Chemical in Red Meat Linked to Heart Disease

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Chemical in Red Meat Linked to Heart Disease
Photo by Robert Lerich, Dreamstime

Here’s a new reason to back off those steak dinners: scientists have discovered a chemical in red meat that precipitates heart disease.

The chemical, called l-carnitine, is a nutrient found in red meat, popular energy drinks, and supplements. A new study found that regular intake of l-carnitine significantly increase cardiovascular risk.

While red meat has already been linked to heart problems, it was thought that the meat’s high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol were to blame for the increased risk. However researchers at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio suspected that there was something else at play in the relationship between meat and heart disease.

Earlier research on mice and humans revealed that bacteria in the gut can consume carnitine. As carnitine is broken down into gas, it gets converted to a waste product called TMAO. In this latest study, Clevand researchers discovered that TMAO was strongly linked to the build up of fatty deposits in the blood vessels. More fatty deposits means greater cardiovascular risk.

Over the course of the three year study, people who had high TMAO levels were more likely  to have coronary artery disease, stroke, heart attack, and death. The carnitine from red meat, and its waste product TMAO, fundamentally changed how the body metabolized cholesterol, the researchers suggested.

Vegetarians and vegans had naturally low levels of TMAO in their blood compared to meat eaters.  The researchers recommended that people cut down on their red meat consumption to reduce their risk of heart disease.

The findings come just weeks after another recent study showed that eating processed meats can increase your risk of cancer and cardiovascular death.

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