A recent article in the NY Times shocked many of us who follow health research: Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic now believe that saturated fat and cholesterol only play a minor role in heart disease. They believe that a little-known chemical called TMAO is actually the major player in heart disease … in fact, it may even be causing heart disease.
It turns out that carnitine, which is found in high levels in red meat (and eggs, and to a lesser extent, poultry, fish and dairy) may start a chain reaction leading to heart disease by a newly discovered mechanism: Meat eaters have a certain type of bacteria in their guts that get their fuel from carnitine, and when they eat meat, this bacteria burps out a little-known chemical that is converted by the liver into TMAO. It is now thought by these researchers that TMAO is the major culprit in heart disease because it allows cholesterol to penetrate vessel walls, and also prevents the body from getting rid of excess cholesterol.
In a ground-breaking study, five meat eaters and one long-time vegan (who shouldn’t theoretically have the carnitine-eating bacteria in his gut) ate a full steak. Afterward, their blood was checked for TMAO, and all the meat eaters had very high levels of TMAO in their blood, but the vegan had virtually none. Since vegans don’t ingest carnitine, they don’t have the bacteria in their guts that lead to TMAO. Further studies have proven a strong correlation between TMAO and heart disease.
Interestingly, since TMAO is created in a chain reaction started by bacteria, it’s thought that antibiotics that target the bacteria can lower heart disease risk. In fact, these researchers found that when meat-eaters ate a steak but took an antibiotic beforehand, TMAO did not show up in their blood.
But I say, no need to be on antibiotics for the rest of your life … just go vegan!
To learn more, you can read the article in the NY Times here: