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Debate over health effects of red meat rages

Published by Guardian on Thu, 18 Apr 2013


Caution on Suya, Isi Ewu, Nkwobi, Kilishi consumptionRecent reports have raised fresh concerns over the health effects of red meat. Earlier studies had linked intake of red meat to cancer and other degenerative conditions such as heart disease. But scientists are divided. Another school of thought says red meat is good but should be taken, cooked with spices, in moderation not roasted or fried as in suya, isi ewu, nkwobi, kilishi. CHUKWUMA MUANYA examines the scenario.DOES eating red meat increase the risk of cancer and heart disease' Several studies have demonstrated how small quantities of processed meat such as suya, kilishi, nkwobi, isi ewu, bacon, sausages or salami can significantly increase the risk of dying early from cancer and heart disease.Scientists have also found that people who eat a diet high in red meat were likely to be generally unhealthier because they were more likely to smoke, be overweight and not exercise.The researchers recommend that people should cut their red meat consumption to prevent almost one in 10 early deaths in men and one in 13 in women.They found that red meat often contains high amounts of saturated fat, while bacon and salami contain large amounts of salt and replacing red meat with poultry, fish or vegetables, whole grains and other healthy foods cut the risk of dying by up to one fifth.Indeed, the link between red meat and poor heart health has traditionally been blamed on cholesterol, but new evidence suggests this is not the whole story. United States researchers, last week, found that carnitine, a nutrient found in red meat, is converted into a metabolite that promotes cardiovascular disease by gut bacteria. This may mean that the popular practice of taking carnitine supplements to build muscle is unwise.According to the Nutrition Society of Nigeria (NSN) and the Paediatric Association of Nigeria (PAN), red meat is a valuable source of iron, zinc and vitamin D, which is vital for health, especially in pregnant women and infants.They are unanimous that red meat can be part of a balanced diet. 'But people who eat a lot of red and processed meat should consider cutting down as regularly eating a lot could increase your risk of bowel cancer.'A consultant pharmacist at Malix Pharmacy Onitsha, Adaeze Omaliko, said red meat is the victim of stereotypes that have been exaggerated to the point where it is today somewhat stigmatised as a food that is linked to cancer and higher fat and caloric content.She explained: 'While the cancer issue depends on what studies you look at and the higher caloric content is not that much over white meat, red meat does have benefits that white meat simply lacks. For example, the nutrients zinc, iron, thiamine and riboflavin (in addition to vitamins B12 and B6) appear in much greater abundance in red meat.'Moreover, red meat is a great source of muscle-building protein as well as being the best source of the antioxidant called alpha lipoic acid. Still, red meat has been the subject of a lot of studies that connect it to health problems beyond cancer, like cardiovascular disease and even arthritis and hypertension.'To an associate professor of medicine and consultant in endocrinology, diabetology and metabolism division at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Dr. Fasanmade Olufemi, red meat refers to beef, mutton, lamb, pork and venison while white meat refers to chicken, fish, seafood.Fasanmade said red meat contains most of the essential amino acids for growth and development. 'It thus protects against malnutrition in children and growing adults. In pregnant women too the red meat serves as a good source of protein to help blood formation, bone formation, prevent anaemia in pregnancy and help in fetal development,' he said.The endocrinologist, however, said, on the other hand, red meat which is rich in cholesterol can predispose to high cholesterol levels if consumed in large quantities. He said the entrails of red meat like liver, kidney, brain, intestines are even worse in this regard containing more fat than the fleshy parts of red meat.Fasanmade said red meat consumption also leads to gout and kidney stone formation if done in large amounts. He said burning of red meat is also associated with production of carcinogens like nitrosamine, which has been implicated in cancer development.The diabetologist advised: 'So if you are to consume red meat as an adult take small quantities, avoid the entrails and delicacies of red meat and go for the lean cuts. The isi ewus, oriri na nkwobis, shaki and roundabout, which are Nigerian delicacies should be eaten sparingly. Fish particularly scaly fish is a better alternative and seafood except prawns have relatively lower amounts of harmful fats.'Executive Director, Nigerian Heart Foundation (NHF) and the Vice-President (Elect), World Heart Federation (WHF), Geneva, Dr. Kingsley K. Akinroye, said the consumption of red meat has long been associated with risk of heart health due to increase of saturated fats and cholesterol.Akinroye said the latest study identifies other ingredients present in red meat that may contribute to heart disease; apart from the red meat salt's content, influence of genetic risk factors or the cooking procedure that may all account for the increase risk of heart disease.'This is a potentially innovative research which needs to be replicated by other research scientists in developed and developing countries; and to determine how the resultant knowledge may be translated into action to benefit the population,' he said.The cardiologist explained: 'The outcome of a research published in Nature Medicine, by researchers from Cleveland Clinic; showed that L-Carinitine, a naturally ' occurring substance in red-meat and a chemical additive of many energy drinks; is associated with the development of atherosclerosis.'The researchers studied the heart health effects of red meat and concluded that L ' Carnitine is broken down by natural intestinal bacteria into a substance called Trimethylamine 'N- Oxide or TMAO.'TMAO had been shown in earlier research by the Cleveland group to lead to hardening and clogging of the arteries ' atherosclerosis. With progressive atherosclerosis the blood vessel walls become less flexible and blood flow through the narrowed arteries lessens, hypertension can result and blood clots may develop.'Narrowing and blockage of the coronary arteries of the heart and blood vessels within the brain are often an end-result of arteriosclerosis. With this knowledge; it offers opportunity to examine the safety of long-term consumption of Carnitine supplements in energy drinks, which has been linked to increase in risk of heart disease.'For the global population; may be a heart-healthy diet could be developed in future to prevent the production of TMAO following consumption of red meat.'Meanwhile, a recent United States National Institutes of Health-AARP study of more than a half-million older Americans concluded that people who ate the most red meat and processed meat over a 10-year-period were likely to die sooner than those who ate smaller amounts. Those who ate about 4 ounces of red meat a day were more likely to die of cancer or heart disease than those who ate the least, about a half-ounce a day. Epidemiologists classified the increased risk as 'modest' in the study.The meat industry contends there is no link between red meat, processed meats, and cancer, and says that lean red meat fits into a heart-healthy diet. A meat industry spokeswoman criticized the design of the NIH-AARP study, saying that studies that rely on participants to recall what foods they eat cannot prove cause and effect.But many studies have found similar links. Another one that followed more than 72,000 women for 18 years found that those who ate a Western-style diet high in red and processed meats, desserts, refined grains, and French fries had an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, and death from other causes.After a systemic review of scientific studies, an expert panel of the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research concluded in 2007 that 'red or processed meats are convincing or probable sources of some cancers.' Their report says evidence is convincing for a link between red meat, processed meat, and colorectal cancer, and limited but suggestive for links to lung, esophageal, stomach, pancreatic, and endometrial cancers.
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