Why Red Meat & Carnitine May Kill YOU

Posted On Sunday, 21 April 2013
Why Red Meat & Carnitine May Kill YOU

From a recent behind-the-scenes discussion about red meat on YOU The Owner’s Manual Radio Show:

"It’s changing your microbiome." "Your What?" "Your Microbiome, or the bacteria inside you." "Ugh" she said "That’s disgusting." "Maybe" I said, "but there may be something you could take or just avoiding it that could give you more energy for many years, as well as keep you healthy, and that’s invigorating."

On a recent radio show, a guest with great expertise in this area, Adam Bernstein, MD,SciD, reviewed the hazards of eating red meat - and, yes, pork and bacon are red meats -  a 20% increase in risk of stroke and type 2 diabetes for every 4 ounce portion you have a week. That is a doubling of risk for 5 servings (or one big portion, if you eat big at a place like Morton’s or The Heart Attack Grill. Yes, there is such a place).  

Yes, you are literally committing suicide by eating red meat.  

It is a slow suicide, but note - it doesn’t kill you quickly - it disables you and renders you impotent along the way - literally.  

Eating red meat has long been recognized as being a risk factor for atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) – but the saturated fat content of lean red meat that contributes to fat build up along the inside of your arteries accounts for only some of the increase in heart risks associated with a carnivorous eating habit.

Carnitine may be a culprit for additional risks, says Stan Hazen MD, PhD, from The Cleveland Clinic’s Heart and Vascular Institute, and colleagues here at the Clinic who did the research and authored the paper published on Sunday.   Carnitine gets its name from the latin root of the word carnivore, carnis (meaning flesh), because it is an abundant nutrient in red meat, and is present at significantly lower levels in other forms of meat, and dairy products. Carnitine, a trimethylamine present in red meat, leads to increased blood vessel hardening risk.

How, you ask?

It has to do with the microbes that live in your gut – something called the “microbiome”. You have literally trillions of bacteria that live in your intestines, and help you by aiding in digestion of food. Dr Hazen’s study suggests that a diet with chronic exposure to meat, shifts the composition of the microbes within your gut toward those that like carnitine, and are more prone to generate a metabolite--trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO) - there is a test after reading this blog - that promotes heart disease. Comparison of omnivores (those that eat animal products and meat) with vegans and vegetarians in the study showed dramatic differences in the microbiome, and formation of the artery clogging substance that helps LDL cholesterol deposit in your arteries’ walls.

How much red meat can you eat then, without this problem?

“We don’t know” says Dr. Hazen. Dr Bernstein said less than 4 ounces a week - maybe less than 4 ounces a month, doesn’t change your microbiome.

This new study, which included over 2,500 subjects, provides even more substantiation to the epidemiologic data published by Dr. Bernstein of the Wellness Institute and colleagues indicating eating red meat more than once a week is associated with increased stroke and diabetes, as well as other atherosclerotic processes like dementia, wrinkling, impotence, and heart attacks.

What can you eat if you’re concerned about avoiding arterial disease? 

Say “yes” to good fats. Aim for three servings of omega-3-rich fish every week and take 900mg of DHA omega-3 from algal oil daily. Also, olive and canola oil, chia and flax seed, avocado, and walnuts are loaded with good fats. Dr. Hazen especially likes extra virgin olive oil.

Get your carbs from veggies, fruits, and whole grains. Look for fast-cooking whole grains like barley, whole-wheat cous-cous and quinoa. And reserve half of your plate for veggies at lunch and dinner. Your brain and your heart will love you for it.

Get a lot of Odd Omegas®  every day: You’ve already heard plenty about DHA, the great-for-you omega-3 fatty acid in fatty fish and fish or algal oil capsules. And you know of olive oil, the odd omega-9. Now research from Harvard Medical School, the Cleveland Clinic, the University of Hawaii and Japan suggested to me that that purified omega-7s (purified Palmitoleic Acid-a C16 monounsaturated fat) have amazing powers, too. (I even asked the company if I could help them design studies as a member of their scientific advisory board to prove such).  We’ve discussed this on YOU The Owner’s Manual Show recently as well.

So both reasons and that outcome data, limit red meat to less than 4 ounces a week. Get your Odd Omega’s. Maybe Stan and colleagues will give you another approach in six months—that is Stan seemed to say in our interview that he had found an easy food substance you can eat that blocks formation from carnitine of trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO) - we’ll report it on the show and tweet it and put in in this blog as soon as we can.

But for now, red meat ages you - so enjoy veggies and Salmon - I will. 

Questions—just send 'em to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


Michael Roizen, MD

Dr. Mike is a New York Times #1 bestselling author and co-founder of the well-known RealAge.com website, along with Dr. Mehmet Oz. He is chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute of the Cleveland Clinic and health expert on Oprah.

Dr. Mike hosts the popular YOU The Owner's Manual Radio Show here on RadioMD.com, and on radio stations nationwide.

You can also visit his latest partnership with Dr. Oz at YOUBeauty.com.

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