Having an eating routine that involves daily servings of red meat may not be the best idea for good heart health. A new study, led by researchers from Tufts University and the Lerner Research Institute, both in the US, has quantified the impact of diet on increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease in older people. For every additional 1.1 servings per day, or about 75 grams, the risk increased by 15%. The work also shows that part of this consequence is due to the substances released by the bacteria which remain in the intestinal microbiota during the digestion of a series of nutrients present in the meat.
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To reach the conclusion, the study, published in the scientific journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, analyzed data from nearly 4,000 participants over the age of 65, followed for an average of 12.5 years. In the end, they found a 15% increased risk of atherosclerosis in those who consumed the above-average volume of red meat, a percentage that reached 22% when considering all types of meat in excess.
According to the researchers, the 15% to 22% increase in risk was mainly attributed to the addition of processed meats, with no significant impact on heart disease linked to the poultry and fish diet.
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Atherosclerosis is the accumulation of substances such as cholesterol and fats in the arteries, which leads to thickening or blockage of blood vessels. This leads to the loss of oxygenation in the regions supplied by these vessels, which causes a series of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks and strokes.
However, it’s not just the increased fat and cholesterol caused by excess red meat that leads to the greatest risk of heart problems. Previous research has already shown that certain metabolites – substances released by bacteria in the gut microbiota during digestion – increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
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With this, the scientists in the ongoing work decided to assess the participants’ metabolite levels to find out if there was an increase in these substances from meat consumption. According to the authors, an increase in the levels of three metabolites produced by gut bacteria from nutrients abundant in red meat was actually observed: TMAO, gamma-butyrobetaine and crotonobetaine.
“These findings help answer long-standing questions about the mechanisms linking meat to cardiovascular disease risk. Interactions between red meat, our gut microbiota, and the bioactive metabolites they generate appear to be an important pathway to risk, creating a new target for potential interventions to reduce heart disease. a Tufts University researcher, in a statement.
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The researchers say metabolites account for about 10% of the variance in cardiovascular disease risk due to excess red meat. The others are factors such as an increase in blood sugar and the activation of general inflammation pathways in the body by meat. These reasons were more important in causing atherosclerosis than the impact on blood pressure or cholesterol, the study authors point out.
“Interestingly, we have identified three main pathways that help explain the links between red meat and processed meat and cardiovascular disease – microbiome-related metabolites, blood sugar and general inflammation – and each of them between them seemed more important than cholesterol-related pathways suggests that when choosing animal foods, it is less important to focus on differences in total fat, saturated fat, or cholesterol, and more important to better understand the health effects of other components of these foods, such as metabolites,” says study author and Tufts University researcher Dariush Mozaffarian.