Studies Highlight Risks of Red Meat-Rich Diet

Eating a lot of red meat boosts levels of a chemical linked to heart disease and also changes kidney function, two new studies find.

Compared to vegetarians or those who ate only white meat such as chicken, people who ate a diet high in red meat produced more trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), a compound that's been shown to increase the risk of heart disease, NBC News reported Monday.

But production of TMAO fell within a month after participants stopped eating red meat, according to Dr. Stanley Hazen, from the Cleveland Clinic, and colleagues.

The researchers also found that eating a lot of red meat can change kidney function, NBC News reported.

The studies were published in the European Heart Journal and the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

"These studies really show what a large impact a diet that is rich in red meat can have on your metabolism," Hazen told NBC News.

"One of our most surprising findings was that a diet rich in red meat actually changed kidney function. We saw that the kidneys were being regulated by a chronic diet. This is something that, as far as I am aware, hasn't been shown before," Hazen said.

TMAO is made by gut bacteria as they digest food and red meat causes these bacteria to make a lot of TMAO. Hazen's team has shown that people who have more TMAO in their blood are at increased risk for heart disease, and also have a higher risk of dying earlier, NBC News reported.

Hazen is trying to develop a drug that would lower TMAO levels and the risk of heart disease.

"These findings reinforce current dietary recommendations that encourage all ages to follow a heart-healthy eating plan that limits red meat," Charlotte Pratt, from the U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, which helped fund the study, told NBC News

"This means eating a variety of foods, including more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy foods, and plant-based protein sources such as beans and peas," Pratt said.

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