Indulging in large quantities of red and processed meat is not good for heart health, researchers have said.

Previous studies have found a direct correlation between heart attacks or heart disease, but this is the first time experts have looked at why this can happen.

The trial involved nearly 20,000 people who were asked to self-report on how much red meat and processed meat they consumed.

Over the course of the research period, the researchers carried out three types of heart measures to observe any notable changes.

The first test was a cardiovascular magnetic resonance (CMR) assessment which is used to measures the heart’s pumping function of the ventricles and the second analysis involved taking images of the heart because shape and texture can indicate its health. The third and final test looked at the elasticity of the blood vessels because if they are stretchy then they are healthy.

One of the researchers, Dr Zahra Raisi-Estabragh from the Queen Mary University of London, said: “Previous studies have shown links between greater red meat consumption and increased risk of heart attacks or dying from heart disease.

“For the first time, we examined the relationships between meat consumption and imaging measures of heart health. This may help us to understand the mechanisms underlying the previously observed connections with cardiovascular disease.”

Also taking into account other factors which might also influence the heart’s health such as age, gender, smoking, alcohol and exercise, the team say they found a link between high red or processed meat and poor heart health.

Specifically those who ate a lot had smaller ventricles, poorer heart function, and stiffer arteries, which can all indicate the start of cardiovascular disease problems.

Dr. Raisi-Estabragh said: “The findings support prior observations linking red and processed meat consumption with heart disease and provide unique insights into links with heart and vascular structure and function.

“It has been suggested that these factors could be the reason for the observed relationship between meat and heart disease. For example, it is possible that greater red meat intake leads to raised blood cholesterol and this in turn causes heart disease. Our study suggests that these four factors do play a role in the links between meat intake and heart health, but they are not the full story.

“This was an observational study and causation cannot be assumed. But in general, it seems sensible to limit intake of red and processed meat for heart health reasons.”

The findings were presented at the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Preventive Cardiology 2021.

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