I’m a huge fan of red meat. Eating a pound in a sitting is a very common quantity for me to consume and it often happens more than once per day. I’m a big meal kind of guy. I’d rather down a massive meal and not eat again for five hours than do the eat every two to three hours plan that most adhere to. Red meat and protein shakes make up 95 percent of my protein intake and I like it that way. This has been my method for many years and if it ain’t broke, I have no intentions of fixing it.
Until now that is, or at least I have been given pause to think. I came across a study undertaken by the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio that has given a reason as to why red meat may not be good for us after all. Simply put, there is a nutrient in red meat that when broken down in the gut creates a byproduct chemical that appears to instigate arterial blockages.
Unlike previous studies which pegged cholesterol or fat as the likely culprit that contributes to heart disease, it appears that even the leanest cut of beef can have just as devastating consequences to our cardiovascular health. This chemical byproduct that is produced is called a microbiome.
Due to the fact that this as it is a digestive issue as opposed to an issue that is directly a result of the nutrient, probiotics could possibly play a role in rebalancing the bacteria in a meat eaters gut that sets off this chain of events. This is an interesting point in itself as it seems to be that it is what we each are made up of individually that has a greater bearing on our long-term health in relation to how our body reacts to nutrients, as opposed to just the nutrients themselves.
The particular nutrient in question is l-carnitine, which is found in high concentrations in beef. This amino acid helps convert fat into energy and as such is often considered an antioxidant. As it helps convert fat to energy many in the world of fitness of which we are all a part often use the supplemental form of l-carnitine, which would only serve to further the damage that can be caused when it is broken down. The only candidates who should consider taking l-carnitine now that this information has come to light would be a vegan or vegetarian on their doctor’s advice.
In the study the volunteers were given concentrated doses of l-carnitine. It became immediately apparent that levels of trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO) – a compound thought to slow the removal of fatty plaque build-ups in the arteries and change cholesterol’s metabolism – spike in the blood when l-carnitine is introduced. After l-carnitine breaks down into a gas, the gas is converted to TMAO in the liver and the gas then circulates throughout our the bloodstream.
The study findings also concluded that vegans and vegetarians produced much less TMAO than those who were meat eaters. This suggests that there is something different regarding the bacteria in the gut of the meat eaters that is the actual cause of the problem. Further investigation confirmed this to be true. Back up studies also confirmed that those at risk of heart disease had high levels of both l-carnitine and TMAO in their blood. It is the combination of both l-carnitine and TMAO that causes the issue, as when they are elevated individually there is no health risk.
An earlier study in 2011 that was conducted by many of the same members as the Cleveland Clinic found that three molecules produced by the breakdown of phosphatidylcholine (a nutrient common in fatty foods) were present in high levels in heart disease patients, and at the end of the trail was trimethylamine-N-oxide. Choline is produced from the phosphatidylcholine breakdown, gut bacteria breaks choline down to trimethylamine and trimethylamine is then transformed into TMAO once it reaches the liver. Mice fed phosphatidylcholine had higher levels of TMAO and arterties clogged with plaque (again, the bacterial link was confirmed by using antibiotics to cleanse mice guts of bacteria – in these mice, there was no arterial problem and no TMAO).
The immediate solution is to both stop taking l-carnitine if you are doing so, and to cut back on red meat. There is the possibility that in the future there may be a method devised to deal with the bacteria that is present in meat eaters gut and by doing so the offending bacteria can be removed and by doing so the initial catalyst that sets this chain of events in motion would no longer be present. I’m personally not convinced that the solution is to eat more chicken or fish as they both come with their own unique issues as well.
This study helps me personally to understand why a healthy individual can drop dead at age 42 of a stroke (it just happened to someone I knew), and why a hard-drinking, hard smoking individual that lives off of deep-fried food can live until 85. It is our individual make up that has predetermined our life expectancy to a large degree. The role that health and fitness plays for us is more of one to allow us to enjoy a better quality of life, but not necessarily a longer one.
This article was researched and written by Matt Taylor
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