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Is CVD Risk Doubled With Red Meat Diet?

December 11, 2018

Individuals whose diets consist of regular red meat consumption have triple the amount oftrimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) levels than individuals who follow a plant-based or white meat diet, according to a new study. In turn, individuals who consume a red meat diet are at a greater risk for cardiovascular disease.

To reach this conclusion, the researchers recruited 113 healthy adults to follow a 2-week baseline diet that mirrored a typical American diet (carbohydrate 49%, protein 14%, and fat 37%). The participants were then randomly assigned to either a high-saturated-fat or low-saturated-fat diet arm.

Within each arm, the participants were assigned to 1 of 3 experimental diets (red meat, white meat, or non-meat) in random order for 4 weeks. Each diet type was separated by a 2- to 7-week washout period, during which the participants followed their regular diet.

The researchers collected both fasting plasma and urine samples on 2 separate days in the last week of each dietary intervention.

The findings showed that a chronic diet of red meat, but not of white meat or non-meat, more than doubled both plasma and urine TMAO levels.

Further, chronic dietary red meat increases systemic TMAO levels by enhancing dietary precursors, increasing microbial trimethylamine/TMAO production from carnitine (but not choline), and significantly reducing renal TMAO excretion.

However, once a participant stopped the red meat diet, TMAO plasma levels reduced within 4 weeks.

“According to the meta-analysis, the increases in plasma TMAO observed with the red meat diet would correspond to an approximate 4.5% increase in relative risk of mortality compared with the non-meat diet, and a 4.3% difference in mortality compared with white meat diet,” the researchers concluded. 

—Colleen Murphy


Wang Z, Bergeron N, Levison BS, et al. Impact of chronic dietary red meat, white meat, or non-meat protein on trimethylamine N-oxide metabolism and renal excretion in healthy men and women [published online December 10, 2018]. Eur Heart J

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