Study: Link Strengthened Between Red Meat, Heart Disease

April 21, 2021
Jill Murphy, Associate Editor

For the study, which included 19,408 participants in the UK Biobank, the researchers examined associations of self-reported intake of red and processed meat with heart anatomy and function.

An observational study in nearly 20,000 individuals has found that greater intake of red and processed meat is associated with worse heart function, according to research presented at ESC Preventive Cardiology 2021.

“Previous studies have shown links between greater red meat consumption and increased risk of heart attacks or dying from heart disease,” said study author Zahra Raisi-Estabragh, MD, of Queen Mary University of London, in a press release. “For the first time, we examined the relationships between meat consumption and imaging measures of heart health. This may help us to understand the mechanisms underlying the previously observed connections with cardiovascular disease.”

For the study, which included 19,408 participants in the UK Biobank, the researchers examined associations of self-reported intake of red and processed meat with heart anatomy and function.

Three types of heart measures were analyzed:

  • Cardiovascular magnetic resonance (CMR) assessments of heart function used in clinical practice, such as volume of the ventricles and measures of the pumping function of the ventricles.
  • Novel CMR radiomics used in research to extract detailed information from heart images, such as shape and texture.
  • Elasticity of the blood vessels.

The analysis was adjusted for other factors that might influence the relationship, including age, sex, deprivation, education, smoking, alcohol, exercise, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and body mass index as a measure of obesity.

The researchers found that greater intake of red and processed meat was associated with worse imaging measured of heart health, across all measures studied. Further, individuals with higher meat intake had smaller ventricles, poorer heart function, and stiffer arteries, which are all markers of worse cardiovascular health, according to the study.

In comparison, the researchers also tested the relationships between heart imaging measures and intake of oily fish, which has previously been linked with better heart health. They found that as the amount of oily fish consumption rose, heart function improved, and arteries had greater elasticity, according to the study.

“The findings support prior observations linking red and processed meat consumption with heart disease and provide unique insights into links with heart and vascular structure and function,” Raisi-Estabragh said in the press release.

The study authors noted that the associations between imaging measures of heart health and meat intake were only partially explained by high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity.

“It has been suggested that these factors could be the reason for the observed relationship between meat and heart disease,” Raisi-Estabragh said in the press release. “For example, it is possible that greater red meat intake leads to raised blood cholesterol and this in turn causes heart disease. Our study suggests that these four factors do play a role in the links between meat intake and heart health, but they are not the full story.”

Raisi-Estabragh noted that the study did not look into alternative mechanisms, but confirmed that there is some evidence that red meat alters the gut microbiome, leading to higher levels of certain metabolites in the blood, which have, in turn, been linked to greater risk of heart disease.

“This was an observational study and causation cannot be assumed,” Raisi-Estabragh said in the press release. “But in general, it seems sensible to limit intake of red and processed meat for heart health reasons.”

REFERENCE

Study strengthens links between red meat and heart disease. European Society of Cardiology. Published April 15, 2021. Accessed April 16, 2021. https://www.escardio.org/The-ESC/Press-Office/Press-releases/study-strengthens-links-between-red-meat-and-heart-disease