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Will red meat increase your risk of heart disease?

We've previously covered evidence suggesting that red meat isn't as heart-harmful as once thought. This meta-analysis goes a step further by comparing red meat's effects to other dietary components.

Study under review: Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials of Red Meat Consumption in Comparison With Various Comparison Diets on Cardiovascular Risk Factors.

Introduction

Cardiovascular disease is the number one[1] cause of death worldwide. The development of cardiovascular disease occurs throughout the lifespan and is best thought of as the accumulation of risk factors over time. Hemodynamics (e.g. blood pressure), blood lipids (e.g. cholesterol and triglycerides), and glycemia (blood sugar) are key contributors to cardiovascular risk. As many of these risk factors can be altered through diet, nutritional interventions have received much attention as a means to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Red meat has been associated with an increased risk[2] of cardiovascular disease in large, epidemiological studies and is thought to be causative in the pathogenesis of heart disease, likely due to its effects on blood lipids and blood pressure. However, meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials looking at red meat’s effects on cardiovascular risk factors are inconsistent[3] with the epidemiological evidence.

One such meta-analysis[4] is explored in Study Deep Dives #30, Volume 1. The meta-analysis concluded that red meat intake per se does not alter blood lipids or blood pressure. However, this analysis did not differentiate between different types of comparison diets (e.g. plant-based diets or fish-based diets), nor did the authors perform a dose-response analysis based on a continuous measure of red meat intake to determine if increasing meat intake also increased risk, which is one sign of a causal link. The purpose of this study was to fill this gap by conducting an updated systematic review and meta-analysis to assess the effects of red meat intake on cardiovascular risk factors by comparing red meat to all other comparison diets, as well as a dose-response analysis.

Elevated blood pressure, blood lipids, and blood glucose are key risk factors for cardiovascular disease. As these can be altered through dietary modification, nutrition interventions have been viewed as a potential way to reduce cardiovascular disease. This study was a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials designed to assess the effect of red meat intake on cardiovascular risk factors by comparing red meat to all other comparison diets and running a dose-response analysis.

Who and what was studied?

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Other Articles in Issue #56 (June 2019)