Red Meat Linked to All-Cause Mortality

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Alvin B. Lin, MD, FAAFP

Associate Professor of Family and Community Medicine, University of Nevada School of Medicine

Adjunct Professor of Family Medicine and Geriatrics, Touro University Nevada College of Medicine

Advisory Medical Director, Infinity Hospice Care

Medical Director, Lions HealthFirst Foundation

Dr. Lin maintains a small private practice in Las Vegas, NV. The posts represent the views of Dr. Lin, and in no way are to be construed as representative of the above listed organizations. Dr. Lin blogs about current medical literature and news at


Man, it's a bad week to be me. Why? Sugar-sweetened beverages got smacked down on Wednesday. And today, it grieves me to talk about a link between my beloved rare prime rib eye and death. Not just death from heart disease and from cancer, but especially from any cause. It's not a pretty sight. I'm sure the public relations folks for the beef industry are working overtime to quell this ruckus. What's worse, this isn't the first time that they've had to deal with this. Back 3 years ago, another study of over a half million men and women in the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet & Health Study followed for 10 years linked red and processed meats to all-cause mortality plus cancer and cardiovascular deaths, too.

The numbers aren't as large this time around in a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine but still, these authors followed 37,698 men from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study and 83,644 women from the Nurses' Health Study who were cancer– and heart disease–free at baseline. Those same food frequency questionnaires were updated every 4 years with up to 22 years follow-up for men and 28 years for women. Their conclusion: despite their best attempts to take into account the usual lifestyle and dietary confounders, both process and unprocessed meat were linked to all-cause mortality, heart disease, and cancer deaths. The authors estimated that substituting one serving of non-red meat protein daily would lower all-cause mortality by 7% to 19%. To be specific, fish, poultry, legumes, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains were associated with lower risk of death.

Dr. Dean Ornish went on to write a rather spirited pro-vegetarian, anti-red meat editorial. Men's Health wanted to be sure that you're aware this study only proves correlation, not causation. For the technically minded, did a nice breakdown of the study. For the rest of us, USA Today broke it down into more understandable terms. Regardless of where you fall in the nutritional realm, this study and its predecessors give much food for thought (pun intended!).