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Red meat: another inconvenient truth

BMJ 2017; 357 doi: (Published 11 May 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;357:j2278

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Re: Red meat: another inconvenient truth

I am surprised that Drs Godlee, Potter and Etamadi et al have each missed an important issue.

Red meat contains N-Glycolylneuraminic acid (Neu5Gc). Neu5Gc occurs in virtually all red mammalian meat – with the exception of humans. In humans, the gene encoding CMP-N-acetylneuraminic acid hydroxylase mutated to an inactive form some three million years ago. It is thought that this conferred protection against an archaic form of malaria1.

When we eat red meat, Neu5Gc is absorbed and gives rise to an innate immune response. In the long term, this creates a chronic a low-grade inflammatory milieu. This will happen even if we eat fresh uncooked raw red meat2.

Such a milieu will promote cancers, insulin-resistance, hyperinsulinaemia and obesity, amongst other diseases.

I would speculate that Neu5Gc will be proven to be a major driving force of ill health.

01. Chou, H-H, Takematsu, H, Diaz, S et al A mutation in human CMP-sialic acid hydroxylase occurred after the Homo-Pan divergence. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 1998;95:11751–6. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.2287 pmid:22412075.

02. Samraj, AN, Pearce, OM, Läubli et al A red meat-derived glycan promotes inflammation and cancer progression. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2015;112:542–7. doi:10.1073/pnas.1417508112.

Competing interests: No competing interests

15 May 2017
Consultant - retired
Nuffield Department of Anaesthetics
John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, OX3 9DU