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Red Meat Linked to Heart Disease, Study Finds

Apr 11th, 2013

Red Meat Linked to Heart DiseaseNew evidence suggest that  compounds in meat, specifically, red meat linked to heart disease. A compound found in red meat and added as an ingredient to popular energy drinks may promote atherosclerosis or the hardening and clogging of the arteries, a new study suggests.

Researchers from Cleveland Clinic say that bacteria in the digestive tract convert the compound, known as carnitine into trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO). The same team has found that TMAO promotes atherosclerosis in people.

Furthermore, the study also found that a diet rich in carnitine encourages the growth of the bacteria that metabolize the compound, raising TMAO production even more.

“The [type of] bacteria living in our digestive tracts are dictated by our long-term dietary patterns. A diet high in carnitine actually shifts our gut microbe composition to those that like carnitine, making meat eaters even more susceptible to forming TMAO and its artery-clogging effects,” said Dr. Stanley Hazen, lead author and cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic’s Heart and Vascular Institute.

For the study, the team analyzed data of nearly 2,600 patients undergoing heart evaluations. The researchers found that consistent high levels of carnitine were associated with an increased risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and heart-related death.

Conversely, the team found that TMAO levels were lower among vegetarians and vegans than among people who consumed meat. Vegetarians do not eat meat while vegans exclude all animal products from their diet.

The study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, also found that vegans and vegetarians did not produce significant levels of TMAO even after consuming a large amount of carnitine the same way ominivores did.

While the study did not prove any cause-and-effect relationship between carnitine and heart damage, researchers noted that the findings may provide new insight of the benefits of vegan and vegetarian diets.

“Vegans and vegetarians have a significantly reduced capacity to synthesize TMAO from carnitine, which may explain the cardiovascular health benefits of these diets,” Dr. Hazen added.

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