Food, Health

Studies Find That Consuming Processed Meat Increases The Risk For Dementia


Studies have been conducted to look into the causes of dementia. While some theorize that this could be hereditary, others say that it also may be related to diet. Then, there are also health experts that there is no definitive answer to this dilemma just yet. What they do know is that they need to look into its possible causes so that in the future, they may be able to help those who suffer from this somewhat debilitating disease.

Scientists from the University of Leeds’s Nutritional Epidemiology Group did just that. They gathered and used data from a total of 500,000 patients. They looked into the history and found that consuming a 25-gram serving of processed meat a day, tantamount to one rasher of bacon, is actually linked to a 44 percent increased risk of developing dementia.

However, there are also exemptions to their findings. In fact, the study they conducted also showed that some unprocessed red meat, an example of it would be beef, pork or veal, could act as a protection for dementia. People who consumed 50 grams of these “good” red meat each day were 19 percent less likely to develop dementia.

The researchers of the study were looking for a potential link between consumption of meat and dementia. They did this because five to eight percent  of over 60s population are affected by it worldwide.

They conducted their research and produced astounding results. They titled their paper: Meat consumption and risk of incident dementia: cohort study of 493888 UK Biobank participants. The findings are published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Huifeng Zhang, Lead Researcher and PhD Student from the University of Leeds’ School of Food Science and Nutrition wrote, “Worldwide, the prevalence of dementia is increasing and diet as a modifiable factor could play a role. Our research adds to the growing body of evidence linking processed meat consumption, to increased risk of a range of non-transmissible diseases.”

The study was made under the expert advice and leadership of Professors Janet Cade and Laura Hardie, both of whom are at Leeds. The team collected data from 2006 to 2010 that they got from UK Biobank, a database that contains in-depth genetic and health information from half a million UK participants between ages 40 to 69. They then delved deeper into these participants daily diet to see whether or not consuming different types of meat does increase the risk of developing dementia. The data they had on hand also included the number of times these participants consumed different kinds of meat. They did this by including six options from never to once or more daily. Although the study limited itself to meat and did not consider the impact of a vegetarian or vegan diet on the risk, it did include details from those who did not consume red meat at all.

Among the participants in the study, 2,896 cases of dementia came out after eight years of follow up. These sufferers were more from the older bracket and were more economically challenged, less educated, mostly smoked, less physically active, more likely to have a history of stroke and dementia in the family, and more likely to be carriers of the gene. It is also important to note that there were more men than women in the study conducted. Some of these participants were likely to develop dementia due to well established genetic factors and around three to six times more. The findings also suggest that the risks from eating processed meat increased, even if the person was not genetically predisposed to it.

A big portion of the sufferers were male. They were also the ones who were less educated, are smokers, are overweight or obese, ate less vegetables and fruits on a daily basis, and had higher consumption of energy, protein, and fat (including saturated fat).

Meat consumption was believed to have been closely linked to the risk of dementia, but they couldn’t fully conclude it until the researchers were able to do a large-scale study over time. This latest research had closely examined the link between specific meat types and amounts, and the risk of developing dementia.

Right now, there are over 50 million cases worldwide. Around 10 million new cases are diagnosed every single year. Alzheimer’s comprises as many as 50 to 70 percent of the cases and vascular dementia at around 25 percent. The disease develops and progresses because of genetic and environmental factors, and these include diet and lifestyle.

Ms. Zhang states, “Further confirmation is needed, but the direction of effect is linked to current healthy eating guidelines suggesting lower intakes of unprocessed red meat could be beneficial for health.”

Professor Cade backs up his statement by saying, “Anything we can do to explore potential risk factors for dementia may help us to reduce rates of this debilitating condition. This analysis is a first step towards understanding whether what we eat could influence that risk.”