The findings of studies researching the connection between meat consumption and cardiovascular health have been contradictory and have baffled researchers.
But a new study from the Journal of Hypertension may finally provide an explanation.
Yes, meat can cause heart attack or stroke. But what you do after eating meat may completely reverse the damage.
You see, one of the reasons why human beings have a limited lifespan and elderly people are more susceptible to cardiovascular disease is because our blood vessels naturally age along with the rest of our bodies.
This means that the tissue that constitutes blood vessels becomes damaged and compromises the body’s ability to circulate blood.
Researchers have been trying for some time to figure out which foods accelerate natural aging to inform dietary recommendations.
One way to do this is to examine the substances that increase naturally in our bodies as we age and to test their effects on blood vessel tissue. Researchers can then work out whether these substances are related to the foods we eat.
Previous studies had shown that people with high levels of trimethylamine N-oxide (or TMAO) in their blood were twice as likely as those with low levels to suffer heart attacks, experience strokes, or die prematurely.
They related this finding to age by measuring the TMAO levels in 101 older and 22 young adults, finding that TMAO levels increased as people aged and that blood vessel function became significantly worse over time, with far greater blood vessel tissue damage.
They confirmed these results in a study on mice. When they fed TMAO to young mice, their blood vessels appeared to be those of mice more than twice their age.
In just a few months of adding TMAO to their diets, they aged the blood vessels of 12-month-old mice to resemble those seen in 27-month-old mice. In human years, that is a blood vessel increase from 35 to 79 years old.
So, what is TMAO?
TMAO is a substance produced in the liver from trimethylamine. Trimethylamine is a byproduct of the metabolism of the amino acids L-carnitine and choline, found in abundance in animal products such as meat, eggs, and cream, by gut bacteria.
Theoretically, the more animal products you eat, the higher the levels of TMAO in your blood, which leads to increased blood vessel damage.
But this finding may not be as straightforward as it seems.
When the scientists fed old mice a substance called dimethyl butanol, which occurs in olive and grapeseed oils, red wine, and balsamic vinegar, they managed to reverse much of the blood vessel damage.
This may explain why red meat is unhealthy for many people but adverse effects are reported less often in those who, for example, eat the Mediterranean diet, with its central ingredient of olive oil.
So, by eating a relatively healthful diet rich in olive oil and other foods high in dimethyl butanol, a reasonable amount of animal protein may not result in poor cardiovascular health effects.
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