Red Meat and Cancer: What's the Beef?

Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS


June 20, 2013

In This Article

The Length of Your Life on Meat

Another question of interest is whether meat consumption is related to mortality. In some studies, vegetarians have been shown to live longer, but lifestyle factors other than meat in the diet could play a role in their longevity. The findings about red meat and mortality in nonvegetarians, however, have been inconsistent.

In a study using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey-III, neither red or processed meat, nor white meat consumption, was consistently associated with all-cause or cause-specific mortality.[24] Similarly, in more than 50,000 Japanese men and women, moderate meat consumption (up to 100 g/day) was not associated with increased mortality from ischemic heart disease, stroke, or total cardiovascular disease among either sex.[25] In contrast, red meat intake was associated with death from ischemic heart disease in Chinese adults.[26]

The National Institutes of Health/AARP Diet and Health Study[27] (NIH-AARP study) was a prospective investigation of red, white, and processed meat intakes as risk factors for total mortality, and cause-specific mortality, in 545,881adults followed for 10 years. The chief findings were modest increases in risk for total mortality, as well as cancer and cardiovascular mortality, with higher intakes of red and processed meat in both men and women. In contrast, higher white meat consumption was associated with a small reduction in total and cancer mortality in both men and women. The investigators were unable to determine the causes of higher mortality, but they speculated that these could be (in relation to cancer) the aforementioned HCAs, PAHs, or N-nitroso compounds and (in relation to cardiovascular disease) elevated blood pressure and dyslipidemia.


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