Red Meat Intake May Increase Risk of Inflammatory Bowel Condition

High intake of red meat found to influence the risk of diverticulitis.

Findings from a recent study suggest that high consumption of red meat may be linked to diverticulitis, a common bowel condition.

Diverticulitis occurs when bulges in the intestinal lining become inflamed, and is characterized by abdominal pain, fever, nausea, and changes in bowel movements. This condition results in more than 200,000 hospital admissions and $2 billion per year healthcare costs in the United States.

While this condition is more common among older adults, cases among younger people are on the rise. Approximately 4% of patients will develop long-term complications, such as perforations in the gut wall, abscesses, and fistula, according to the study published by Gut.

Diverticulitis has been previously linked to the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), physical inactivity, and obesity. Although fiber intake has been implicated in the condition, limited other dietary causes have been studied.

The investigators evaluated red meat, poultry, and fish intake compared with the risk of diverticulitis in 46,500 men who were included in the Health Professionals Follow up Study. The study participants were aged 40 to 75.

Every 4 years, all participants were asked questions about the frequency of their intake of a standard portion of red meat, processed meat, poultry, and fish, according to the study. Participants had 9 options for response that ranged from never to 6 or more times per day.

Over the 26-year study period, 764 patients developed diverticulitis. Patients who consumed higher amounts of red meat were more likely to use NSAIDs and painkillers, smoke, less likely to participate in vigorous exercise, and have a low intake of fiber.

In comparison, individuals who had a higher intake of poultry and fish were more likely to participate in vigorous exercise, take aspirin, and smoke less, the authors reported.

Even after taking other potential causes into account, the investigators found that red meat intake was linked to a higher risk of developing diverticulitis.

The highest intake of red meat was associated with a 58% increase in the risk of developing diverticulitis compared with the lowest intake. Each daily serving of red meat increased the risk by 18%, according to the study.

However, increasing intake to more than 6 servings per day was not observed to further increase the risk.

The investigators found that substituting 1 daily portion of unprocessed red meat with fish or poultry lowered the risk of diverticulitis by 20%, according to the study. The researchers said that the overall findings seemed to be independent of weight and age.

The exact reason red meat may affect diverticulitis is unclear, and requires additional research. High red meat intake has been linked to an increased presence of inflammatory chemicals, such as C reactive protein and ferritin, which may play a role in diverticulitis.

The study authors hypothesize that gut bacteria may be affected by red meat consumption, with intake affecting immune response and the integrity of the gut lining, according to the study. High cooking temperatures required for cooking unprocessed red meat may also affect the gut microbiome and inflammation.

Since this research was conducted in men, red meat intake may not affect the risk of developing diverticulitis for women, the authors warned.

"Our findings may provide practical dietary guidance for patients at risk of diverticulitis, a common disease of huge economic and clinical burden,” the study concluded.