Steak, Eggs...and a Heart Attack?

April 25 2013, 1:10 PM

The holy pairing of steak and eggs has been threatened once more. The duo has always been high in cholesterol, saturated fat, and free radicals, and full of health disclaimers when eaten in excess. But in two separate studies from the Cleveland Clinic this month, scientists have discovered that a key ingredient in eggs and meat reacts with our gut's bacteria to make us more susceptible to heart disease—more susceptible, they speculate, than the cholesterol and fat.

Two weeks ago, a study in Nature Medicine found that when a compound in red meat called carnitine—present in smaller amounts in fish, chicken, and some dairy products—meets up with intestinal microbes, an artery-clogging chemical called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) is released. The higher the TMAO levels in your blood, the higher your risk for heart disease and stroke. Yesterday, a study in The New England Journal of Medicine found that a compound common in egg yolks called lecithin does the same thing. Both lecithin and carnitine are also additives in energy drinks and bodybuilding supplements.

The good news? In the studies, vegans came out scot-free. Unlike their carnivore sidekicks, their intestinal bacteria didn't include the microbes that react to carnitine and lecithin. After eating an eight-ounce steak, vegans' TMAO levels were nonexistent. The same thing happened for meat eaters when they took an antibiotic first to clear out intestinal bacteria.

The studies don't go as far to say that lowering your TMAO levels will lower your risk for heart disease, but eating eggs and meat less often could clear out the reactionary microbes. And anyway, hasn't the health world been saying for a while that we need to limit our animal product intake? This sounds like a perfect starting point. 

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