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Tasty, Deadly, Inflammatory, Meat?

 


A gentleman, whom we will call TJ, walked into my office, visibly upset. TJ started relaying his story to me. He had been recently discharged from the hospital after recovering from a heart attack. His doctor had referred him to me to help him lower his cholesterol and lose weight. He concluded, “I have always done everything the doctor has told me to do. I take my medicine, the doctor routinely checks my blood. If I am doing everything right, why did I have a heart attack?”


We reviewed his diet and lifestyle. He indeed was doing a lot of things “right”: He walked a mile every morning, limited his sweet intake, didn’t drink sodas, smoke or drink alcohol. But he was in the business of raising cattle and chickens and enjoyed these foods on a regular basis. Could this have contributed to the heart attack?


In 2018 a lot of information was coming out about the adverse health effects of meat.


The reputable Medical Journal, Lancet, wrote an editorial entitled, “We need to talk about meat.” Lancet. 2018;11:2237. And discussed the flesh food industry and our need for a less meat-based diet.


Could tasty meat really be inflammatory and deadly? Let’s evaluation the evidence.


High Saturated Fat and Oxidized Cholesterol: Flesh foods (all types of meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish) are high in saturated fats and cholesterol, which can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.[1] Saturated fats thicken the blood, making it difficult for the blood to properly circulate through blood vessels. Oxidized cholesterol is cholesterol that has been exposed to the air. Oxidized cholesterol becomes very sticky and can readily build up on the walls of the blood vessels, causing them to become narrow. With the saturated fat making the blood thick and the oxidized cholesterol narrowing the blood vessels the risk of a heart attack or stroke is increased.


Increased Risk of Cancer: The World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified processed meat as "carcinogenic [increases risk of cancer] to humans" (Group 1), meaning there is sufficient evidence to conclude that it causes cancer. This is the same carcinogenic group as tobacco, and we all know tobacco is deadly in all its forms. Red meat (beef, pork, lamb, goat, and horse, etc.) is classified as "probably carcinogenic to humans" (Group 2A). These classifications are based on studies linking meat consumption to increased risk of colorectal cancer. [2]


Antibiotics: Factory-farmed animals are often given antibiotics to promote growth and prevent diseases. When animals are treated with antibiotics, residues of these drugs can remain in their tissues and may end up in meat products consumed by humans. Additionally, antibiotic-resistant bacteria can develop in animals treated with antibiotics, and these bacteria may be transmitted to humans through the consumption of meat. Overuse of antibiotics in livestock can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which pose a significant health threat and can contribute to weakening our immune system and increasing risk of autoimmune disease activation.



High Sodium, High Phosphorus, Low Potassium Content: Plants are low sodium, low phosphorus, and high potassium, while meat is just the opposite. Why does it matter? High phosphorus can lead to imbalances in bone mineralization due to its acidity, requiring neutralization, therefore, calcium is pulled from the bones to neutralize the acid, increasing the risk of osteoporosis. If the bones are weakened, the entire bodily system is weakened. The high sodium levels in meat can also contribute to calcium loss through urine, further impacting bone health [3] and heart health by impairing blood vessel function leading to arterial stiffness [4]. High phosphorus intake can strain the kidneys and may contribute to the progression of chronic kidney disease (CKD) by promoting mineral imbalances and calcification of soft tissues [5].


Hypoxanthine and Endotoxins: Hypoxanthine is an addictive chemical in meat. The older the meat the higher the level of hypoxanthine. Hypoxanthine is a purine derivative that is metabolized to form uric acid, which can lead to conditions like gout and kidney stones. Endotoxins present in animal flesh create inflammation for at least four hours after consumption, then it’s time to eat again. If consumed often enough endotoxins can lead to gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. In severe cases, endotoxin exposure can result in systemic inflammatory responses and septic shock.


What do you think from the information above, could meat have contributed to TJ’s heart attack?


TJ did not want to hear it, and maybe you do not either, but the truth remains, flesh foods are directly linked to the development of diseases of inflammation and poor circulation, including heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, obesity, and activation of autoimmune conditions.


Meat may be tasty, but it comes with a price with every bite.


Next week, we will consider what to have in place of flesh foods. For now, perhaps, “Meatless Monday” can be a way to start reducing flesh products in your diet.


To Your Health,


Dana West, RD, LD, ACLMDIP


 

References:


  1. American Heart Association (AHA). (2022). Saturated Fat. Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/saturated-fats

  2. World Health Organization (WHO). (2015). Q&A on the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/carcinogenicity-of-the-consumption-of-red-meat-and-processed-meat

  3. Tucker, K. L., & Hannan, M. T. (2017). The Role of Micronutrient Intake on the Association between Dietary Protein and Bone Health. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 36(5), 349–354.

  4. He, F. J., & MacGregor, G. A. (2015). Salt reduction lowers cardiovascular risk: meta-analysis of outcome trials. The Lancet, 375(9711), 221–228.

  5. Kestenbaum, B., Sampson, J. N., Rudser, K. D., Patterson, D. J., Seliger, S. L., Young, B., Sherrard, D. J., & Andress, D. L. (2005). Serum phosphate levels and mortality risk among people with chronic kidney disease. Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, 16(2), 520–528.

 

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