Does Eating More Red Meat Cause Diverticulitis?

Digestive issues—and related cancers, even—have been on the rise over the past decade and researchers now suggest that many of these conditions might have something to do with eating too much red meat. Indeed, new research published in the journal Gut suggests that men who regularly eat red meat are at a higher risk for developing the inflammatory bowel disease known as diverticulitis.

More specifically, the study warns that men who eat six or more servings of red meat per week are nearly 60 percent more likely to develop this condition than men who eat only about one serving of red meet per week (on average).  The Health Professionals Follow-Up Study followed more than 650,000 men (taken from an initial survey of 46,000) every four years over 26 years to make these findings.

Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School gastroenterologist Andrew T. Chan, MD, MPH explains:  “In this large prospective cohort of men, total red meat intake, especially consumption of unprocessed red meat, was non-linearly associated with an increased risk of diverticulitis. Substitution of one serving of unprocessed red meat per day with poultry or fish was associated with a 20% lower risk of diverticulitis.”

Overall, the researchers found 764 cases of diverticulitis among the 651,970 participants.

It is important to also note, however, that the men who consumed the most red meat were also more likely to smoke and the least likely to exercise. Those who ate the most red meat per week on average were also more likley to use NSAIDs and acetaminophen and consumed more total, more saturated fat, and more cholesterol and haem iron; alternately consuming less fiber as well.  Conversely, though, the men who ate more fish and poultry were also more likely to participate in vigorous exercise and to use aspirin (instead of NSAIDS); they were also less likely to smoke and consumed more haem iron.

In the study, the researchers concluded: “Our findings may provide practical dietary guidance for patients at risk of diverticulitis, a common disease of huge economic and clinical burden. The mechanisms underlying the observed associations require further investigation.” He makes sure to note, too, “Even one serving per week appeared to increase risk, with risk plateauing after six servings per week.”

While the results are preliminary, they are important.  NYU Langone Medical Center nutritionist Samantha Heller advises, “Focusing on a more plant based, higher fiber diet that includes legumes, whole grains, nuts, vegetables and fruits, replete with appropriate fluid intake, may go a long way in helping reduce of inflammatory bowel diseases, diverticulitis, and other chronic diseases.”

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