Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Red Herring for Red Meat Consumption

A nutrient used as a dietary supplement, not fat and cholesterol, is the link between red meat consumption and cardiovascular disease.


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“The article in Nature Medicine by Robert Koeth and co-authors presents a fascinating series of studies, in mice and human subjects, pointing to a causative role for L-carnitine in atherosclerosis. The effect is not of L-carnitine itself, but of a product of its metabolism by resident bacteria in the gut called Trimethylamine-N-oxide, or TMAO for short.

“There are a number of things to note about the study, as follows. First, the authors include pork and duck into the list of red meat, whereas in fact they have very much lower L-carnitine levels. Secondly, relevant to Australian red meat-eaters, kangaroo meat – long considered very healthy, given its very low fat content – has more L-carnitine per gram than any other red meat; on the basis of the authors' findings, it may not be such a healthy option after all. Finally, as a scientist one unanswered question is that of the particular microbes in the gut of meat-eaters that are absent from that of vegans: do they require something in red meat for their ability to colonise the gut, and what are they like in species that are primarily carnivorous (like cats) rather than omnivorous (like humans and mice).”

Professor John Funder is Executive Chairman of Obesity Australia. He is also a Senior Fellow at Prince Henry's Institute and Professor in the Department of Medicine at Monash University.


The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.