A new research has revealed that men who regularly eat red meat have a higher risk of a developing an inflammatory bowel condition called diverticulitis than men who don’t have much red meat in their diet. Diverticulitis is a common condition which occurs when small pockets lining the intestine — called diverticula — become irritated. Although such bulges can happen anywhere in the gut, they are most common in the large intestine.
Diverticulitis leads to about 210,000 hospitalizations each year in the United States, and the total cost of treating patients with the condition is more than $2 billion, the researchers wrote. (In severe cases of diverticulitis, people may need intravenous antibiotics or surgery, according to the Mayo Clinic.)
About four percent of those affected develop severe or long-term symptoms, such as piercing of the gut wall, abscesses, and fistula, the abnormal joining together of hollow spaces within the body.
Despite its prevalence and impact, little is known about what causes diverticulitis, though previous research found links to smoking, obesity and chronic use of anti-inflammation drugs. A lack of fibre in the diet has also been a suspect, but other possible food-related causes have remained untested.
Though processed red meat is often implicated in health problems (for example, bacon made headlines in 2015 when the World Health Organization linked the processed meat to cancer), unprocessed red meat was found to be the major driver of the link between red meat and diverticulitis, the researchers wrote in the study.
Compared with processed meat, unprocessed meat, such as steak, “is usually consumed in larger portions, which could lead to a larger undigested piece in the large [intestine] and induce different changes” in the gut microbiome.
The researchers added that another hypothesis for unprocessed red meat’s role is that the higher cooking temperatures used to prepare the food may also influence gut bacteria or inflammation levels, they wrote. However, these factors need to be studied further, they added.