Friday, December 16, 2011

Devil in the Feeding Trough: PGE-Response to "Bad" Red Meat from Grass-Fed Cattle Could Prevent not Cause Cancer, Stroke and a Whole Host of Autoimmune Diseases.

Image 1: You do not need to hunt your red meat like a paleolithic human being, just make sure it comes from grass-fed animals and you will have a "health food" that modulate the your prostaglandin response to inflammatory assaults and thusly reduce your risk of cancer, stroke and autoimmune disesases in a way no fat-free chicken breast will ever do.
I have had this in the news before, in the context of the purported health benefits of CLA, with respect to the modulation of the n3/n6 ratio in your diet and in various other context, you heard me saying, or, I should say, read me writing that rather than popping tons of fish oil caps, you should rather focus on decreasing your overall omega-6 intake by making healthy food choices at the supermarket. In this regard, choosing grass-fed over commercially raised beef (and other meat) products could turn out to be one of the most far-reaching choices you can make. While that alone will help you to concomitantly reduce the n-6 overload, as well as the overall PUFA-burden that is so characteristic of the "Western diet", a recent study shows that eating red meat, even instead of the "healthy" white fat-free chicken breasts, everyone is pounding these days, could actually have profoundly beneficial effects on your (auto-)immune health, protect you from cardivascular disease and (this is important for the ladies) get your menstrual periods and related issues back in order.

How grass-fed beef can help and why it outperforms bison, elk and chicken

In their study, the results of which were published in issue 31 of the journal Nutrition Research, K. Shane Broughton, Daniel C. Rule and Eldon Handrich did what scientists have been doing for decades now. They took mice (your usual carnivorous animal) and put them on one of those grain-based diets that was then enriched with "bad" red meat to make the animals sick. Well, ... while the design was in fact the same, the good news is that the intention was by way of exception not to show "prove" (as if mainstream dietary advice would be interested in "proof", anyway) how bad those nasty red meats are, but to evaluate whether the
[...] consumption of meat from range-fed bison vs range-fed and grain-finished cattle and grain-finished bison would lead to reductions in PGE-2 [prostaglandin E2] release without altering PGI-2 [prostacyclin] release after an infl ammatory stimulus in a mouse model.
Or put simply, the scienists wanted to check whether there was any truth to the superiority of bison compared to the "bad" red meat, when it comes to balancing out the ratio of PGE-2 and PGI-2.
Image 2: Bayer probably won't like it if everyone would start eating grass-fed beef. After all, that would probably reduce the sales of their COX-inhibitor Aspirin protect.
For those of you wondering about a) what those prostaglandins are and / or b) why you would want to modulate their ratio and not eradicate them completely, here is is brief rundown on one of my favorite topics, the Yin&Yang of life and, on a related note, the fallacy of common black-or-white thinking. As with almost everything there are also two sides (in fact there are many more ;-) to the inflammatory coin and PGE-2 and PGI-2, two acronyms that differ by only a single letter, are situated on those opposing sides. If they are expressed at the right ratio, everything is fine. The (relative) over-expression of PGE-2 that is commonly observed in people following the "Western diet", on the other hand, is associated with a host of pathologies, such as elevated risk for color ectal cancer, suppression of ovulation, and increased problems with rheumatoid arthritis and headaches. (Relative) underexperssion of PGI-2, the other hallmark result of the "food" people are poisoning themselves with on a daily basis, in turn, increases the risk of thrombosis and stroke. If any of that does ring a bell, but you do not know which one, you may want to check out the label of your Aspirin tablets - as a cyclooxygenase inhibitor Aspirin also blocks the production of PGE-2... but before you do now pop another of those tabs, I suggest you read on and learn that by paying a few extra bucks for "real meat", you will probably never have to take your daily dose of Aspirin protect.
And while the scientists were right, grass-fed bison is in fact better than grain-fed beef, a closer analysis of their results will show that the often-heard and widely believed statement that "bison is the best form of red meat you can possibly find" is nothing but another of the 1001 dietary fairy-tales of the bloggosphere.
Figure 1: Fatty acid content of the diet (in g per 100g of the whole chow) - saturated, mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids (n3, n6), left; CLA content, right (data adapted from Broughton. 2011)
But let's first take a look at the experimental diets, the male CD-1 mice were fed for 14 days. What is interesting about these, is that, due to the inclusion of standard rodent chow, the differences in fatty acid composition between the grass-fed vs. corn-fed bison and beef diets and the diets that were based on (wild-type) elk and commercial chicken breast meat were actually not very pronounced (cf. figure 1). And while the inclusion of corn oil in every diet may sound blasphemic in the ears of the hard-core anti-grain croud (I know you are out there ;-), the addition of grass-fed meat to an otherwise standardized (and probably suboptimal) diet is actually a strength of the study. Thusly, the study does reflect pretty well, what could happen, if the average Joe or Jane did nothing else, but replace the corn-fed meat in his/her diet with meat from range-fed animals - and wouldn't you agree that this is a much more realistic scenario than living on nothing but grass-fed beef or bison?
Figure 2: Modulatory effect of 2 weeks on prostaglandin expression of mice after two weeks on diets enriched with range-fed, or feedlot fed meat of different sources (data adapted from adapted from Broughton. 2011)
And, if we focus solely on the PGE-2 to PGI-2 ratio (you can read up on its importance in the red box above), it is obvious that a small dietary change from grain- to grass-fed meets could actually have pretty profound effects on your (auto-)immune health. The data also shows that the "healthy" lean chicken breast your nutritionist has probably told you to eat actually should not be your first choice, when it comes to establishing a healthier prostaglandin milieu - and if you don't believe me, maybe you want to trust Broughton et al.'s judgement:
[...] chicken is promoted for its health benefits, yet in our study, it was no better for possible prevention of PGE 2-associated immune pathophysiology. Furthermore, chicken would not be as beneficial as grain-fed beef and elk consumption in reducing thrombos is and stroke potential.
So, while eating (commercially raised) chicken won't harm you, it will not help you steer your inflammatory response into either the PGE or the PGI direction. Broughton, Rule and Handrich are thusly right, when they conclude that
Based on results of the present study, consumption of any of the range-fed meat sources examined would be better at reducing the possibility of immune-related pathophysiologies than meat from grain-fed cattle. [...] Although range-fed beef and bison consumption would be equivalent for their immune-based role, consumption of range-fed beef would be better for the prevention of thrombosis and stroke.
Now, isn't that surprising? Chicken not the best thing you can eat? The "healthy alternative to beef" that has been pimped in the mass media lately only on par with plain beef and superior as far as reduction in the risk of stroke and thrombosis are concerned?
Could it really be possible that the "bad red meat" is not so bad, after all? Is there the remote possibility that it's not red meat per se, but sick meat, or I should say the meat of animals we have been making sick by feeding them the same "healthy whole grains" with which we have been poisoning... ah, I mean nurturing *rofl* ourselves over all these years that is giving us migraines, arthritic joints, cancer, strokes and a whole host of nasty autoimmune diseases? I guess, I will leave it up to you to find and answer to that question ... and I am confident that you are smart to one and one, or rather grain-fed meat and (auto-)immune disease together ;-)