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Pork: D > Posted by Paul Jaminet on February 8, 2012 Leave a comment (143) Go to comments
If we were to rank popular meats by their healthfulness, the order would be (1) fish and shellfish, (2) ruminants (beef, lamb, goat), and (3) birds (duck, chicken, turkey). In last place would be pork.
Given the iconic place of bacon in the Paleo movement, it’s worth exploring the evidence against pork. George Henderson has given us a great place to start: “Nanji and Bridges identified possible problems with pork plus moderate alcohol in 1985 and other researchers have confirmed the pattern since.”
Pork Consumption and Liver Cirrhosis
Pork consumption has a strong epidemiological association with cirrhosis of the liver. Startlingly, pork may be even more strongly associated with alcoholic cirrhosis than alcohol itself!
The evidence was summarized by Francis Bridges in a recent (2009) paper , building on earlier work by Nanji and French . A relation between pork consumption and cirrhosis of the liver is apparent across countries and has been consistently maintained for at least 40 years.
Here is the correlation between pork consumption and mortality from liver cirrhosis in 2003 :
The correlation coefficient of 0.83 is extremely high – rarely seen in epidemiology. Correlation coefficients range from -1.0 to 1.0, and a coefficient of 1.0 would indicate that cirrhosis mortality was strictly proportional to pork consumption. The very low p-value confirms the statistical association.
Here is the relation between alcohol consumption and mortality from liver cirrhosis:
The correlation coefficient is lower than for pork consumption.
In epidemiological studies, beef, lamb, and pork are often grouped together as “red meat.” However, this may conceal differences between pork and the ruminant meats. Bridges found that beef actually appeared protective against cirrhosis:
In the present study using 2003 data, a significant negative association between dietary beef and rates of cirrhosis mortality was found…. [D]ietary beef may be a protective factor regarding the pathogenesis of alcoholic cirrhosis. 
This would be consistent with considerable evidence, discussed in our book (pp 57-58), showing that saturated fat is protective against liver disease, while polyunsaturated fat causes it. Epidemiological data confirms that saturated fat is protective; here is Bridges again :
[A]nalysis of data from 17 countries indicated that diets high in cholesterol and saturated fat protected (i.e., inversely correlated) against alcoholic cirrhosis while polyunsaturated fats promoted (positively correlated) cirrhosis .
Beef is high in saturated fat, low in polyunsaturated fat. Pork is relatively high in polyunsaturated fat.
If the fat composition is playing a role, perhaps it is not that surprising that pork is more strongly related to cirrhosis than alcohol.
Either fructose or alcohol can react with polyunsaturated fat to produce liver disease. Sugar consumption, for example in soft drinks, may be just as likely to combine with pork to cause a cirrhotic liver as alcohol. But no other common dietary component can substitute for the role of polyunsaturated fat in causing liver disease.
Here Nanji and French summarize the correlation of pork with liver disease even in the absence of alcohol:
In countries with low alcohol consumption, no correlation was obtained between alcohol consumption and cirrhosis. However, a significant correlation was obtained between cirrhosis and pork. A similar relationship was seen in the ten Canadian provinces, where there was no correlation between cirrhosis mortality and alcohol consumption, but a significant correlation was obtained with pork. 
But fat composition is hardly likely to be the sole issue with pork. Most polyunsaturated fats in modern diets are derived from vegetable oils, not pork. It seems that there must be something else in pork besides polyunsaturated fat that is causing liver disease.
Pork and Liver Cancer
We would expect that if pork can cause liver cirrhosis it will also promote liver cancer, since injured and inflamed tissues are more likely to become cancerous.
Indeed, there is an association between pork consumption and the primary liver cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma. Nanji and French  write:
The authors investigated the possibility that dietary fat, meat, beef, and pork consumption might be factors that would, in addition to alcohol, correlate with mortality from hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in different countries….
The correlation between HCC and alcohol was 0.40 (p