Heart Disease, Sausage Link?

by Leigh on November 24, 2014

pig in blanket

This kind of pig in a blanket is good for your heart. Sausages aren’t.

Processed red meats, including sausages and ham, significantly increase the risk of heart failure and death from heart failure, according to a study published in the journal Circulation: Heart Failure. The report, by Dr Joanna Kaluza of Warsaw University of Life Sciences, Poland, included calculations of an 8% and 38% increase in the risk of new heart failure and HF-death for every extra 50g of processed meat consumed daily.

This study looked at participants in the Cohort of Swedish Men, with data taken from those already consuming low to moderate levels of processed red meats. The researchers accounted for known risk factors such as a history of heart attack, excess calorie consumption, and poor intake of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. The researchers also adjusted for age, education, smoking, body-mass index, total physical activity, aspirin use, supplement use, family history of MI under the age of 60, and consumption levels for alcohol and fish.

The records of more than 37,000 men were studied, with the men aged from 45 to 79. These men had no history of heart failure or ischemic heart disease when they were enrolled in the study, and their health status was monitored for an average of 11.8 years, with dietary intake self-reported.

250% Increase in Risk of Death with Processed Red Meat

Compared to men who ate less than 25g of processed red meat per day, those who ate more than 75g were almost two and a half times more likely to have died from heart failure during the time of the study, and those eating between 50 and 75g were almost one and a half times as likely to have died from heart failure. Onset of new heart failure was 28% more likely to occur in those eating over 75g of processed red meat per day compared to under 25g.

Why Processed Red Meat Might Increase Heart Failure Risk

What could be causing the increase in cardiovascular disease associated with processed red meat intake? The likely culprits are sodium content in these processed meats, combined with food additives including nitrates. Other factors may be the chemicals produced during curing processes such as smoking. Such chemicals may cause increased inflammation in the body, have adverse effects on hormone levels, blood viscosity, cholesterol and triglycerides, and cellular signalling, and lead to free radical damage and less effective healing and repair of tissues and DNA.

The authors of the study noted that their findings are consistent with other studies looking at this issue and offer further support for “the recommendation to limit consumption of processed red meat.” The average weight of a sausage link is 80g, meaning that a 50g increase in processed red meat amounts to less than an extra sausage a day.

Increased Stroke Risk for Processed Red Meat

Earlier studies using the same Swedish Cohort date have also found that those eating the highest, versus the lowest, levels of processed red meat had a 23% increased risk of stroke and an 18% increase in the risk of cerebral infarction over 10 years. In the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study those eating the highest levels of processed red meat (versus lowest) had increases of more than 70% in cardiovascular death, and 43% for death from cancer. In fact, the likelihood of death from any cause was increased by 18% over the 12 years of this study for those who ate the highest levels of processed red meat.

Of course, relying on self-reported dietary intake, and categorising a number of differently processed red meats as a single category make this study somewhat problematic. However, given the increasing weight of evidence in favour of benefits from a plant-based diet featuring wholefoods and minimal or no animal products, it isn’t surprising that many physicians are counselling patients to reduce or cut out processed red meats and look for alternative sources of protein, such as legumes, nuts, and seeds.


Kaluza J, Åkesson A, Wolk A. Processed and unprocessed red meat consumption and risk of heart failure: A prospective study of men. Circ Heart Fail 2014; DOI:10.1161/CIRCHEARTFAILURE.113.000921.

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