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Health expert slams study linking red meat to bowel disorder

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Oscar Rousseau

By Oscar Rousseau+


The Meat Advisory Panel said the study 'milked' the negative link between health and meat
The Meat Advisory Panel said the study 'milked' the negative link between health and meat

A leading meat nutrition expert has blasted “contradictory results” in a US study linking increased consumption of red meat to greater risk of developing the bowel disorder diverticulitis.

Data from over 46,000 males, carried out between 1986 and 2012 from researchers at the US-based medical journal Gut, suggest that men who ate unprocessed red meat more often were at increased risk of developing diverticulitis.

Diverticulitis is a complaint that arises when bulging sacs appear in the lining of the intestine. These pockets can become inflamed and sufferers can develop symptoms such as nausea, fever and constipation. A small percentage of people may develop long-term difficulties including abscesses and holes in the gut wall. Treating the problem is estimated to cost the US health service $2bn annually.

Gut researchers suggested that men who ate unprocessed red meat 12 times per week were more likely to develop diverticulitis than men who ate just two portions of red meat per week.

‘Milking’ the data

Health experts at the UK-based Meat Advisory Panel (MAP) have hit back at the study, slamming the report’s “contradictory results”, which point to a random finding, rather than clinical fact.

This [report] is yet another exercise where a large observational study is milked to produce statistical links between diet and reported disease 25 years late,” said Dr Carrie Ruxton of the MAP.

It is highly unlikely that the results represent a real causal link between red meat and diverticulitis, particularly as the association was not seen in processed meat, which tends to be higher in fat and salt than fresh red meat. Indeed, the authors themselves noted: ‘Pathways through which red meat consumption may influence the risk of diverticulitis are yet to be established’.

MAP also criticised the report for failing to take into account that men with high red meat intakes tended to have less healthy lifestyles, drink more alcohol, smoke and consume less fibre, according to MAP.

Diverticulitis – how to lower the risk

The best way to reduce risk is to increase fibre intake significantly to 30g per day, according to the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition.

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