researchers chose to assess a Seventh-day Adventist population because approximately 50 percent of Adventists are vegetarians, and those who do consume meat do so at low levels, allowing the researchers to investigate the effect of low levels of red and processed meat intake juxtaposed to zero-intake in a large setting.

In this prospective cohort study called The Adventist Health Study-2 (AHS-2), researchers evaluated 96,000 Seventh-day Adventist men (35%) and women (65%) who they enrolled in the US and Canada between 2002 and 2007. The final analytic sample after exclusions was 72,149. The researchers used Cox proportional hazards regression and hazard ratios (HR), and obtained confidence intervals (CI). They evaluated diet using a validated qualitative food frequency questionnaire (FFQ) of more than 200 food items and calibrated using six 24-hour dietary recalls while obtaining mortality outcome data from the National Death Index.

Moreover, covariates were assessed and selected as possible confounders, and were self-reported by questionnaire at enrollment, including information on demographics, medical history (including obstetrical and gynecological history), family medical history, socioeconomic factors, lifestyle factors, and diet.

CVD Mortality Increased

During a mean follow-up of 11.8 years, the study results showed there were 7,961 total deaths, of which 2,598 were Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) deaths and 1,873 were cancer deaths. Unprocessed red meat was associated with risk of all-cause mortality (HR=1.18; 95% CI, 1.07 to 1.31) and CVD mortality (HR= 1.26; 95% CI, 1.05 to 1.50). Processed meat alone was not significantly associated with risk of mortality. The combined intake of red and processed meat was associated with all-cause mortality (HR=1.23; 95% CI, 1.11 to 1.36) and CVD mortality (HR=1.34; 95% CI, 1.12 to 1.60). The researchers’ findings suggest moderately higher risks of all-cause and CVD mortality associated with red and processed meat in a low meat intake population.

Michael Orlich, MD, PhD, co-director of AHS-2 and a co-author  on the study, noted these new findings support a significant body of research that affirms the potential ill health effects of red and processed meats, and said that “our findings give additional weight to the evidence already suggesting that eating red and processed meat may negatively impact health and lifespan.”