Red meat and inflammatory bowel condition: What you need to know

16/04/2018

A new study suggests that men who regularly eat red meat are much more likely to develop an inflammatory bowel condition called diverticulitis.
Examining diets of more than 46,000 men between the ages of 40 and 75 over the course of 26 years, researchers found that eating six or more meals per week containing red meat increases the chances of developing diverticulitis by 58 percent.
Diverticulitis occurs when the small pockets or bulges lining the large intestine or colon get acutely infected or inflamed. It is characterised by bloating, constipation, stomach pain, diarrhoea, fever, nausea and rectal bleeding.
“Previous studies have shown that a high fiber diet is associated with a lower risk of diverticulitis, however, the role of other dietary factors in influencing risk of diverticulitis was not well studied,” said senior study author Andrew Chan, a researcher at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
“Our result show that diets high in red meat may be associated with a higher risk of diverticulitis,” Chan added by email.
The study found that higher consumption of poultry or fish was not linked with risk of incident diverticulitis.
“However, substitution of one serving of unprocessed red meat per day with poultry or fish was associated with a 20% lower risk of diverticulitis," said the study.
While it's not certainly clear what causes diverticulitis, but it has been linked to smoking, taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (or NSAIDs) and a lack of physical activity.
The researchers also found that men who ate unprocessed meats like beef, pork and lamb had a greater risk of developing diverticulitis than their peers who ate processed meats like bacon or sausage.
It’s possible the higher cooking temperatures typically used to prepare unprocessed meats may influence the composition of bacteria in the gut or inflammatory activity, though the exact reason for the increased risk tied to these foods is unknown, the researchers note, adding that these factors need to be studied further.
In 2015, processed red meat - for instance bacon – made headlines when the World Health Organisation (WHO) linked the processed meat to cancer.
Other limitations of the study include its reliance on men to accurately recall and report how much meat they ate and the possibility that the results may not apply to women, the authors point out.
Even so, the findings should offer yet another reason to consider cutting back on red meat, said Samantha Heller, a nutritionist at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City who wasn’t involved in the study.
Diverticulitis leads to more than 200,000 hospitalisations a year in the US at a cost of more than $2 billion, Chan and colleagues note in the journal Gut.
Diverticulitis can often be treated with a liquid, low-fiber diet or antibiotics, however, severe cases may require hospitalisation and surgery to fix complications like perforations in the gut wall.

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