Study: Processed Meat Raises Risk of Liver Disease and Diabetes

Study: Processed Meat Raises Risk of Liver Disease and Diabetes
General Health

The results of an Israeli study suggest that you can lower your risk of developing chronic liver disease and type 2 diabetes by reducing or eliminating red meat (cooked well-done) and processed meats from your diet.

The study looked specifically at what’s known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which is linked to obesity and certain eating habits. It had already been established that red and processed meats are connected with an increased risk of diabetes, certain cancers, and heart disease; but their link to liver disease was less clear. [1]

The researchers examined data on 789 adults who completed questionnaires about their eating and cooking habits, and each participant underwent liver ultrasound scans and lab tests for insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes.

Overall, 39% of the study subjects were found to have NAFLD, and 31% had insulin resistance.

Those who ate more processed and red meat than at least half of the other participants did were found to be 47% more likely to have liver disease and 55% more likely to have insulin resistance.

NAFLD affects up to one in four adults and is the most common liver disorder in developed countries. The condition occurs when fat accumulates in the organ’s cells in people who do not overindulge in alcohol. [2]

Left untreated, NAFLD can lead to cirrhosis and eventually to liver failure or liver cancer.

In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) wing of the World Health Organization (WHO) said that it had evaluated the carcinogenicity of red meat and processed meats, such as hot dogs and cold cuts, and had determined that they probably cause cancer in humans.

Read: Harvard Says Reducing Red Meat Consumption Can Extend Life by 20%

Both NAFLD and diabetes are among the symptoms and traits that make up metabolic syndrome, which increases a person’s risk for both heart disease and diabetes. [1]

Lead study author Shira Zelber-Sagi, a nutrition researcher at the University of Haifa, said:

“Evidence is mounting with regard to the harmful effect of over-consumption of red and processed meat.” [1]

The risks of NAFLD and diabetes were even higher among those who said they prefer their red meat cooked well done, compared to those who preferred their meat more rare or cooked more briefly, the authors wrote in the Journal of Hepatology.

Zelber-Sagi said that overcooking meat releases compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that are tied to both liver disease and insulin resistance.

Read: Nitrites in Processed Foods Are Harming You, “Natural” or Not

She added:

“In order to prevent insulin resistance and NAFLD, (people should consider) choosing fish, turkey, or chicken as an animal protein source. In addition, steaming or boiling food (is better than) grilling or frying meat at a high temperature until it’s very well done.” [1]

Dr Jeffrey Schwimmer, director of the Fatty Liver Clinic at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, who was not involved in the study, called for red meat to be eaten just once a week…or not at all. [2]

“There is not a need for red meat, so one could choose to avoid it altogether. For those that do eat meat, it would be reasonable to limit red meat to once a week and to limit processed meat to occasional use only.” [2]


[1] Reuters

[2] Daily Mail