Increased heart disease risk from red meat may stem from gut microbe response to digestion
Chemicals produced in the digestive tract by gut microbes after eating red meat may help explain part of the higher risk of cardiovascular disease associated with red meat consumption, according to new research published today in the American Heart Association’s peer-reviewed journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology (ATVB).
In the United States and around the world, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death. While the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke, increases with age, other risk factors are influenced by lifestyle. Lifestyle and behaviors that are known to improve cardiovascular health include eating healthy foods, especially fruits and vegetables; regular physical activity; obtaining sufficient sleep; maintaining a healthy body weight; stopping smoking; and controlling high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar.
“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.”
Previous research has found that certain metabolites — chemical byproducts of food digestion — are associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease . One of these metabolites is TMAO, or trimethylamine N-oxide, which is produced by gut bacteria to digest red meat that contains high amounts of the chemical L-carnitine .
High blood levels of TMAO in humans may be associated with higher risks of CVD, chronic kidney disease and Type 2 diabetes. However, whether TMAO and related metabolites derived from L-carnitine may help explain the effects of red meat intake on cardiovascular risk, and to what extent they may contribute to cardiovascular risk associated with meat consumption, are still unknown.
To understand these questions, the researchers conducting this study measured levels of the metabolites in blood samples. They also examined whether blood sugar, inflammation, blood pressure and blood cholesterol may account for the elevated cardiovascular risk associated with red meat consumption.
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