1 More Unexpected Reason To Eat Less Meat For A Healthy Heart: Look At The Research

1 More Unexpected Reason To Eat Less Meat: Look At The Research

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Red meat has high amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol. However, research by Dr. Stanley Hazen and her team of scientists also shows that carnitine, found in the animal meat, when consumed in excess, gives rise to an artery-clogging compound called trimethylamine-N-oxide, or TMAO. Dr. Hazen says: “TMAO changes our cholesterol metabolism and contributes to the accumulation of cholesterol within the artery wall.” In the research study they examined data from about 2,600 patients undergoing heart evaluations, and the link was clear. They found association between carnitine and risk for heart attack, stroke, and death.” (1)

TMAO levels differed depending on the patient’s diets. Researchers examined the blood TMAO levels of vegans, vegetarians, and meat-eaters after they ingested a uniform amount of carnitine, whether through a sirloin steak or vegan-friendly supplement. While meat-eaters made significant amounts of TMAO, vegans and vegetarians generated virtually none. Carnitine is used by some intestinal bacteria as food, and as Dr. Hazen says, “Vegans didn’t have the microbes in their intestines to digest it.”  (1)

To confirm these results, they gave the meat eaters a week-long round of antibiotics to suppress the bacteria. When they re-administered carnitine, no one produced any TMAO, but after quitting antibiotics for a month, the meat eater’s guts had repopulated with TMAO. “It was proof that gut microbes played a role in the metabolism of carnitine to produce this artery-clogging compound,” Dr. Hazen says.

Antibiotics aren’t an effective treatment for heart disease. Dr. Hazen says: “You can’t pop some pills with your steak to cancel out the carnitine since microbes develop antibiotic resistance quickly. But it is possible to shift your intestinal flora in the heart-healthy direction in just one or two months by adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet”. (1)

Another study followed 37,698 men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study in the US (1986-2008) and 83,644 women from the Nurse’s Health Study in the US (1980-2008), who were at baseline free of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Diet was assessed by validated food-frequency questionnaires and updated every four years.

They concluded that red meat consumption was associated with an increased risk of total cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality. Substitution of other healthy protein sources for red meat was associated with a lower mortality risk. (2)

Another study comparing analysis of 5 prospective studies, with data from 76,172 men and women, examined the death rates from common diseases of vegetarians with those of non-vegetarians with similar lifestyles. In these studies, 27,808 vegetarians, who did not eat any meat or fish were included. Death rate ratios at ages 16-89 years were calculated and all results were adjusted for age, sex, and smoking status. There were, all together, 8,330 deaths after a mean of 10.6 years of follow-up. They found that mortality from heart disease was 24% lower in vegetarians than in non-vegetarians, and that the lower mortality from heart disease among vegetarians was greater at younger ages and was restricted to those who had followed their current diet for over five years. (3)

A healthier option, also better for our animal friends, our planet and our waistline, is to choose vegan protein alternative for meat in the form of legumes. Legumes are 20-25% protein by weight. While legumes are generally high in protein, and the digestibility of that protein is also high, they are often relatively poor in methionine, an essential amino acid. However, when complemented by grains which are high in methionine, but low in the amino acid lysine (which is found in abundance in legumes), they form a complete protein, high quality protein when consumed adjacent to each other.

Check out my article on the connection between meat and cancer HERE

Check out my infographic on the 10 healthiest foods HERE

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  1. W.H. Wilson Tang, Zeneng Wang, Yiying Fan, Bruce Levison, Jennie E. Hazen, Lillian M. Donahue, Yuping Wu, Stanley L. Hazen. Prognostic Value of Elevated Levels of Intestinal Microbe-Generated Metabolite Trimethylamine-N-Oxide in Patients With Heart Failure. Journal of the American College of Cardiology; 2014; 64 (18): 1908 DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2014.02.617
  2. Pan A, Sun Q, Bernstein AM, et al. Red Meat Consumption and Mortality: Results from Two Prospective Cohort Studies. Archives of internal medicine; 2012;172(7):555-563. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.2287.
  3. Key TJ, Fraser GE, Thorogood M, Appleby PN, Beral V, Reeves G, Burr ML, Chang-Claude J, Frentzel-Beyme R, Kuzma JW, Mann J, McPherson K. Mortality in vegetarians and nonvegetarians: detailed findings from a collaborative analysis of 5 prospective studies. Am J Clin Nutr; 1999; 70(3 Suppl):516S-524S


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