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Bacteria and not the fat in red meat may be real culprit in heart disease

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
April 8th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

While it has long been believed that the cholesterol and fat found in red meat is a leading contributor to heart disease, several doctors and researchers treated themselves to an extravagant steak breakfast to discover that a bacteria, by the name of TMAO may in fact be the real culprit.  

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic online) - The little-studied chemical is "burped out" by bacteria in the stomach after people eat red meat. Converted by the liver into yet another little-studied chemical called TMAO, the chemical gets in the blood and increases the risk of heart disease.

Researchers asked themselves: Would a burst of TMAO show up in peoples' blood after they ate steak? Would the same thing happen to a vegan who had not had meat for at least a year and who consumed the same meal?

The answers were yes to both questions.

After a breakfast of steak, the TMAO burst was found in the five meat eaters and no, the vegan did not have it. TMAO levels turned out to predict heart attack risk in humans, the researchers found. The researchers also found that TMAO actually caused heart disease in mice.

Additional studies with 23 vegetarians and vegans and 51 meat eaters showed that meat eaters normally had more TMAO in their blood. The people participating in a study of red meat and its consequences had hot, sizzling sirloin steaks plopped down in front of them. The researcher himself bought a George Foreman grill for the occasion and the nurse assisting him did the cooking.

The seven test subjects ate every last juicy bite of the 8-ounce steaks and then waited to have their blood drawn.

"It's really a beautiful combination of mouse studies and human studies to tell a story I find quite plausible," Dr. Daniel J. Rader, a heart disease researcher at the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Medicine said. He was not involved in the research.

Researchers say the work could lead to new treatments for heart disease, such as an antibiotic to specifically wipe out the bacterial culprit and also to a new way to assess heart disease risk by looking for TMAO in the blood.

Questions remain, such as would people reduce their heart attack risk if they lowered their blood TMAO levels? An association between TMAO levels in the blood and heart disease risk does not necessarily mean that one causes the other. And which gut bacteria in particular are the culprits?

Energy drinks and supplements used in body building often contain carnitine, a substance found mostly in red meat.

The study's researchers have persuaded scientists not connected with the study to seriously consider this new theory of why red meat eaten too often might be bad for people.

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