A study published online in the journal Gut shows that high consumption of red meat increases the risk of developing diverticulitis, a type of inflammatory bowel condition. However, replacing red meat, especially unprocessed meats, with poultry or fish decreases the risk.

Diverticulitis is the result when the small pockets or bulges lining the intestine, also known as diverticula, gets inflamed, causing abdominal pain, fever and constipation but not much is known about it. Four percent of all cases can lead to perforations in gut wall, abscesses, and fistula, the researchers add.

The researchers studied 46,500 men, aged 40 to 75. They took part in the Health Professionals follow-up study between 1986 and 2012. These participants were asked about the frequency of their consumption of red meat, poultry and fish every four years. Around 764 men developed diverticulitis.

The research team found that those men who ate more red meat were more likely to use painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs. They were also smoked more and less likely to eat more fiber and exercise vigorously. Meanwhile, those who ate more fish and poultry tend to exercise vigorously, smoke less and take aspirin. When all of the potential factors have been taken into account, the researchers determined that red meat intake was associated with increased diverticulitis risk, or one serving daily translating to 18 percent increased risk. The highest level of red meat consumption increases the risk by up to 58 percent.

Replacing this with poultry or fish reduced the risk up to 20 percent. Age or weight did not affect the risk. However, the researchers admit that more research is still necessary. The researchers say that the findings may not be applicable to women. They still cannot explain how exactly high red meat consumption influences the development of diverticulitis. Nevertheless, the findings may guide individuals on what foods to eat to prevent such problems.

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