Apr 092013

New research by the Cleveland Clinic has found another reason why consuming a lot of red meat increases your risk of heart disease. Researchers are now convinced that the association between red meat and arteriosclerosis is more complex than just consuming bad fat. A chemical compound in red meat called carnitine, and the type of gut bacterial flora that you have also play an important role.

Large amounts of diet sourced carnitine are found in red meats and pork. For most people, dietary carnitine isn’t necessary since your liver and kidneys also produce carnitine from the amino acids lysine and methionine.

How Does Dietary Carnitine Increase Your Risk Of Heart Disease?

The cardio health problems associated with dietary carnitine comes when certain bacteria in your intestines convert it into a chemical called trimethylamine-N-oxide or TMAO. TMAO is known to increase your risk of developing arteriosclerosis or clogged arteries that can lead to heart attacks and death.

By eating large amounts of red meat over a long period of time, you increase the population of the type of intestinal bacteria that converts carnitine into artery clogging TMAO. The sequence of events starts with frequent consumption of red meat which leads to a large population of a specific type of gut bacteria that produce TMAO which then leads to arteriosclerosis and possibly a heart attack and death.

So the risk of developing arteriosclerosis from red meat consumption is a team effort between carnitine and a specific type of intestinal bacteria that converts it into TMAO. Interestingly, vegans and vegetarians produce less TMAO when they consume carnitine compared to big meat eaters. That is because vegans and vegetarians have less of the specific type of gut bacteria that produce TMAO than human carnivores do.

This means that developing arteriosclerosis involves not only consuming bad fats found in red meats, but also consuming carnitine which promotes the increase in a specific type of gut bacterial population that produces TMAO. So, how do you encourage the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut?

How Can You Promote Healthy Gut Bacteria?

Healthy gut bacteria love a special type of carbohydrate called resistant carbohydrates. Resistant carbohydrates are found in high fiber fruits and vegetables like bananas and legumes. These healthy bacteria also love inulin, which is found in foods like chicory root, asparagus, onions and garlic. The reason that inulin and resistant carbohydrates are special is because they can make it into your large intestines to feed the healthy gut bacteria without first being converted into sugar and absorbed in your small intestines like simple carbohydrates are.


Developing arteriosclerosis from the frequent consumption of red meats involves not only bad fats, but also consuming dietary carnitine. Dietary carnitine promotes the growth of a certain type of intestinal bacteria that produces an artery-clogging substance called TMAO. Human carnivores have a much higher population of these bad gut bacteria than vegans and vegetarians do. That is why red meat eaters are more susceptible to heart disease than vegans and vegetarians. It is now clear that the type of bacteria that you have in your intestines has a lot to do with how healthy you are. And the type of bacteria that you have in your gut is largely determined by what you eat.

Do you want to live a relatively healthy life? Then you have to eat a diet that encourages the growth of healthy gut bacteria. It is now clear that healthy gut bacteria thrive on high fiber fruits and vegetables. Keep your gut bacteria healthy with a proper diet, and you will keep yourself healthy.


Cleveland Clinic: Study Offers New Understanding of Cardiovascular Health Benefits of Vegan, Vegetarian Diets
Wikipedia: Carnitine
Prebiotic Canada: Inulin