Red meat intake linked to arthritisJames Meikle, health correspondent
Eating lots of red meat might increase the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, researchers said yesterday.
Beef, lamb and burger fans might consider trimming their consumption, said the arthritis body which funds the Manchester University unit leading the study, although it was still unclear whether there was a direct, causal link between a meat diet and the chronic inflammatory condition, thought to affect nearly 400,000 people in Britain.
The researchers asked 88 patients with inflammatory arthritis, a common early sign of the painful disease, to complete food diaries and give details of past or present smoking habits. Many of them already had the full-blown condition. This information was compared with that obtained from 176 people without arthritis.
Patients were far more likely to have been smokers, but after adjusting for this, those who ate most red meat had double the risk of developing arthritis. A higher level of protein intake from all foods was also associated with a higher risk.
But the researchers, who reported their findings in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism, said regularly eating red meat might only affect people with a predisposition to the condition.
"It may be that the high collagen content of meat leads to collagen sensitisation and consequent production of collagen antibodies, most likely in a group of susceptible individuals," they said. "Meat consumption may be linked to either additives or even infectious agents, but, again, there is no evidence as to what might be important in relation to rheumatoid arthritis."
The same team have found that a low intake of vitamin C may be linked to the inflammatory arthritis, while other studies have suggested the dangers of drinking coffee, the advantages of eating fish and reduction in risk for women who drink in moderation.
The Arthritis Research Campaign, which funds the Manchester unit, said: "This provides further evidence that environmental factors can help to trigger rheumatoid arthritis. In the light of this new evidence we would suggest that as part of a healthy lifestyle, people should cut down the amount of red meat they eat."
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