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Can Red Meat Increase Your Risk of Heart Disease?

Can Red Meat Increase Your Risk of Heart Disease?

Eating red meat may be tripling this heart disease-related chemical.

When seven-foot tall Chicago Bull’s power forward Lauri Markkanen wanted to do something about climate change, he launched a campaign called #DontChoke that asks people to take simple steps to decrease their carbon footprint. His choice: Give up red meat.

A 2014 study revealed that producing beef requires 28 times more land, six times more fertilizer and 11 times more water than eggs, poultry, or dairy—and creates about five times more greenhouse gas emissions. But Lauri didn’t know how much he’d be improving his internal environment, too.

A study by Cleveland Clinic researchers shows the main problem with red meat is not just its saturated fat. Seems that when nutrients in red meat encounter your gut bacteria, it results in your body producing a waste chemical called TMA (trimethylamine), which is then turned into TMAO (trimethylamine N-oxide) by your liver.

The researchers found red meat eaters have triple the levels of TMAO as those who eat a diet rich in white meats or plant-based proteins (think beans and nuts)—and elevated levels are a serious risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Fortunately, giving up red meat lowers TMAO levels within two weeks—and helps you dodge the damage TMAOs cause.

"This study shows…. what a dramatic effect changing your diet has on levels of TMAO…," said the Clinic’s Stanley L. Hazen, M.D., Ph.D. "It suggests that you can lower your heart disease risk by lowering TMAO."

So, go for the two-fer: Clean up your internal environment and the world’s, too.

Medically reviewed in October 2019.

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