Processed meat linked to cardiovascular disease and death: McMaster researcher

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There is a link between eating processed meat and being at higher risk of cardiovascular disease, according to a new global study led by a Hamilton scientist.

The study involved 134,297 people from 21 different countries spanning five countries and found that the same link was not found with unprocessed red meat or poultry eaten moderately.

The study's authors believe their findings "indicate that limiting the intake of processed meat should be encouraged."

After following the participants for almost a decade, the researchers found consumption of 150 grams or more of processed meat a week was associated with a 46 per cent higher risk of cardiovascular disease and a 51 per cent higher risk of death than those who did not eat processed meat.

150 grams is roughly one full package of processed salami.

The findings were shared on the McMaster University news website, Brighter World.

"Evidence of an association between meat intake and cardiovascular disease is inconsistent," said Romaina Iqbal, first author of the study and an associate professor at the Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan.

"We therefore wanted to better understand the associations between intakes of unprocessed red meat, poultry, and processed meat with major cardiovascular disease events and mortality."

According to Mahshid Dehghan, an investigator for the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI) of McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences, the available data indicates that consuming a modest amount of unprocessed meat is unlikely to be harmful if it’s part of a healthy dietary pattern.

The Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study was launched in 2003 and is the first multinational study that provides information on the association between unprocessed and processed meat intakes with health outcomes from low, middle, and high-income countries.

"The PURE study examines substantially more diverse populations and broad patterns of diet, enabling us to provide new evidence that distinguishes between the effects of processed and unprocessed meats," said senior author Salim Yusuf, executive director of PHRI.

The authors believe, however, that additional research may improve the current understanding of the relationship between meat consumption and health outcomes. For example, it is unclear what study participants with lower meat intakes were eating instead of meat, and if the quality of those foods differed between countries.

Researchers determined the final results by having participants record their dietary habits while also collecting data on their mortality and major cardiovascular disease events. 

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