Dig in! Scientists now say red meat does not increase cancer risk

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Oh, those wacky scientists! Once again, the prevailing scientific advice is going to have to be retracted and reversed … this time following a landmark research study that shows eating red meat is NOT linked to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or other ills.

On Monday, an international group of leading scientists published a series of papers that concluded people can and should simply eat an average amount of red meat, although they stop short of saying that red meat and processed meats are nutritionally healthy or that servings should be increased in a person’s diet.

The new reports are the result of three years of work by 14 researchers in seven countries who reportedly conducted their studies without outside funding or conflicts of interest.

The New York Times reported:

In three reviews, the group looked at studies asking whether eating red meat or processed meats affected the risk of cardiovascular disease or cancer.

To assess deaths from any cause, the group reviewed 61 articles reporting on 55 populations, with more than 4 million participants. The researchers also looked at randomized trials linking red meat to cancer and heart disease (there are very few), as well as 73 articles that examined links between red meat and cancer incidence and mortality.

In each study, the scientists concluded that the links between eating red meat and disease and death were small, and the quality of the evidence was low to very low.

Longstanding nutritional guidelines advising a reduction in the consumption of red meat and processed meats are now at risk of being discarded.

“The certainty of evidence for these risk reductions was low to very low,” said Bradley Johnston, an epidemiologist at Dalhousie University in Canada and leader of the group publishing the new research in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

This latest large-scale evaluation of past studies is among the most far-reaching of any ever conducted. The results call into question the standards under which past nutritional research has been undertaken and which common guidelines have been formulated.

“The guidelines are based on papers that presumably say there is evidence for what they say, and there isn’t,” said Dr. Dennis Bier, director of the Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and past editor of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

“The overall recommendations, contrary to almost all others that exist, suggested that adults continue to eat their current levels of red and processed meat, unless they felt inclined to change them themselves,” wrote Dr. Aaron Carroll and Dr. Tiffany Doherty, from Indiana University, in an editorial published along with the papers.

“This is sure to be controversial, but it is based on the most comprehensive review of the evidence to date,” they added. “Because that review is inclusive, those who seek to dispute it will be hard pressed to find appropriate evidence with which to build an argument.”

Would it come as a shock to learn that the reports are facing a huge backlash from nutritional experts who have long bought into the anti-meat reasoning?

“Irresponsible and unethical,” said Dr. Hu, of Harvard, in a commentary published online with his colleagues. He said that studies of red meat as a health hazard may have been problematic, but that the consistency of conclusions over the years gives them credibility. Nutrition studies, he claimed, should not be held to the same rigid standards as studies of experimental drugs.

 “The recommendation that adults continue current red and processed meat consumption is based on a skewed reading and presentation of the scientific evidence,” Dr. Marco Springmann, a health expert at Oxford, complained. “By presenting the evidence for a change in consumption that is less than half of what is customary (for a change of less than half a serving a day compared to a change of one serving per day as is customarily used), it was perhaps inevitable that the authors would report only small potential health benefits of reductions in red and processed meat consumption. Even with this skewed way of presenting the evidence, the reviews clearly indicate the benefits of reducing red and processed meat consumption.”

 

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