Roast beef cooked under high heat
Roast beef cooked under high heat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Body Tip Eating red meat ages you faster, and carnitine may be the culprit. Avoid greater risk of developing heart disease — eat veggies and fish!

A diet rich in red meat has long been recognized as a risk factor for atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), but the saturated fat content of lean red meat appears to account for only some of the increased risk of a carnivorous lifestyle. Carnitine may be a culprit for additional risks, says Stan Hazen, MD, PhD, from our Heart and Vascular Institute, and colleagues here at the Cleveland Clinic, who did the research and authored the recently published paper. Carnitine gets its name from carnis (meaning flesh), the Latin root of the word carnivore, because it is abundant in red meat. It is present at significantly lower levels in other forms of meat and dairy products. Carnitine is also a nutrient that may increase energy if taken short-term, but the new studies suggest that long-term exposure to carnitine may lead to increased hardening of blood vessel walls.

How does this happen?

It is related to the community of microbes that live in your gut — called the “microbiome.” Trillions of bacteria live in your intestines and aid in the digestion of food. Dr. Hazen’s study suggests that a diet with regular exposure to meat, or carnitine, can shift the composition of the microbes within your gut. Bacteria that like carnitine appear to generate a metabolite that promotes heart disease. In the research study, the microbiomes of omnivores (who eat both animal and vegetable products) were found to be dramatically different from those of vegans and vegetarians. Omnivores contained much more of a substance that deposits LDL cholesterol in your arteries’ walls, and leads to development of coronary artery disease.

How much red meat can you eat without this problem? We don’t know,” says Dr. Hazen. Other studies have suggested that eating meat rarely, about once a month, does not change the microbiome.

This new study, which included over 2,500 subjects, further substantiates epidemiologic data published by Adam Bernstein MD, ScD, of the Wellness Institute, and colleagues, indicating that eating red meat more than once a week is associated with increased stroke as well as other aging processes like dementia, wrinkling, impotence and heart attacks.

Bottom line: Limit your consumption of red meat to less than 4 ounces per week. Dr. Hazen and his colleagues are hoping to be able to offer another approach in six months, but for now, you should know that red meat ages you more quickly.


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