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A compound found in red meat may promote atherosclerosis

Category: Heart Health and Cholesterol

Recent research has given red meat eaters a good reason to seek out blood tests and other health screenings. In addition to promoting high cholesterol, it turns out that red meat contains a compound that's specifically detrimental to cardiovascular health, according to researchers at the Cleveland Clinic.

The scientists reported that a compound found in red meat and some energy drinks may promote atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the hardening or clogging of the arteries, and is one of the contributing factors of heart disease.

A dangerous compound
The researchers have found that the compound carnitine, which is found in red meat and is sometimes added to energy drinks, is metabolized by bacteria living in the human digestive. It then turns into trimethylamine-N-oxide, which has been linked to atherosclerosis. The scientists examined the carnitine and TMAO levels of omnivores, vegans and vegetarians, as well as the effects of a carnitine-rich diet in normal mice compared to mice with less gut bacteria.

The researchers found that the effects of carnitine all come down to gut bacteria, and that this may shine some light on why vegetarians and vegans sometimes have a reduced risk of heart disease compared to those who eat meat.

"The bacteria living in our digestive tracts are dictated by our long-term dietary patterns," said researcher Stanley Hazen, M.D., Ph.D. "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. Meanwhile, vegans and vegetarians have a significantly reduced capacity to synthesize TMAO from carnitine, which may explain the cardiovascular health benefits of these diets."

Tips for going vegetarian
People who are concerned about their cholesterol levels may want to consider switching to a vegetarian diet for a time to see if it improves their health. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine states that when switching to a vegetarian diet, individuals should explore all of the vegetarian convenience items found in supermarkets, like bagged salads, beans and low-sodium soups. These people should also be vocal about their new diet in restaurants, since even places that don't always have veggie options on the menu will usually be willing to make a meatless plate.

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