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Red Meat Consumption and Mortality: Is Carnitine the Culprit?

Submitted by on April 17, 2013 – 7:31 PM

food_steak_Coronary artery disease (CAD) and its consequence – that is – ischemic heart disease continues to be the most common cause of mortality worldwide with numbers increasing every decade. There are numerous well established risk factors for CAD including obesity, smoking, diabetes and hypertension. All these factors contribute to the disease pathogenesis either alone or in synergy via different, yet inter related mechanisms. Control of these risk factors either through life style modifications or through pharmacological interventions has been shown to decrease the incidence (primary prevention) or the complications (secondary prevention) of CAD in a number of controlled clinical trials.


It is well known that a diet rich in low density lipoproteins such as red meat contributes to atherogenesis by promoting the lipid deposition in the intimal streaks. These fatty deposits are oxidized by the inflammatory cells such as macrophages resulting in increased deposition and culminating in an ischemic event such as myocardial infarction. Last year (2012), archives of internal medicine published a large epidemiological study which suggested that red meat consumption contributes to mortality even when controlled for the fat content. This conclusion was interesting and unexpected as it has always been suggested that the deleterious health consequences of red meat are due to the LDL content.



These findings lead the investigators to search for alternate hypothesis and the results of this study were published last week by the Nature Medicine. In this study, investigators recruited a group of health volunteers who were strict vegetarians and supplemented them with carnitine, a supplement known for its “energizing” potential. Carnitine is found in large quantity in red meat steak, which is rich in protein and low in fat – a combination which should be theoretically beneficial for cardiovascular system.


The bacteriological content of the stool as well as the concentration of Trimethyl N-Oxide of volunteers consuming carnitine was noted to be exceptionally high compared to controls. These components were measured as surrogate markers of atherosclerosis. It was shown that the bacterial content of strict vegetarians was different from meat consumers leading to hypothesis that bacteria might contribute to the process by participating in oxidation reactions.

The findings from these new studies point to a novel insight into the disease process. Future studies should be conducted to ascertain whether these findings translate into clinical outcomes so that the patients can be counseled about the risks.




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