The bacterial function of the gut continues to amaze us. Now there is incredibly clear evidence that how you treat your microbial partners in your intestine will be a major factor on whether you will get coronary heart disease, heart attack or stroke. Atherosclerosis is the underlying problem with these disorders. This means cholesterol plaque formation in the arteries. So, here is what we already know:

  • A high saturated fat diet leads to a predominance of Firmicutes type of bacteria in the gut. These are bad actors and they lead to a leaky gut.
  • Endotoxins then leak out of the gut and into the blood. These toxins cause low-grade inflammation throughout the body but especially in the arteries.
  • This inflammation can lead to plaque formation.

So shifting to a plant based diet, not vegetarian but just with more plant and less animal foods, shifts the bacteria to the healthy Bacteroidetes type of bacteria.

This is what we already know.

What is now new is how the gut bacteria react to red meat. There is a small molecule derived from amino acids called carnitine that is especially high in red meat. The gut bacteria change this carnitine to a substance that is readily absorbed in the colon. From there it goes to the liver where it is changed to yet another substance called TMAO for short. This TMAO molecule is very potent in inducing atherosclerosis in the arteries. The more TMAO you have in the blood, the greater your chance of getting atherosclerosis and the bad things that come from it. The link below is startlingly scary.

Here is what you can do right now:

  • Go to a low saturated fat diet-20%.
  • Reduce the red meat in the diet to about the size of a deck of cards each day. You simply don’t need any more animal red meat protein than this in the diet.
  • Eat more plant based foods. This will shift the balance of bacteria in the gut from unhealthy to beneficial. Eat prebiotic rich foods as much as possible. If this is difficult then a prebiotic supplement can help you reach your fiber goal each day.

Best wishes for a healthy summer.

Frank Jackson MD


Jackson GI Medical


 Red meat carnitine and the risk of atherosclerosis

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.