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Red meat may increase stroke risk in men

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By David Liu, PHD

Sunday Jan 13, 2013 (foodconsumer.org) -- A study in the journal Stroke suggests that eating red meats such as beef and pork can increase risk of stroke in men with a normal body mass index (BMI).

J. Kaluza from Warsaw University of Life Sciences-SGGW in Warsaw, Poland and colleagues conducted the case-control study and found men with a normal BMI in the highest qintile of heme iron intake were 40 percent more likely to suffer total stroke and 38 percent more likely to experience cerebral infarction, compared with those in the lowest quintile.

Iron intake particularly heme iron found in red meat has been associated with several disease, according to the study report.  The current study was meant to examine the association between heme iron and nonheme iron intake and risk of stroke in men.

The study involved in 3097 incident cases of stroke including 2482 cerebral infarctions and 450 intracerebral hemorrhages identified among 38,859 men aged 45 to 79 years who did not have history of stroke, coronary heart disease or cancer at baseline and were followed for 11.7 years.

Overall, men in the highest quintile of heme iron intake were  found 16% and 15% more likely to suffer total stroke and cerebral infarction, respectively, compared with those in the lowest quintile of heme iron intake.   The incidence rate of total stroke was 72.6 per 10,000 person-years among those in the lowest quintile of heme iron, compared to 84.4 per 10,000 per person-years among those in the highest quintile.

Among men who had a normal body weight or body mass index, (less than 25 kg/m2), those in the highest intake of heme iron were 40% and 38% more likely to suffer total stroke and cerebral infarction, respectively, compared with those in the lowest intake.

Among overweight and obese men, intake of heme iron was not associated with stroke risk.

Among men regardless of their weight status, intake of nonheme iron was not associated with risk of total stroke and stroke types.

The researchers concluded "Findings from this prospective study indicate that a high heme iron intake, particularly in normal weight individuals, may increase the risk of stroke."

Because heme iron is found in meat, particularly red meat including (types of read meat) beef, pork, lamb, veal, sheep, duck, and goose, the study suggests that eating red meat can increase risk of stroke.

Other studies have already found that consumption of red and processed meat has a direct association with increased risk of stroke.

One of such studies was led by G. C. Chen from Soochow University in Suzhou, China and colleagues and published a study in European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Chen et al. meta-analysed data from five large prospective cohort studies  and found men and women who had the highest intakes of total meat or red meat or processed meat were all 15% more likely to experience total stroke.  The risk of ischemic stroke in those with highest intake of total meat, red meat and processed meat was 15%, 13% and 19% increased, respectively, compared with those who had lowest intakes.

High intakes were linked with high risk.   Each 100 grams of red meat per day was associated with 13% increased risk of stroke and each 50 grams of processed meat per day was linked with 11% increased risk.

Eating red meat or high intake of heme iron has been associated with a number of diseases including colorectal cancer, esophageal cancer, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, endometrial cancer, breast cancer, stomach cancer, lymphoma, bladder cancer, prostate cancer, metabolic syndrome, neurodegenerative disease, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes mellitus, obesity, hypertension, and arthritis.

The risk factors for stroke include high blood pressure, tobacco smoking, abdominal obesity, type 2 diabetes, physical inactivity, poor diet, excessive drinking or binge drinking, heart disease, and phychosocial stress/depression.  Inadequate diet is a primary risk factors that has something to do with many of these risk factors. 

Iron is considered a nutrient.  But excess intake of iron, particularly heme iron can be risky.  The current study indicates that iron from plant-based foods is safer than heme iron from meat.

Plant based foods that are found high in iron include  black-strap molasses (be aware that much of the molasses may come from genetically modified beet), raisin bran cereal, seedless raisins, prune juice, dried plums or prunes, potato with skin (be aware that potatoes contain high pesticides), kidney beans, lentils, firm tofu, and cashew nuts among others.

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