BLOOMINGTON, Ind. The connection between red meat and heart disease has surfaced once again in a recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition, which found a strong association between heme iron, found only in meat, and potentially deadly coronary heart disease.
Researchers from the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington found that heme iron consumption increased the risk for coronary heart disease by 57 percent, while no association was found between nonheme iron, which is in plant and other non-meat sources, and coronary heart disease.
First author Jacob Hunnicutt, a graduate student in the school's Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, along with department faculty members, examined 21 previously published studies and data involving 292,454 participants during a 10-year follow-up. The study is unique because it looks at the associations of total iron consumption, as well as heme and nonheme iron intake, in comparison to the risk of coronary heart disease. The only positive association involved the intake of heme iron.
The body treats the two kinds of iron differently. It can better control absorption of iron from vegetable sources, including iron supplements, but not so with iron from meat sources.
"The observed positive association between heme iron and risk of CHD may be explained by the high bioavailability of heme iron and its role as the primary source of iron in iron-replete participants," the researchers wrote in the article. "Heme iron is absorbed at a much greater rate in comparison to nonheme iron (37 percent versus 5 percent). Once absorbed, it may contribute as a catalyst in the oxidation of LDLs, causing tissue-damaging inflammation, which is a potential risk factor for CHD."
Iron stores in the body increase over time. The only way to reduce iron in the body is by bleeding, donating blood or menstruation. Some dietary choices, such as coffee and tea, also can inhibit iron absorption.