Meat's Acidity Linked To Diabetes Risk In Women: Can Fruits And Veggies Lower The Risk?

Women eating McDonald's
Women who consume high acidic foods like animal products are at greater risk for developing diabetes. Garry Knight, CC BY-SA 2.0

To prevent the onset of diabetes, people are often told to adopt a healthy lifestyle by monitoring their caloric consumption and boosting their physical activity level. However, new research suggests another precautionary measure that can be added to that list: dietary acidic load. Women who have a highly acidic diet from meat products and other foods are more susceptible to insulin resistance, increasing the likelihood of type 2 diabetes, the study says.

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition that influences the way the body metabolizes sugar (glucose). The body either rejects the effects of insulin — a hormone that stabilizes the movement of sugar into the cells — or doesn’t produce enough insulin to maintain a normal glucose levels, according to Mayo Clinic.

Although researchers remain unclear as to why some people develop type 2 diabetes while others don’t, there are tell-tale signs that can determine a person’s risk. Being overweight and inactive are two common risk factors for type 2 diabetes. People who are overweight also have more fatty tissue, making their body’s cells more resistant to insulin. Increasing physical activity levels can help control weight, use up glucose as energy, and make the body’s cells more sensitive to insulin.

Researchers Dr. Guy Fagherazzi and Dr. Francoise Clavel-Chapelon, of the Center for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health, in Paris, France, sought to examine the relationship between dietary acid load and the risk of diabetes in women. More than 66,000 women who were part of the E3N-EPIC cohort (France's part of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition, a well-known, ongoing epidemiological study) were followed for new diabetes cases over a 14-year period.

The researchers assessed dietary acid load by examining the potential renal acid load (PRAL) score — the level of acid present in the kidney — and the net endogenous acid production (NEAP) score, which is the severity of the acid.

An acidic diet involved higher intake of fat and animal protein, and a lower intake of carbohydrates, according to the researchers. It was also associated with a higher intake of phosphorus, calcium, and sodium, as well as lower magnesium. The consumption of specific foods, particularly animal products, such as meats, eggs, and diary constituted an acidic diet while fruits, vegetables, and coffee were associated with an alkaline diet, Medpage Today reported. 

During the 14-year follow-up, there were over 1,300 new cases of type 2 diabetes in the female participants. The researchers found that those whose diets were highest in acidic foods were 56 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those whose diets contained the fewest acidic foods.

"We have demonstrated for the first time in a large prospective study that dietary acid load was positively associated with type 2 diabetes risk, independently of other known risk factors for diabetes," the researchers wrote.

The link between a highly acidic diet and the increased risk of diabetes remained even after the researchers took into account other risk factors for diabetes, and although they found a link between the two, the findings did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between acidic food and diabetes, they said.

The findings may lead to the “promotion of diets with a low acid load for the prevention of diabetes. Further research is required on the underlying mechanisms,” the researchers concluded.

Contrary to popular belief, the study also found most fruits such as peaches, apples, pears, bananas, and even lemons and oranges were effective in lowering dietary acid load once they had been metabolized. Fruits and vegetables may serve as a protective factor for type 2 diabetes and other conditions.

In a series of studies presented recently at the annual American Society of Nephrology's Kidney Week, in Atlanta, GA, researchers revealed that controlling dietary acid intake through consumption of fruits and vegetables could protect kidney health for individuals with hypertensive nephropathy, a condition that occurs when high blood pressure causes damage to the kidneys. Those whose diet is rich in wheat flour and animal protein can counteract the effects of acid load by consuming alkaline foods, such as fruits and veggies, to prevent a decline in kidney function, according to the press release.

To learn about alkaline foods that can combat the effects of high acid dietary load, click here.

Source: Balkau B, Bonnet F, Boutron-Ruault MC, et al. Dietary acid load and risk of type 2 diabetes: The E3N-EPIC cohort study. Diabetologia. 2013. 

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