To Your Health: Eating less meat linked to healthy aging!

To Your Health: Eating less meat linked to healthy aging!

Part-time Telluride local, Dr. Alan Safdi, is a world-renowned internist and gastroenterologist with encyclopedic knowledge of mind-body wellness and preventative medicine. He posts regularly on Telluride Inside… and Out under the banner of “To Your Health.” Dr. Alan’s blogs feature the most current information in his fields: health, wellness and longevity.

Links to Dr. Alan’s podcasts and narratives on COVID-19 are here.

This week, Dr. Alan asks and answers the question: Eating less meat is linked to healthy aging. The key could be a smelly gas: Hydrogen sulphide (H2S). The podcast is here.

Below we are discussing the possible links of beef to dementia, heart disease, and all cause mortality from a variety of new studies. Could processed meats be more dangerous than we realized? Remember the studies did not look at free range beef vs. farm raised beef. The free range beef may not show the same results since there may be healthier fats in free range meat including higher omega 3 fatty acids.

There is a growing body of evidence linking processed meat consumption to increased risk of a range of non-transmissible diseases. Meat consumption has previously been associated with dementia risk, but now we have the first large-scale study of participants over time to examine a link between specific meat types and amounts, and the risk of developing the disease. Scientists from the University of Leeds’s used data from 500,000 people, discovering that consuming a 25g serving of processed meat a day, the equivalent to one serving of bacon, is associated with a 44% increased risk of developing the disease. Unprocessed red meat, such as beef, pork or veal showed no link to dementia.

Compared with those who abstained from meat, eating two servings of processed and unprocessed red meat per week was tied to a 7% and 3% higher risk for incident cardiovascular disease, respectively — a composite of coronary heart disease, stroke, heart failure, and cardiovascular deaths reported in JAMA Internal Medicine. Please remember there are people who eat a lot more than two servings per week of those products. We live in the United States so our servings may be equivalent to multiple servings in our studies. One serving of unprocessed red meat or poultry was equivalent to about 4 ounces, while one serving of fish was about 3 ounces. One serving of processed meat was equivalent to about two small bacon slices or sausage links, or one hot dog. How many people who eat bacon only have two small slices?

Beyond heart outcomes, eating processed or unprocessed red meat was also tied to 3% higher risk for all-cause mortality. But neither poultry nor fish consumption were associated with a similar significant risk.

Two servings a week of poultry was similarly tied to 4% higher risk for developing incident cardiovascular disease versus those who didn’t consume any poultry. However, fish was not tied to any adverse heart effects nor to any benefit either.

Beyond heart outcomes, eating processed or unprocessed red meat were each also tied to 3% higher risk for all-cause mortality. But neither poultry nor fish consumption were associated with a significant risk for all-cause mortality.

Data for the study covered 30,000 participants in several well-known observation cohorts: ARIC, CARDIA, MESA, the Cardiovascular Health Study, and the Framingham Heart and Offspring studies. Median follow-up was 19 years.

Another study had outcomes that are a little scarier. Eating more red meat is associated with an increased risk of dying from eight common diseases including cancer, diabetes and heart disease, as well as “all other causes” of death, according to a 2017 U.S. study.

Researchers examined data on almost 537,000 adults aged 50 to 71 and found the people who consumed the most red meat had 26 percent higher odds of dying from a variety of causes than those who ate the least.

These study group’s findings are more consistent with recommendations that people aim for low to no intake of processed or unprocessed red meat, and instead opt for other sources of protein like fish, seafood, nuts, legumes, beans, and peas.

Most people eat meat, poultry, and/or fish on a weekly or even on a daily basis or more if you look at the studies’ definition of a serving size. One serving of unprocessed red meat or poultry was equivalent to about 4 ounces, while one serving of fish was about 3 ounces. One serving of processed meat was equivalent to about two small bacon slices or sausage links, or one hot dog.

Therefore, modifying intake of these animal protein foods looks like an important strategy to help reduce cardiovascular and premature death events.

One unexpected finding was the risk associated with poultry intake. Literature evidence suggests an inverse association — i.e., greater poultry intake is associated with a lower risk — or no association. In this study organic poultry or the type of preparation of the poultry was not evaluated. This finding may be related to cooking methods, such as fried versus baked chicken, as well as consumption of skin versus white meat.

Nonetheless, limiting or stopping eating unprocessed red meat and processed meat can be an appropriate recommendation given the current evidence. There are many other healthier choices including egg whites, fish, and plant-based sources of protein such as nuts, legumes, and whole grains.

Is it the processed meats that are the problem, or the fact that the meats may be replacing very healthy  whole grains, vegetables, plant based proteins, and fruits? In our podcast we discuss another possible etiology. Turns out it is the type of amino acids in the meats.

We discuss in the podcast why cutting back on meat could be important for healthy aging. The surprising reason: it forces the tissues to make hydrogen sulphide (H2S), a gas that’s poisonous if inhaled and which smells like rotten eggs, but promotes health inside the body. Studies since the 1990s have shown that reducing intake of certain sulphur-containing amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, can increase longevity in rats by around 30%. In a recent study from Harvard they restricted the intake of two sulphur amino acids – cysteine and methionine – to study what effects this had: in the end, that caused animals to ramp up production of H2S in their tissues, which triggered a cascade of beneficial effects.

Now for a study in humans.

That study had over 11,000 subjects and reduced dietary intake of these sulphur amino acids is linked to lower cardiometabolic risk factors, including lower levels of cholesterol and glucose in the blood. Cardiometabolic risk factors are those linked to heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

So where do you get these sulphur amino acids?  Sulphur amino acids are abundant in meat, dairy and eggs which we have in abundance in the American Diet.

Now what are the risks and benefits of carbs in the diet?

Low-carb diets do result in rapid weight loss. But much of what’s lost is water weight, since the body is forced to draw on its carbohydrate reserves, which are stored with water. That weight often creeps back when a person starts eating starches again. Most people can’t stay on the diet in the long-term. They’re losing the same 10, 15, 20 pounds again and again and again.

A major study from earlier this year also found that dieters on low-carb and low-fat eating plans had lost roughly the same amount of weight a year later. Different people also succeeded on different diets in the study, suggesting that there’s no universal “best” diet.

The rest of your diet matters, too:

Numerous studies have found that the health impact of a restrictive diet largely depends on what replaces the eliminated foods. People who fare best on low-carb or low-fat diets tend to be those who compensate by eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and plant-based proteins, whereas people who make up for lost calories with snack foods and animal products are less likely to see health benefits. Diet quality is really more of something to focus on more than calories or grams of fat or things like that. And it’s the same thing with carbs.

An August study, for example, found that people who ate carbs in moderation — drawing about 50% of their daily calories from these foods — had a lower risk of premature death than people on either very high- or low-carb diets.

Researchers noted that people on high-carb diets tend to eat lots of low-nutrition refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and snack foods, while people on low-carb diets often over-compensate with meat and dairy, which may increase the risk of heart disease.

Carbs do have health benefits:

Carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of energy, which is why endurance athletes “carbo-load” before competitions. When you restrict carbohydrate consumption, your body is forced to find other sources of energy — like fat, which produces compounds called ketones when burned for fuel, giving the ketogenic diet its name.

Carb-rich foods like whole grains and fruits also provide valuable nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and sometimes even protein and healthy fats.

The bottom line:

I agree with the federal dietary guidelines’ recommendation that 45 to 65% of daily calories should come from carbohydrates. Concentrate on fiber-rich sources like whole grains, fruits and vegetables rather than refined and processed carbs like white bread and crackers. The former are going to be really good for general health, gut health (your microbiome) and weight management. The methodologies of preparation of our meat products, serving sizes, and number of servings per week are important factors to pay attention to in your diet too.

Dr. Alan, more:

Dr. Alan Safdi is board-certified in Internal Medicine and in Gastroenterology and is a Fellow of the American College of Gastroenterology. A proven leader in the healthcare arena, he has been featured on the national program, “Medical Crossfire” and authored or co-authored numerous medical articles and abstracts.

Safdi, a long-time Telluride local, has been involved in grant-based and clinical research for four decades. He is passionate about disease prevention and wellness, not just fixing what has gone wrong.

Dr. Alan is an international lecturer on the subjects of wellness, nutrition and gastroenterology.

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