BACKGROUND: High meat consumption might play a role in promoting low-grade systemic inflammation, but evidence is limited. OBJECTIVES: We examined cross-sectional associations of habitual meat consumption with serum C-reactive protein (CRP) and total white blood cell count (WBCC) in British adults. METHODS: We included 403,886 men and women (aged 38-73 y) participating in the UK Biobank who provided information on meat intake (via touchscreen questionnaire) and a nonfasting blood sample at recruitment (2006-2010). For a subset of participants (∼5%), an additional blood sample was collected (median 4.4 y later). We used multivariable linear regression models to estimate associations of meat intake (total meat, unprocessed red meat, processed meat, and poultry) with logCRP and logWBCC. RESULTS: The difference in the serum CRP (mg/L) for each 50-g/d higher intake for total meat was 11.6% (95% CI: 11.1, 12.0%), for processed meat was 38.3% (95% CI: 36.0, 40.7%), for unprocessed red meat was 14.4% (95% CI: 13.6, 15.1%), and for poultry was 12.8% (95% CI: 12.0, 13.5%). The difference in the WBCC (×10-9L) for each 50 g/d higher intake of total meat was 1.5% (95% CI: 1.4, 1.6%), for processed meat was 6.5% (95% CI: 6.1, 6.9%), for unprocessed red meat was 1.6% (95% CI: 1.4, 1.7%), and for poultry was 1.6% (95% CI: 1.4, 1.7%). All associations were attenuated after adjustment for adiposity; by 67% with BMI (in kg/m2) and by 58% with waist circumference for total meat and CRP, and by 53% and 47%, respectively, for WBCC, although associations remained statistically significant. Findings of sensitivity analyses in 15,420 participants were similar prospectively, except there were no associations between unprocessed red meat and WBCC. CONCLUSIONS: Higher meat consumption, particularly of processed meat, was positively associated with inflammatory markers in these British adults; however, the magnitudes of associations are small and predominantly due to higher adiposity.
C-reactive protein, UK Biobank, cohort study, inflammation, meat intake, white blood cell count