Heavy Consumption of Red Meat Associated with Greater Risk of Diverticulitis

By Trevor Willingham
Wednesday, November 1, 2017
Specialty: 

Harvard researchers have uncovered a link between consumption of red meat and an increased likelihood of developing diverticulitis.

A recent study, published in the journal Gut, found the connection was particularly strong with regard to unprocessed red meat.

Diverticulitis — a disorder in which bulging pouches develop in the lining of the digestive tract — is common, particularly among those over the age of 60. When these bulges become infected, it can lead to symptoms such as nausea, fever, a change in bowel habits, cramping and abdominal pain.

A Closer Look

Researchers collected data on 46,461 men who were enrolled in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, which began in 1986. During the course of the study, the men reported data on their lifestyle, medical history and diet — including the amount of red meat they consumed.

Almost 800 participants developed diverticulitis before the study ended in 2012.

Even after they controlled for other lifestyle factors linked to diverticulitis, researchers found that those eating the most red meat had a 58 percent greater risk for the disorder than those who reported the lowest consumption. Unprocessed red meats, in particular, were a major factor in this increase — boosting the risk of diverticulitis by 18 percent for every additional daily serving.

“There is an idea that there is some pro-inflammatory state mediated by red meat that could contribute to inflammation in certain organs,” lead author Andrew T. Chan, an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard, said in an interview with The New York Times. “Diverticulitis is a clear example of inflammation with serious consequences.”

“Overconsumption of red meat is still a major health problem in the United States. It’s important to educate the general public and tell professionals about healthy dietary patterns that can be used to prevent chronic disease.”
— Frank Hu, MD, PhD, Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Previous studies have found that people who eat large amounts of red meat are also at greater risk for Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain forms of cancer.

“We’re not saying people should completely remove red meat from their diets,” says Frank Hu, MD, PhD, senior author of a separate study related to health risks of red meat consumption and Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “What we’re recommending is that the overall diet should be balanced and based on minimally processed, plant-based foods.”