Eating processed meat is linked to dementia risk

More men than women were diagnosed with dementia in the study population.


The risk of dementia is increasing globally. Its development and progression are associated with both genetic and environmental factors, including diet and lifestyle.

Meat consumption has traditionally been associated with the risk of dementia, but specific amounts and types related to the risk of incident dementia are poorly understood.

A new study aimed to explore the connection between consuming meat and the risk of incident dementia. The study conducted by the University of Leeds used data from 500,000 people, discovering that consuming a 25g serving of processed meat a day is associated with a 44% increased risk of developing the disease.

The study also shows that eating some unprocessed red meat, such as beef, pork, or veal, could be protective, as people who consumed 50g a day were 19% less likely to develop dementia.

Lead researcher Huifeng Zhang, a Ph.D. student from Leeds’ School of Food Science and Nutrition, said, “Our research adds to the growing body of evidence linking processed meat consumption to increased risk of a range of non-transmissible diseases.”

For this study, scientists analyzed the data provided by UK Biobank. They wanted to determine associations between consuming different types of meat and the risk of developing dementia.

The data was collected in 2006-2010, which includes how often participants consumed different kinds of meat, six options from never to once or more daily. Among the participants, 2,896 cases of dementia emerged over an average of eight years of follow-up. These people were generally older, more economically deprived, less educated, more likely to smoke, less physically active, more likely to have stroke history and family dementia history, and more likely to be carriers of a highly associated gene associated with dementia.

What’s more, compared to women, men were more likely to be diagnosed with dementia in the study population.

Some people were three to six times more likely to develop dementia due to well-established genetic factors. Still, the findings suggest the risks from eating processed meat were the same whether or not a person was genetically predisposed to developing the disease.

This study is believed to be the first large-scale study of participants over time to examine a link between specific meat types and amounts and the risk of developing the disease.

Ms. Zhang said: “Further confirmation is needed, but the direction of effect is linked to current healthy eating guidelines suggesting lower intakes of unprocessed red meat could be beneficial for health.”

Professor Janet Cade from Leeds said“Anything we can do to explore potential risk factors for dementia may help us to reduce rates of this debilitating condition. This analysis is a first step towards understanding whether what we eat could influence that risk.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Risch, HA et al. (3 more authors) (2021) Meat consumption and risk of incident dementia: a cohort study of 493,888 UK Biobank participants. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. nqab028. ISSN 0002-9165. DOI: 10.1093/ajcn/nqab028
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