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Do Bacon and Hot Dogs Trigger Diabetes?

Study Shows Processed and Red Meats Increase Risk
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WebMD Health News

Sept. 8, 2004 -- Eating more bacon and red meat than ever? You may be increasing your risk of developing diabetes, a new study shows.

The long-term safety of meat-heavy diets has been questioned, with some studies linking them to kidney damage and colorectal cancer. Now new research points to a link between eating red meat -- especially processed meats -- and type 2 diabetes.

Compared with women who eat less red meat, women who eat red meat frequently have almost a third higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Frequently eating bacon, hot dogs, and processed (deli-style) meats was associated with a 43% higher risk of type 2 diabetes in women participating in the large health study.

The new findings are reported by investigators from Harvard Medical School in the September issue of the journal Diabetes Care.

Processing Triggers Insulin Resistance

Researchers followed just more than 37,000 women aged 45 or older for an average of eight years. All of the women completed detailed questionnaires accessing their food choices at study entry, and none had heart disease, cancer, or type 2 diabetes.

At follow-up, 1,560 of the women had developed type 2 diabetes. Even after adjusting for other risks associated with the development of diabetes such as age, weight, and exercise, the researchers continued to find associations between the amount of processed and red meats eaten and the development of type 2 diabetes.

Women who ate five or more servings of red meat a week were found to have a 29% increase in diabetes risk compare with women who ate red meat less than once a week. While those who ate five or more servings of processed meats had a 43% increase in risk compared with women who ate less than a serving of processed meat a week.

Researcher Yiqing Song, MD, and colleagues suggest that the preservatives, additives, and other chemicals used to process meats, including nitrates and nitrites, or chemicals that are formed during processing, could trigger insulin resistance.

Iron may also play a role. Red meat and processed meats are high in iron, and previous studies show a link between high iron levels and type 2 diabetes. Compared with women who got the least iron in their diets in this study, those who got the most were 46% more likely to develop diabetes.

"The underlying mechanism by which consumption of red meat or processed meat influence type 2 diabetes risk are still not well understood and require further investigation," Song and colleagues write.

The Big Picture

Longtime diabetes researcher Frank Hu, MD, PhD, says the new findings are consistent with his earlier research and that of others. Hu has studied the impact of a wide range of different dietary factors on type 2 diabetes risk. Prior studies showed that, among other things, drinking coffee and eating peanut butter may help protect against the disease.

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