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Cut Red Meat Intake, Curb Your Appetite?

Nov. 20, 2015|503 views
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Have you been looking for a reason to cut back on meat? Perhaps you’re considering going vegetarian. Or maybe you’re simply thinking of incorporating “meatless Monday” into your family’s weekly schedule. Perhaps you’ve heard that eating less red meat has been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and other common, inflammation-driven ailments. But of course, old habits are hard to break, and we are a nation of beef eaters, after all.

Well, here’s a new incentive to cut back: red meat is a rich source of iron, and too much iron can cause health problems. Of course, you need some iron for healthy red blood cells. But too much can have negative consequences. As in, boosting your appetite and making you more likely to overeat—and gain weight.

That’s right. Scientists have shown that red meat in the diet raises blood iron levels, which in turn suppresses levels of a hormone called leptin, which helps us feel full. Excess iron inhibits the release of leptin, boosting appetite, and making you more likely to eat too much. In other words, by cutting back on red meat, you may experience the added benefit of a slight decrease in appetite. The work was conducted on an animal model of human metabolism, at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. 

"We showed that the amount of food intake increased in animals that had high levels of dietary iron," said senior author of the study, Don McClain, M.D., Ph.D. "In people, high iron, even in the high-normal range, has been implicated as a contributing factor to many diseases, including diabetes, fatty liver disease and Alzheimer's, so this is yet another reason not to eat so much red meat, because the iron in red meat is more readily absorbed than iron from plants.”

"We don't know yet what optimal iron tissue level is, but we are hoping to do a large clinical trial to determine if decreasing iron levels has any effect on weight and diabetes risk," McClain said, in a press release. "The better we understand how iron works in the body, the better chance we have of finding new pathways that may be targets for the prevention and treatment of diabetes and other diseases.”

In the meantime, it may be a good idea to cut back on your intake of red meat. Earlier this year I reported that other researchers have identified a sort of sugar molecule unique to mammal meat that is essentially allergenic to humans. In other words, eating mammal meat—which includes “red” meat—may encourage allergy-like inflammation. Conversely, cutting it out of you diet might conceivably reduce the symptoms of allergies, arthritis, and other inflammatory conditions.

It’s worth a try. What do you think? Have you tried going meatless, or at least cutting back? How did it turn out? I’d love to hear your comments.

Yan Gao, Zhonggang Li, J. Scott Gabrielsen, Judith A. Simcox, Soh-hyun Lee, Deborah Jones, Bob Cooksey, Gregory Stoddard, William T. Cefalu, Donald A. McClain. Adipocyte iron regulates leptin and food intake. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 2015; 10.1172/JCI81860 DOI: 10.1172/JCI81860