Two recent studies lead by Dr. Stanley Hazen with The Cleveland Clinic and funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Office of Dietary Supplements have provided evidence that red meat increases the risk of heart disease independent of cholesterol or saturated fat content.
Nat Medicine. 2013;19:576-585
N Engl J Med. 2013;368:1575-1584
For years, healthcare providers have assumed that the saturated fat and cholesterol in red meat were the factors that cause an increased risk of CVD.
But this latest research suggests for the first time that it is the Carnitine found in red meat ( or even energy drinks and supplements) that may be metabolized by certain gut microbes into TMAO, a substance believed to promote atherogenesis. Both studies found an association between high levels of TMAO and increased cardiovascular risk in mice and humans.
Dr. Hazen explains that the research of 2, 595 patients showed that certain bacteria in the digestive tract converts carnitine into another metabolite called TMAO, that promotes atherosclerosis. “Cholesterol is still needed to clog the arteries, but TMAO changes how cholesterol is metabolized. It may explain why two people can have the same LDL measure, but one develops cardiovascular disease and the other doesn’t.” Dr. Hazen suggests that an individual’s intestinal microbe composition will be one of the key determining factors whether the damaging active compounds are produced. “Two different people can experience the same food differently because they have different gut flora. One person may generate a little more of a compound like TMAO than the other. That concept is a new way of thinking about complex diseases.”
I share the news of these two recent studies to encourage basic dietary changes that may improve health and reduce disease incidence. Though healthy fats and proteins are being linked to a reduction in disease when paired with more plant based meals, red meat is not making the cut. These studies encourage a diet with less red meat and one that would support a diverse gut microbiome. Our body hosts trillions of microorganisms and when in good balance will support proper digestion and appetite, but if compromised it may increase our risk of obesity, inflammation, autoimmune disorders, celiac, crohns and even diabetes.
Easy Ways to Improve Your Gut Diversity
Plant and Fiber Rich Foods
Eat a variety of vegetables in large quantities. Plant fiber foods act as prebiotics, help stimulate growth of good bacteria, and support healthy balance of gut flora. Dr. Hazen’s studies support that gut flora can be shifted by eating a more vegetarian diet. Other plant based foods like flax seed, oatmeal, lentils and all beans also act as prebiotics.
Limit Red Meat
Limit red meat to once a week and avoid energy drinks with Carnitine added.
Enjoy foods that are naturally rich in probiotics. Yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimichi, fresh sour dough bread, and Kombuchas with less than 2 grams of sugar per serving. Try Green Valley Organics Blueberry Pomegranate Kefir – delicious and lactose free.
Consider a Probiotic with 10 – 115 Billion CFUs
Take a highly concentrated and diverse probiotic such as VSL#3. It is in most pharmacies and the 112 billion capsule is nonprescription. You will need to ask the pharmacist because it is kept in the refrigerated storage area.