Cut the Red Meat to Reduce Rheumatoid Arthritis Risk

Here's another reason to watch your consumption of red meat: Eating large servings of red meat may increase your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers at the University of Manchester in the UK examined data on more than 25,000 people ages 45 to 75 whose health and lifestyle habits had been followed for up to nine years. The subjects who developed rheumatoid arthritis are more red meat than those who remained arthritis-free.

A form of inflammatory arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) occurs when the body's immune system mistakenly attacks the joints; over time, the resulting swelling erodes the joints' bone and soft tissue. Study author Alan J. Silman, MD, speculates that red meat may stimulate the body's production of antibodies against collagen, leading to increased risk for RA. Or, he suggests, meat eaters may also consume more additives or infectious agents that lead to RA. It could be, Dr. Silman adds, that red meat increases RA risk only among individuals with a predisposition to the condition.

Lifestyle factors are believed to be responsible for as much as 40 percent of the risk for RA. Cigarette smoking, for example, has been consistently linked to the development of RA. Studies have indicated that other risk factors may include drinking coffee and not getting enough vitamin C, while a diet high in fish and moderate alcohol consumption (for women) have been suggested to be preventative.

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The University of Manchester study also looked at the vitamin C factor. Although subjects with a lower vitamin C intake had a greater likelihood of having RA, the connection was not as strong as in a previous study by the research team.

Though red meat consumption showed the greatest correlation to incidence of RA, the researchers also found an increased risk from a higher level of protein consumption from all dietary sources, not just steak and burgers.

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