Monday, April 8, 2013

Red Meat and Carnitine - creating TMAO - culprit in heart disease?

Thanks to both my Dad and my writing instructor David Morgan for sending me today's New York Times article entitled "Culprit in Heart Disease Goes Beyond Meat's Fat." 

In the article, Gina Kolata details a study led by Dr. Stanley Hazen of the Cleveland Clinic.  The researchers were testing a new hypothesis that the real culprit in meat that contributes to heart disease is a chemical (carnitine) "burped" out by bacteria in the intestines after people eat red meat that then is converted in by the liver into another chemical called TMAO that gets into the blood and increases the risk of heart disease. 

Interestingly, the researchers found that after eating red meat - the meat eaters in the study had a burst of TMAO in their blood but participating Vegans DID NOT.  Additional studies by the researchers further showed the nexus between TMAO and heart disease and that meat eaters have higher levels of TMAO in their blood than vegetarians and vegans.

The study is important because it indicates that the association between red meat consumption and heart disease is likely not just related to the levels of saturated fat and cholesterol in red meat but these chemicals and the physiological processes described above that convert one into another.  While also found in foods like fish, chicken, and even dairy products - red meat contains the largest quantities of carnitine.   

What surprised the researchers the most was that TMAO levels DID NOT surge after the participating VEGANS ate the red meat.   Virtually NO TMAO appeared in the vegans' blood after consuming the red meat. 

It's Not Rocket Science -- even the lead researcher Dr. Hazen has modified his own dietary habits such that he no longer eats 12 ounces of red meat several times a week.  Now he eats red meat only once every two weeks and has no more than 4 to 6 ounces at a time.

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