Study Links Dementia With Processed Meat—But Not Red Meat

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Leeds, West Yorkshire, England—Consuming a 25g serving of processed meat a day is associated with a 44% increased risk of developing dementia. However, eating some unprocessed red meat—such as beef, pork, or veal—could be protective, as people who consumed 50g a day were 19% less likely to develop dementia.

That’s the latest from the University of Leeds. Scientists from the university’s Nutritional Epidemiology Group used data from 500,000 people provided by UK Biobank, a database containing in-depth genetic and health information from 500,000 UK participants aged 40 to 69. The data included how often participants consumed different kinds of meat, collected in 2006-2010 by the Biobank. The study did not specifically assess the impact of a vegetarian or vegan diet on dementia risk, but it included data from people who said they did not eat red meat.

Among the participants, 2,896 cases of dementia emerged over an average of eight years of follow-up. These people were generally older, more economically deprived, less educated, more likely to smoke, less physically active, more likely to have stroke history, and more likely to be carriers of a gene associated with dementia. More men than women were diagnosed with dementia. Genetic factors caused some people to be three to six times more likely to develop dementia, but a press release on the topic states that the “findings suggest that the risks from eating processed meat were the same whether or not a person was genetically predisposed to developing the disease.”

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Those who consumed higher amounts of processed meat were more likely to be male, less educated, smokers, overweight or obese, had lower intakes of vegetables and fruits, and had higher intakes of calories, protein, and fat.

Lead researcher Huifeng Zhang, a Ph.D. student in the School of Food Science and Nutrition, said in the press release: “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. 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.”