Processed meat has long been known to be linked with disease incidence, but exactly the nature of this relationship remains a bit of a mystery. However, new research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has found evidence that processed meat consumption on a regular basis could increase dementia risk and the risk of other cognitive illnesses by about 40 percent.
The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Leeds and involved 493,888 participants from age 40 to age 69. 2,896 cases of dementia were reported during the study, 1,006 of which were Alzheimer’s disease cases and 490 of which were vascular dementia cases.
“Meat consumption was estimated using a short dietary questionnaire at recruitment and repeated 24-h dietary assessments. Incident all-cause dementia comprising Alzheimer disease (AD) and vascular dementia (VD) was identified by electronic linkages to hospital and mortality records,” the authors wrote. “HRs for each meat type in relation to each dementia outcome were estimated in Cox proportional hazard models. Interactions between meat consumption and the apolipoprotein E (APOE) ε4 allele were additionally explored.”
Each additional 25 grams of processed meat intake per day was associated with an increased risk of cognitive disorders.
Interestingly, consumption of processed poultry did not appear to have a significant correlation with cognitive decline like other meats did. Bacon, sausage, canned meats, and cured beef and pork products, however, were all on the list of meats that had profound risks.
Researchers showed that it takes just two strips of bacon a day to raise dementia risk by 44 percent. Men were more likely to suffer adverse health risks from processed meat consumption than women.
“Worldwide, the prevalence of dementia is increasing, and diet as a modifiable factor could play a role,” lead researcher and Ph.D. student Huifeng Zhang explained in a university release. “Our research adds to the growing body of evidence linking processed meat consumption to increased risk of a range of non-transmissible diseases.
“The linear trend was not significant for unprocessed poultry and total meat. Regarding incident VD, there were no statistically significant linear trends identified, although, for processed meat, higher consumption categories were associated with increased risks.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean anyone should stop eating meat altogether. Eating unprocessed red meat (such as beef, pork, or veal), in fact, was actually found to decrease a person’s risk of developing cognitive illnesses. About 50 grams of meat intake a day contributes to a roughly 19 percent decrease in dementia risk.
Many of the participants of the study who developed dementia shared similar traits to one another. Their tendency to be older, male, smokers, inactive, obese, financially unstable, and less educated may have contributed to their development of cognitive illnesses. Those who developed dementia were also more likely to have a family history of stroke or dementia, as well as a particular gene variant known to be linked to dementia.
The authors say “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.”
Until that further research can be done, it’s best to avoid deli meats and other processed meats in favor of fresh or frozen cuts whenever possible. It could have a significant impact on your health.