Lifestyle & Belief

New link between red meat and heart disease via gut bacteria


A new study has linked red meat to heart disease via the growth of bacteria in the gut that causes plaque in the arteries.


Justin Tallis

A new study has shown new links between eating red meat and heart disease.

Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic found that the fatty composition of meat was not solely to blame for meat's tendency to increase heart disease risk.

They found that there is a link between gut bacteria, increased risk of heart attacks and a compound found in meat called carnitine.

"Carnitine metabolism suggests a new way to help explain why a diet rich in red meat promotes atherosclerosis," said lead author Stanley Hazen, of the Cleveland Clinic.

The complex connection goes something like this.

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When we eat meat a compound is created in the body called trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO) as bacteria from the digestive tract breaks down carnitine.

More TMAO leads to the creation of plaque in the arteries causing atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis, in turn, causes heart disease - the leading cause of death in the developed world.

The study authors looked at over 2500 patients and found that as carnitine levels and subsequently TMAO levels increased, heart disease risk rose.

Those who had vegan and vegetarian diets showed low levels of TMAO.

Carnitine is also found in products like energy drinks and weight loss supplements.