Dying For A Steak? How The Paleo Diet Affects Your Heart And Why You Shouldn’t Take Carnitine.

Bacteria solution
Bacteria solution (Photo credit: kaibara87)

Paleo fans have a new foe, a little compound called TMAO (trimethylamine N-oxide, for the geeks among us). The compound is released by gut bacteria used to digesting meat. In animal studies it has been linked to heart disease.

What do the bacteria use to make TMAO? A little compound called carnitine, which the body produces by combining two amino acids.  Carnitine is in meat, and also in animal products of all kinds.  It also has been added to a range of dietary supplements and energy drinks.

The researchers found that if you didn’t have the bacteria, you didn’t have a problem.  A vegan eating a steak full of carnitine didn’t produce the TMAO.  Where they found a vegan to eat a steak, the study didn’t say.
We’re not talking about a single study, but a range of studies. The New York Times article mentions ten thousand patients from the Cleveland Clinic.  The Nature article on this compound talks about multiple mouse studies.

It makes a great deal of sense.  How can a paleo diet be a very good way to get healthy in the short term, and a recipe for heart disease over a lifetime?  How can one person eat the same food as another person and not experience the same results?  It’s in the gut.

So should we expect a change of heart from those promoting a Paleo-style diet?  Probably at the same time that the NRA starts promoting gun control.  We’re talking serious entrenchment here.

And the Paleos have a point.  Just because we’ve found the bacteria that uses a chronic meat diet to promote heart disease doesn’t mean the standard American diet works.

Now we need to find the bacteria that use white carbs and high-fructose corn syrup to cause metabolic syndrome, diabetes and an unhealthy fascination with reality television.


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