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New research links chemicals produced in the gut after consuming red meat to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), which is produced by gut microbes in the meat digestion process, has already been linked to a greater risk of cardiovascular disease. Research in 2019 found that eating red meat daily triples heart disease-related chemicals and increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The new research explores the impact on cardiovascular health from TMAO and related metabolites that come from the high levels of the chemical L-carnitine found in some meat. The findings were published in the American Heart Association’s peer-reviewed journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology.
“Most of the focus on red meat intake and health has been around dietary saturated fat and blood cholesterol levels,” said co-lead author of the study Meng Wang, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston. “Based on our findings, novel interventions may be helpful to target the interactions between red meat and the gut microbiome to help us find ways to reduce cardiovascular risk.”
The researchers looked at blood samples of nearly 4,000 adults in the 1989 to 1990 f Cardiovascular Health Study (CHS). The participants did not have cardiovascular disease at the onset of the study and answered food-focused questionnaires throughout the duration of the study. The recent analysis looked at the risk of cardiovascular disease among participants who consumed different amounts and types of animal proteins including red meat, processed meat, fish, chicken, and eggs.
Red meat risks
According to the findings, the greater the overall meat consumption, specifically red and processed meat, the greater the risk of cardiovascular disease. For every 1.1 serving of red meat, the risk of cardiovascular disease rose 22 percent.
The researchers were able to draw a line to increased TMAO and related metabolites in the blood samples for about ten percent of the increased risk. Blood sugar and inflammation also showed a more significant link between red meat and cardiovascular disease.
“Research efforts are needed to better understand the potential health effects of L-carnitine and other substances in red meat such as heme iron, which has been associated with Type 2 diabetes, rather than just focusing on saturated fat,” Wang said.
The study is not the first to link red meat to health issues. The World Health Organization has classified processed meat as a carcinogen. According to Diabetes Journal, diets high in red and processed meats are associated with increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, particularly colorectal cancer, and all-cause mortality.