Are there genetic benefits of eating beef?

Just recently, a post/interview was sent to me asking for my opinion. The topic was: research shows that there are genetic benefits of eating beef. I decided to have a closer look at it, as the topic looked interesting.

Research background: One research study found that eating red meat was associated with longer telomeres.

What the hell are telomeres?

Telomeres are ‘caps’ at the end of our DNA. These are repetitive sequences at the ends of our chromosomes. Telomeres protect chromosomes from fusing with each other and other disastrous events. Every time cells divide and chromosomes replicate, small bits of telomeres get chopped off. Short telomeres are associated with aging and the risk of developing cancer. In contrast, longer telomeres are associated with longevity.


Back to the research study: The researchers attained unexpected findings when they examined 28 individuals. The people who ate more red meat had longer telomeres. This finding is surprising, because previous research studies have either reported that red meat consumption had a negative effect on telomere length or no effect.

Also, the beforementioned research study found that smoking has no effect on telomere length as well as physical exercise. These findings are equally surprising, as it is a no-brainer and pretty much established knowledge (that’s why I don’t provide any references) that smoking is bad for you and exercise is good for you.


Ok, here is the problem: the research study that found beneficial effects of red meat consumption on telomere length and no negative effect of smoking was most likely statistically underpowered. In this study, only 28 people were examined. In other studies, which I have mentioned above, up to 70 times that amount were studied; 840 subjects in one study and 1958 subjects in the other. It is likely that the findings that red meat has a positive effect on telomere length, thus longevity, and smoking and exercise have no effect were obtained just by chance. Even the researchers wrote in their paper:

“The study did not confirm negative effect of smoking on telomere length. This finding is probably associated with insufficient sample size. Statistical analysis also excluded the effects of smoking as a covariate modifying the TL among red meat consumers. The observation study continues and we expect changes after its completion.”


As this is an observational study, the researchers will follow the participants for another 3 years, repeat the measurements and see if the findings change (which is very likely in my opinion).


Take home-message:

-        It is not the researchers’ fault that they got very questionable findings and not enough subjects. Everyone who conducts research studies knows how hard it is to get a high subject number. The researchers just reported the results they got (and they were pretty surprised about their findings).

-        The problem is that some people cherry pick the studies that appeal to them and don’t look at the collective evidence. If the majority of evidence (with much higher subject numbers) shows a negative effect or no effect, the findings of one underpowered research study are just not strong enough to make a point.


Want me to tell you everything once again? Then watch this video.  


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