How is red meat intake related to heart disease?

Dr Frank Lipman
Dec 19, 2022

Does red meat consumption harm our health? While the answer is not so black and white, a new study found a connection between metabolites created by bacteria in our gut after meat consumption, and heart disease.

Study Summary

The study, which included data from 3,931 people (aged 65+), found that:

  • A higher consumption of unprocessed red meat, total meat (unprocessed red meat combined with processed meat), and animal-based food was associated with an increased incidence of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.
  • For every ~1.1 serving of red meat consumption daily, there is a 22% increased risk for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.
  • Nearly 10 percent of this risk is attributable to an increase in levels of metabolites produced by gut bacteria after meat consumption (TMAO, gamma-butyrobetaine, and crotonobetaine).
  • For overall meat consumption, the associated increase in risk for heart disease was lower for those with better glucose control and insulin levels.
  • For processed meats, the associated increase in risk for heart disease was reduced for those with lower systemic inflammation.

The researchers of this study concluded that the potential increase in risk of heart disease at the hands of meat consumption may be due to the metabolites generated by gut bacteria after meat consumption, as opposed to total fat, saturated fat or cholesterol components of meat.

The Hearty Take

This research highlights a relationship between gut microbial pathways, animal-derived foods and risk for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease - however, it does not prove cause-and-effect. Since higher levels of TMAO, gamma-butyrobetaine, and crotonobetaine have been linked to a higher risk of death, a focus on reducing consumption of foods that increase the production of these metabolites may be healthspan supportive. However, at the moment, more research is needed to cement these findings. At Hearty, we recommend that you consume a diet rich in whole plant foods, healthy fats, and other heart-healthy foods. Reach out to your nutritionist to personalize your nutritional plan!

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