Heart Disease and the chemical TMAO connection - Part 3
The story continues with other researchers wading in for comments.
“I always thought that what I ate mattered, but I never realized that my gut bacteria might matter more”
Biochemist Harry Ischiropoulos of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
“L-carnitine is not good for you. It’s not good as a supplement and it’s not good in red meat. That’s one thing you can take to the bank”
Cardiovascular researcher Ishwarlal Jialal of the University of California, Davis Medical Center.
Meat-eaters vs. plant-eaters
Dr Stanley Hazen, chairman of the department of cellular and molecular medicine at the Lerner Research Institute of the Cleveland Clinic, and colleagues, have patients at risk for heart disease, with 10,000 being monitored since 2007. Their blood samples were analysed for small molecules to see whether any were associated with heart attacks or deaths. These longer-term studies and the recent ones all showed the same thing; that a red meat substance called carnitine was the link.
They gave 77 participants (26 of whom were vegans or vegetarians) the nutrient carnitine. The plant-eaters produced very low or zero levels of TMAO in their gut. It’s not carnitine alone that increases your risk for heart disease, but what is often called ‘bacterial alchemy’. Analysis showed very different types of bacteria in the plant-eaters guts than did the bacteria in meat-eaters. The meat eaters had more TMAO in their blood and they, unlike the plant-eaters, readily made TMAO after eating anything with high levels of carnitine. Carnitine is used by your body as fuel, which is why body-builders and young athletes use it as a supplement and take it in ‘enhanced’ drinks. However, carnitine is not an essential nutrient; our body naturally produces all we need.
The doctors tested meat-eaters eating meat and found TMAO showed up immediately in the blood. The doctors tested plant-eaters and found they did not have TMAO in their blood. Now here is the really interesting part. Even if the plant-eaters ate some meat, they still had no TMAO in their blood! These doctors discovered that regular consumption of carnitine-rich foods = gut bacteria changes = TMAO gas created by the body.
Red meat contains around 95mg of carnitine per 100 grams. The richest plant source of carnitine is avocados, at barely 2mg per 100 grams. Green vegetables contain a miniscule 0.2mg per 100 grams. Red meat contains 50 times more carnitine than avocados. According to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, a typical plant-eater gets around 1mg of carnitine per day. Meat-eaters on today’s meat-rich diet could be getting 200mg-400mg of carnitine per day – and this is before they start swallowing carnitine-rich supplements by the gallon.
Sadly, there are over 1,000 college age athletes in the US now dying each year from heart disease.
What supplements would these young people be using? Carnitine.
What diets would they be on? Meat-heavy carnitine-rich diets.