Research in mice and human volunteers has suggested a mechanism that may contribute to an association between eating red meat and increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). It involves microbes in the gut.
People who regularly eat red meat have an increased colonization of intestinal bacteria that break down the carnitine in red meat into a metabolite that promotes increased cholesterol deposition in the artery wall, the researchers report. Their study was published online April 7, 2013 in Nature Medicine.
Energy drinks are another major source of carnitine, senior author Dr Stanley L Hazen (Cleveland Clinic, OH) told heartwire. If someone regularly eats red meat or drinks energy drinks, “microbes that like carnitine become more abundant [in the gut], and now you are much more capable of making this metabolite . . . trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO),” he said. “This paper showed [that TMAO] . . . essentially leads to an enhanced capacity to deposit cholesterol on the cells of your artery wall.”
Does this mean that physicians should advise all their patients to become vegetarians and avoid drinking energy drinks? Hazen says that people need to be aware that “a can of an energy drink can have more carnitine than a porterhouse steak.”
For now, “it makes sense to adhere to a lower-cholesterol, lower-saturated-fat diet [that will be] more heart healthy in terms of decreasing the nutrients that give rise to forming TMAO, [since] this may be one of the hidden contributors to heart disease.”