News / Health

Chemical in Red Meat Linked to Heart Disease

Meat
Meat
Jessica Berman
Scientists may have uncovered another culprit in red meat, besides saturated fats and cholesterol that clog arteries contributing to heart disease - a chemical called carnitine.  Researchers have found tantalizing evidence that bacteria inside the body convert carnitine into a compound that hardens arteries, contributing to arteriosclerosis and increasing the risk of heart attack.

For years, doctors have recommended that patients limit their consumption of red meat, including steak and lamb, because it’s felt the marbled fat and cholesterol in the meat is a major contributor to cardiovascular disease, marked by the production of artery-clogging plaques that can lead to heart attack and stroke.

But experts say a diet rich in red meat is not the only risk factor for heart disease.  For example, not all individuals with high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol who eat a lot of steak, setting them up for heart disease, develop clogged arteries.

Now, researchers at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio have identified a chemical called carnitine that, when metabolized by gut microbes, produces a substance called TMAO - found to be elevated in red meat eaters, increasing their risk of heart disease.  

“The notion that there’s something more to red meat than just saturated fats has been banging around for a long while," said Stuart Seides,s chief of the MedStar Heart Institute in Washington.  "This is the first scientific link that may explain at least part of that association.”

Cleveland Clinic researchers studied more than 2,500 people, measuring their blood levels of carnitine after they ate a steak, as well as levels of the chemical byproduct TMAO.   

For the study, steaks were also consumed by vegetarians and vegans who eat no animal products, including eggs and cheese.  Investigators found that the red meat eaters had the highest levels of TMAO compared to the non-meat eaters who had little or no TMAO in their systems.   

Because vegetarians and vegans don't, as a rule, eat meat, it's thought the microbes in their guts couldn’t process the carnitine, turning it into TMAO.

In addition, researchers studied the substance in mice, finding that rodents fed diets high in TMAO developed hardening of the arteries. But when scientists suppressed the gut bacteria, the heart disease process was reversed.  

The MedStar Heart Institute’s Seides says it may someday be possible to limit cardiovascular disease using antibiotics to kill certain, still unidentified gut bacteria, to keep them from transforming carnitine into heart-disease causing TMAO.

“So that even if you eat meat, the carnitine doesn’t get converted into what is believed to be the offending agent.  So, much to learn and this is a very interesting and provocative study, and just peels back the onion a little bit on this very complex question of coronary heart disease,” he added.

Carnitine is found in smaller quantities in fish and poultry and in some vegetables and wheat, and some people take it as a supplement.  But beyond red meats which should be limited for other reasons, Seides says it’s too soon to recommend that people stop consuming foods containing carnitine.

An article on the link between the chemical carnitine, TMAO  and heart disease is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

You May Like

Ukraine Purges Interior Ministry Leadership With Pro-Russian Ties

Interior Minister Avakov says 91 people 'in positions of leadership' have been fired, including 8 generals found to have links to past pro-Moscow governments More

US Airlines Point to Additional Problems of any Ebola Travel Ban

Airline officials note that even under travel ban, they may not be able to determine where passenger set out from, as there are no direct flights from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone More

Nigerian President to Seek Another Term

Goodluck Jonathan has faced intense criticism for failing to stop Boko Haram militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid