A team of researchers has found that limiting red meat consumption lowers the risk of developing diverticulitis, a common inflammatory bowel disease. The causes of diverticulitis are mostly unknown even though the problem is becoming more common. The findings are in a paper that was just published in the journal Gut.
Diverticulitis is a disease of the digestive tract that becomes more common with age. Small pouches and bulges called diverticula naturally form throughout the digestive system, especially in the colon. These don’t generally cause problems and immediate treatment is unnecessary. However, the pouches can occasionally become infected or inflamed, potentially leading to severe abdominal pain, nausea, abnormal bowel movements, and fever. Although infections can be traced back to bacteria, little is known about other causes of the disease.
The research team used data from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, a large cohort study that included 46,461 individuals. All participants were men between 40 and 75 years of age. The group was tracked for 26 years and 764 men developed diverticulitis during the study.
The team found that men who consumed large quantities of red meat were significantly more likely to develop diverticulitis. This was true even after the researchers controlled for exercise, age, weight, over-the-counter drug use, smoking, fiber intake, and other factors that might have affected the results. Men who consumed six or more servings of red meat a week were at the highest risk of developing the disease. The researchers determined that a simple substitution of poultry or fish for one of these servings was enough to reduce the risk of diverticulitis.
The findings show a clear link between red meat consumption and diverticulitis. Since researchers know very little about the disease, studies like this are especially valuable. Previous studies have showed that red meat can release inflammatory chemicals; red meat consumption may also affect the beneficial bacteria required for a working digestive system. More research will be needed to pinpoint the exact causes of diverticulitis but for now, the research team recommends cutting back on red meat.
Cao et al. Meat intake and risk of diverticulitis among men. Gut (2017).