Eating more red meat, processed foods linked to people having poorer functioning hearts

SOPHIA ANTIPOLIS, France — The evidence that too much steak is bad for the heart continues to pile up. A new report finds consuming red meat and processed foods, like sausages and bacon, leads to patients with poorer heart function.

The study of nearly 20,000 adults reveals regular consumers of these meats are prone to having stiffer arteries. They also performed worse in three different tests that measure how healthy the heart is. The results add to previous studies detailing the dangers of red and processed meat.

Scientists urge meat eaters to switch to alternatives like salmon, sardines, mackerel, and trout. The study finds heart function improved and arteries were stretchier among participants consuming large amounts of oily fish.

“Previous studies have shown links between greater red meat consumption and increased risk of heart attacks or dying from heart disease,” says lead author Dr. Zahra Raisi-Estabragh of Queen Mary University of London in a media 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.”

There’s still some mystery surrounding meat’s impact on the heart

Her team examined the heart anatomy of 19,408 individuals from the UK Biobank project. These participants also filled out food questionnaires, detailing their daily diet and meal selections.

The results show a link between greater intake of red and processed meat and impaired outcomes across all types of heart scans. Specifically, meat eaters had smaller ventricles that pump blood out, poorer heart function, and stiffer arteries. These are all markers of worse cardiovascular health. However, researchers discovered the reverse in peers with higher consumption of oily fish.

“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,” Dr. Raisi-Estabragh adds.

Study authors note high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity only partially explain the connection between red meat and failing heart health.

“It has been suggested that these factors could be the reason for the observed relationship between meat and heart disease,” the researcher continues. “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.”

Does gut health play a role in heart disease?

The team presented their findings at a virtual conference of the European Society of Cardiology. While the report does not pinpoint other causes for red meat’s impact, researchers speculate gut health also plays a role.

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

Heart scans in the study included CMR (cardiovascular magnetic resonance) assessments of the volume and pumping power of the ventricles. Another technique called CMR radiomics extracted detailed information on the shape and texture of the heart muscle. Researchers also tested the elasticity of blood vessels, with stretchy arteries denoting good health.

Additionally, the team accounted for influential factors such as age, sex, education, smoking, alcohol use, exercise habits, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity.

In March, another study of nearly 135,000 people discovered eating just five ounces of processed meat each week can lead to heart disease and death. Cardiovascular disease is the world’s number one killer, causing 17.9 million deaths each year.

SWNS writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.