Does eating meat increase your risk of developing urinary tract infections? In total, more than 150 million cases of UTIs are treated around the world each year. If left untreated, the painful urinary tract infection can lead to serious complications such as kidney failure and death.

But according to new research published in the journal Scientific Reports, reducing your meat intake could decrease your risk of developing the infection altogether, especially if you’re an already healthy, non-smoking woman. The study, conducted by Tzu Chi University in Taiwan, found that vegetarians appear to have a lower risk of developing UTIs than meat-eaters.

The study reviewed health data from more than 9,700 participants over a decade. The cases of UTIs were twice as high among meat-eaters with 444 of the 6,467 reporting UTIs. Among the 3,257 vegetarians, only 217 UTIs were reported.

And the reason could be connected to the way meat alters fecal matter pH levels.

“Vegetarian diets [lead to] lower stool pH than for non-vegetarians, and the lower stool pH could prevent the growth of E coli,” Dr. Chin-Lon Lin, co-author of the research from Tzu Chi University in Taiwan, said to the Guardian.

When controlling for other factors, including age, sex, lifestyle habits, and health conditions, the risk for vegetarians was 16 percent lower than that for meat-eaters.

Meat—pork and poultry in particular—contain an E coli strain known to cause UTIs.

“By ditching a meat-eating diet, the theory goes, people decrease their exposure to these bacteria, reducing levels in the bowel and hence lowering the risk they will end up in the urethra,” the Guardian notes.

E coli in animal products is a real risk to human health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 265,000 Americans suffer from complications due to E coli exposure every year.

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