Cardiovascular Risk Factors

New link found between red meat and heart disease

New link found between red meat and heart diseaseResearch published online in Nature Medicine has announced that a compound found in red meat and added to some energy drinks as a supplement, promotes the hardening or clogging of the arteries, otherwise known as atherosclerosis.

The compound, carnitine, is metabolised by bacteria living in the human digestive tract. It is then turned into trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO), which has previously been associated with atherosclerosis. In addition, it has been found that a diet high in carnitine produces greater growth of the bacteria which metabolise carnitine – producing even more TMAO.

Levels of TMAO were tested in omnivores, vegetarians and vegans and clinical data of 2,595 patients undergoing elective cardiac evaluations were examined. Researchers also looked at the cardiac effects of carnitine-enhanced diet in normal mice compared to mice with suppressed levels of gut microbes. This revealed that cholesterol metabolism is altered at multiple levels by TMAO, helping explain how it promotes atherosclerosis.

It was found that increased levels of carnitine predicted increased risks for cardiovascular disease as well as heart attack, stroke and death. However, this was only in patients with concurrently high TMAO levels. Researchers also found specific gut microbe types in subjects associated with plasma TMAO levels and dietary patterns. Baseline TMAO levels were significantly lower in vegetarians and vegans compared to omnivores. Interestingly, even after consuming large amounts of carnitine, vegans and vegetarians did not produce significant levels of TMAO. Omnivores consuming the same amount of carnitine did.

Long term dietary patterns dictate the bacteria which live in our digestive tracts. Omnivores are more prone to developing TMAO due to a diet high in carnitine which shifts our gut microbe composition to those that like carnitine. The diets of vegans and vegetarians may be healthier due to the fact that they have a significantly reduced capacity to synthesize TMAO from carnitine.

Previous research has shown that frequent consumption of red meat is linked to increased cardiovascular risk, but the cholesterol and saturated fat content isn’t sufficient to explain such an increased risk. This new research now provides a connection between cardiovascular risk and red meat.

The research highlights that while carnitine occurs naturally in red meat such as beef, lamb, venison, duck, pork and mutton, it is also present as an ingredient in energy drinks and is available in pill form as a dietary supplement.



Randox Laboratories provide a number of arrays used in the detection and screening of cardiovascular or heart disease, including troponin, myoglobin and H-FABP.  For more informatin, visit the Biochip Immunoassays section of the website.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *