Meat and Inflammaging; Where’s The Link?

January 16, 2020

What happens when you mix inflammation with aging? You definitely get ‘Inflammaging.’ Inflammaging is chronic, low-grade inflammation that comes with aging. It usually involves several organs and is characterized by a complex balance between inflammatory responses. Inflammaging is responsible for the negative changes experienced by aging. Consequently, inflammation can serve as a pointer for anti-aging strategies. Meat contains a number of compounds that play a significant role in inflammation. This article outlines seven compounds found in meat that are significant in this process. But before we get there, let’s set the limits for what inflammation is or is not.

What Is Inflammation?

Inflammation is a natural response through which the body fights infections and other threats, and it can be acute or chronic. Acute inflammation is usually accompanied by swelling, tenderness, heat, and redness. Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, can easily go unnoticed. While acute inflammation can protect our health, chronic inflammation is a different story altogether.

Many diseases are triggered by the chronic activation of inflammatory pathways. They include diseases such as diabetes, obesity, asthma, celiac disease, acne, rheumatoid arthritis, and even atherosclerosis of heart arteries. Due to this, it is important to take measures to prevent chronic inflammation.

How Is Inflammation Tested?

Inflammation can be tested through lab assays that detect the presence of inflammatory markers. A blood test known as CRP (C Reactive Protein) is one of the common tests for inflammation.

Most of our immune defenses are found in the gut and are influenced by the food we eat and gut microbiota. Foods can either be pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory.

Meat and Inflammaging

The consumption of meat has been shown to aid in the inflammation process. Here are four reasons why this is so:

1. Meat consumption elevates levels of C-Reactive Protein

C-reactive protein is found in the liver and it is an inflammatory marker. The measurement of this protein is one of the standard tests for chronic inflammations. Studies have shown that the consumption of meat is linked to high amounts of C Reactive Protein. This is also associated with high risk for heart disease as well as cancer.

Another study also showed a strong link between meat consumption and high levels of arachidonic acid which is a biomarker for inflammation and aging.

2. Meat consumption causes an increase in TMAO

TMAO which is the acronym for trimethylamine oxide is a molecule linked to cardiovascular disease, and inflammation as well. It is produced in the body from dietary carnitine found in meats. Our own bodies also make this compound.

When we eat carnitine, it is broken down into TMAO by the liver. Studies have shown that vegans and vegetarians produce less TMAO from carnitine than consumers of red meat. This means that regular meat consumption may increase one’s risk for inflammation as well as heart disease.

3. Meat Produces Advanced glycation end products (AGEs)

AGEs are reactive molecules that are created by the reaction of carbohydrates with proteins and fats. This process is referred to as the Maillard reaction. AGEs have been linked to inflammation and chronic metabolic diseases. Diets that are rich in AGES include meat, poultry, and cheese. The amount of AGEs in these products is further increased by dry heat cooking methods such as grilling and frying. On the contrary, fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, and low-fat milk products are the lowest sources of dietary AGEs.

4. SATURATED FAT

Meats are a rich source of saturated fats. Studies have shown that a single high-saturated fat meal can trigger inflammation and oxidative stress. It’s also shown to immediately increase triglycerides levels in the blood. This further causes oxidative stress and inflammation making it a vicious cycle. Saturated fats have also been associated with a myriad of other health conditions that may be detrimental.

What About White Meat?

Most of the negative health consequences ascribed to meat have been linked to the consumption of red meat. It follows that most studies have also zeroed in on red meat. White meat for a long time has been given the green light. However, some controversy has been brewing recently challenging the widespread belief that white meat is entirely safe. The research which was carried out by Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute in California concluded that the negative effects of both types of meat were identical. The lead researcher Dr. Ronal Krauss had this to say:

“When we planned this study, we expected red meat to have a more adverse effect on blood cholesterol levels than white meat, but we were surprised that this was not the case — their effects on cholesterol are identical when saturated fat levels are equivalent.”

Red meats generally have more saturated fats than white meats, and this is why white meats are considered safer. But given the factors above, it could be that white meat has significant potential when it comes to inflammation. With the new evidence emerging, it could be that white meat poses a similar risk in heart disease as well.

References

1.   NCBI (2014): Associations between red meat intake and biomarkers of inflammation and glucose metabolism in women. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24284436

2.   NCBI (2017): Consumption of Red Meat, but Not Cooking Oils High in Polyunsaturated Fat, Is Associated with Higher Arachidonic Acid Status in Singapore Chinese Adults. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28146136

3.   NCBI (2016): Advanced Glycation End Products, Inflammation, and Chronic Metabolic Diseases: Links in a Chain? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25259686

4.   NCBI (2013): Intestinal microbiota metabolism of L-carnitine, a nutrient in red meat, promotes atherosclerosis. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23563705

5.   NCBI (2017): Magnitude and Timing of the Postprandial Inflammatory Response to a High-Fat Meal in Healthy Adults: A Systematic Review. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28298267

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