Will Eating Red Meat Once a Day Help Keep Multiple Sclerosis Away?
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
To eat red meat or not to eat red meat? That is the question!
And it seems like the question that will never have a definitive answer! Whether you’re a meat-eater or not, you’ve probably heard or read that regularly consuming red meat may increase your chance of developing heart disease.
When we eat red meat (such as beef, lamb, mutton (flesh of sheep), goat, horse and pork), during the digestion process our gut bacteria produce a byproduct called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO). And according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), TMAO may contribute to heart disease - the leading cause of death in the United States.
But before you swear off steaks, lamb chops and beef burgers, a recent study found evidence that eating red meat as part of a healthy diet reduced the risk of multiple sclerosis (MS).
(MS is a chronic, usually progressive, autoimmune disease of the central nervous system. It is an inflammatory disease that causes the immune system to attack healthy tissue. It affects the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. Actress Selma Blair has been very brave in sharing with the public her battle with MS. You can read more about MS in this older pH Labs blog).
Now, I want to be very clear here.
The study did not suggest that eating red meat alone will reduce your risk of MS. It suggests that eating red meat as part of a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, may reduce your risk. In other words, you can’t eat a bunch of burgers with white bread buns without any vegetables and other healthy, nutrient-rich foods in your diet and expect to reap any potential health benefits.
So just think of it as a modified Mediterranean diet. You are still eating all of the healthy foods this diet promotes, but you are also adding in a meat source that this diet does not really encourage people to eat.
Another very important variable of the study to keep in mind is that eating red meat as part of a healthy diet does not include eating processed red meats such as bacon, sausage and hot dogs. It stresses just eating unprocessed red meats. Think steaks or lamb chops you would get from the grocery store or local butcher.
(I would also splurge on organic, higher quality meats if possible).
Researchers of the study looked at data from 840 Australians who took part in their project to “...determine whether there was a link between consuming a Mediterranean diet that includes unprocessed red meat, such as lamb, beef and pork, and a reduced risk of a first episode of CNS demyelination, a common precursor to MS,” according to this report discussing the study.
One of the lead authors of the study said that the number of people being diagnosed with MS is increasing globally. There is no exact known cause of MS, but environmental factors such as low sun exposure, vitamin D deficiency and a poor diet may be contributing factors.
“Previous research suggests that a Mediterranean diet can help to reduce the risk of certain health issues, including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer's disease and dementia and improve overall life expectancy. However, there is inconclusive evidence to suggest a Mediterranean diet also reduces the risk of developing MS.”
But on the other side of the coin…
“Our research found that consuming one daily serving (65 g) of unprocessed red meat as part of a healthy Mediterranean diet may be beneficial for those at high risk of developing MS.”
(According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, MS is at least two to three times more common in women than in men, suggesting that hormones may also play a significant role in determining susceptibility to MS. Studies have suggested that the female to male ratio may be as high as three or four to one. You can read more about those who are at a higher risk, here).
Consuming one daily serving of unprocessed meat (as part of a healthy Mediterranean diet) may be beneficial, in my opinion. But there is not a one size fits all recommendation. For example, someone who is overweight or has heart issues may not be advised to eat red meat every day (even if it is just one small serving).
And keep in mind that this diet may only be beneficial for those that are at a high risk of developing MS.
It is not understood exactly why red meat as part of a healthy diet may reduce the risk of MS, but the researchers believe it may have to do with nutrients present in this particular meat source. Red meat is a good source of protein, iron, zinc selenium, B vitamins, potassium and vitamin D. These are all nutrients that are important for healthy neurological function (and remember MS affects the central nervous system).
What about the concern of cholesterol?
Another reason why red meat sometimes gets a bad rep is due to concerns regarding cholesterol. Some may say white meat, such as chicken and turkey, is better for your due to containing less cholesterol, however, a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found evidence suggesting that eating white meat will have the same effect on your cholesterol levels as eating red meat.
“The main source of red meat provided by the researchers was beef, while chicken served as the main white meat protein. Blood samples were collected from all the participants at the start and finish of each test diet,” according to this CNN report discussing the study.
“Plant proteins had the healthiest impact on blood cholesterol, the study results showed. Meanwhile, the effects of white and red meats on participants' cholesterol levels were identical when saturated fat levels were equivalent.”
(You can check out a previous pH Labs blog about this here).
What do we take away from all of this?
- There is no one size fits all approach to dieting. How you should eat depends on so many different variables: age, gender, activity level, genetics , pre-existing health issues or are pregnancy. So always seek the advice of a competent healthcare professional regarding your daily diet.
- Moderation is key. Red meat may have some health benefits, but remember to control your portions. A steak should really be no larger than the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand.
- Steer clear of processed foods. Bacon and hot dogs are not healthy sources of red meat.
- Fruits and vegetables should be the main stars of your plate. We usually think of vegetables and fruits as side dishes, but make sure these nutrient-dense foods take up the majority of your plate.
Finally, when it comes to multiple sclerosis, it appears that whole body cryotherapy and physical exercise has been recommended as the standard physiotherapy protocol. In April 2019, the National Institutes of Health reported the results of a study confirming that whole body cryotherapy and physical exercise training was an effective therapy for patients with multiple sclerosis (MS). They concluded that the “introduction of WBC into the standard physiotherapy protocol for patients with MS is fully justified.”
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.