Be truthful to yourself, when last did you pass by a barbecue stand, or perceived the aroma of frying bacon without hesitating a while? It is most of the time just irresistible. Just like the aroma, so is the delicate allure of red meat. Let’s face it (red) meat is so delicious to the taste. But the bad news or so it seems, continues to filter all through about the negative impacts of indulging in red meat delicacies. Just how real is this red meat palaver anyway?
And so, another (recent) research finding published in the journal Gut, associates the consumption of red meat to a heightened risk of developing diverticulitis.
Diverticulitis is an inflammation of a diverticulum in the digestive tract (especially the colon); it is characterised by painful abdominal cramping and fever and constipation. Experts say it is relatively common, occurring when bulging sacs appear in the lining of the intestine.
But only about 4 percent of people with diverticulitis later develop severe or long-term complications, such as abscesses, perforations in the gut wall, and fistulas, that is abnormal connections between the hollow spaces of the body. Record has it that every year diverticulitis amount to approximately 210,000 hospital admissions in the United States of America, costing about $2 billion annually.
It is rather disturbing that many more new cases continue to appear, and for the most part, among younger individuals. Well-known risk factors include the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), a sedentary lifestyle, overweight, as well as smoking. On the other hand, in spite of the high number of cases, a full range of causes has not yet been described. Even though low levels of fibre in the diet are thought to play a part here; meanwhile the influence of diet on diverticulitis had not been comprehensively examined.
Lately, a team led by Dr. Andrew Chan of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston did embark on investigating dietary factors involved in diverticulitis in more detail. They particularly focused on the consumption of meat, poultry, and fish in 46,500 men from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study.
The people were of ages 40-75 when they were enrolled for the study between 1986 and 2012. Every 4 years, the men were asked how often they had eaten standard portions of red meat, poultry, and fish over the previous one year. They responded using a 9-point scale, ranging from “never” or “less than once a month” to “six or more times a day.” During the 26-year study period, 764 men developed diverticulitis.
Participants who consumed higher quantities of red meat were also more likely to have used NSAIDs as well as painkillers, smoked often, exercised little, and ate less dietary fibre.
Even though these differences were obvious, a considerable effect was still observed once they had been accounted for: total red meat consumption was linked with a higher risk of diverticulitis.
Maybe surprisingly, this association had nothing to do with age or weight.
When those eating the least were compared with those eating the highest quantities of red meat, a 58 percent increased risk of developing diverticulitis was established. Each daily serving was linked with an 18 percent increased risk, to as much as six portions each week.
But how does red meat give rise to diverticulitis risk?
What we now need to know is: why red meat consumption might increase diverticulitis risk. More research will be required to answer this question, but there exists some theories making the rounds. The researchers explain that red meat has been linked to increased levels of C-reactive protein and ferritin, both of which are inflammatory chemicals. Red meat has also been associated with cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes – all conditions where inflammation plays a major part.
Also another theory is that red meat intake influences the types of bacteria present in the gut – the microbiome. It is possible that modifications in populations of these bacteria could affect the integrity of the gut lining and the immune responses.
Likewise, the amount of heat that is needed to cook unprocessed meats might influence microbiome factors as well as levels of inflammation.
Even though the study tapped into a comparatively large pool of participants, the researchers noted some deficiencies. For instance, due to the fact that the study is observational, cause and effect cannot be concluded. Furthermore, the research only laid emphases on men, and inconsistencies in participants’ recall could also affect the results.
Further work is required though, but for people at increased risk of diverticulitis, the initial work and findings is enough to guide future consumption habits.