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Is Carnitine Bad For You? Beef Experts Say No

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Red meat remains a healthy part of a balanced diet, AMI says; new study on carnitine should not impact dietary habits.

I was disturbed when I read this article on the CBS News website entitled, “Carnitine chemical, not fat, may explain link between red meat and heart disease.” The article features research done by the Cleveland Clinic, which attributes carnitine found in meat as the source of heart disease, not saturated fat. No, you did not read carcinogens, which have also been linked to things like cancer, but carnitine.  

Ryan Jaslow writes, “According to the researchers, an earlier study found that a compound called trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO) may promote the growth of artery-clogging plaques. TMAO is formed when bacteria from our digestive tract breaks down a compound found in meat known as carnitine. Diets high in meat promote the growth of a gut bacteria that breaks down carnitine, the researchers explained, which leads to more TMAO, which in turn leads to atherosclerosis. The study authors set out to learn more about how this process affects heart risks, by comparing the carnitine and TMAO levels found among meat-eaters, vegans and vegetarians.

“The researchers also noted that besides being found in red meats, carnitine is also added to dietary supplements to boost weight loss, and is commonly found in another item linked to heart risks -- energy drinks.

“One expert not involved in the research says people may still be able to eat meat occasionally without risk.”

"There's no need to change our dietary recommendations from this," says Catherine Collins, a dietitian at the U.K. nonprofit Science Media Centre. "A Mediterranean-style diet with modest meat, fish, dairy and alcohol intake, coupled with more vegetables, fruits, whole grains and mono-unsaturated fats, remains the nutritional blueprint for a healthy and healthful life."

The American Meat Institute (AMI) is responding to this article, which it says offers more scare-mongering than factual information.

AMI Foundation Chief Scientist Betsy Booren, Ph.D., writes, “Cardiovascular disease or CVD is a complex condition that appears to have a variety of factors associated with it, from genetics to lifestyle. Attempts to link cardiovascular disease to a single compound that is found at safe levels in red meat oversimplifies this complex disease.

“In fact, the study’s authors themselves say red meat is not to blame, but rather argue that excessive supplementation with L-carnitine that is found at safe and healthy levels in red meat may be a concern. It is important to keep in mind that there are many other studies done on L-carnitine that do not show any adverse health effects at a variety of doses. In fact, the National Institutes of Health fact sheet on L-carnitine shows it is safe and essential. 

“A look at the full body of research into cardiovascular disease and diet will show that red meat can be enjoyed for its good taste and nutrition as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Federal nutrition data shows that the protein group is the only food group consumed at proper levels and that Americans, on average, consume the recommended amount of meat. This study should not prompt any dietary changes and consumers who enjoy red meat should continue to do so with confidence.”

Recent comments on this blog have criticized me for writing about beef and nutrition, stating that since I’m not a nutritionist but a beef producer, I “should stick to what I know and leave the rest alone.”

While I’m certainly not claiming to be an expert on health and nutrition, living a full, productive life by being as healthy as I can be is important to me. What’s more, I truly do believe that beef plays a huge role, at least for me, in being healthy. It’s my daily multi-vitamin, and I’ll scream that great news from the rooftops.

 

A Closer Look: 6 Reasons Why I Eat Meat Every Day -- Mondays Too

 

Putting on my rancher hat, I also think it’s important to keep an eye on negative articles about my product. How can I expect consumers to enjoy beef if they are worried about all of the awful and untrue things they read and hear about beef in the news? So, it’s our task as ranchers to share the positive news about beef as a part of a healthy diet, and I’m happy to do that here on this blog.

So, here is what I know. L-carnitine is an amino acid found in beef and is a nutrient that is actually good for us.

According to Livestrong.com, “It is known to be beneficial to the body in many ways, from increasing exercise endurance, to slowing the mental decline associated with Alzheimer's. One of the primary functions of carnitine is the metabolism of fats. A report from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee explains that L-carnitine increases the body's energy supply by burning triglycerides for fuel. This helps the body burn fat and increase stamina. The Linus Pauling Institute states that even though L-carnitine is available from supplements as well as food, it is the L-carnitine from food sources that is better used and absorbed by the body. There are a variety of food sources that contain high amounts of L-carnitine. While there is no recommended dietary allowance for L-carnitine, the Life Extension Foundation reports that doses of 2-4 g/day were found to be safe, and even reversed heart damage that had been caused by a heart attack. “Meats contain a substantial amount of L-carnitine, with beef and pork containing the highest amounts. The Linus Pauling Institute reports that a 3-oz. serving of beef contains between 80-81 mg of L-carnitine, while a 3-oz. serving of pork contains between 20-24 mg. Fish and chicken do not compare as well, with fish containing only 5 mg in a 3-oz. portion, and chicken containing 3 mg in a 3-oz. portion.”

Want to learn more about this amino acid? Check out this article entitled, “Top 12 Reasons To Use Carnitine.”

What did you think about the CBS article? Why do you think beef continues to be a target in the news? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

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Discuss this Blog Entry 13

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 9, 2013

I REALLY liked this article. Hearing the news about L Carnitine's newly discovered role having to do with hardening of the arteries is what prompted me to start searching on the internet for more insight. I was concerned. That's how I landed here. I appreciate your candid honesty. Thank you sincerely!

on Apr 11, 2013

So glad you found the blog. I often write about the nutritional claims made by the mainstream media and try to offer the other side. Enjoy beef!

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 12, 2013

LOL. this guy produces beef. he is not a physician, and hardly intelligent enough to understand the article which clearly shows a correlation between diets high in carnitine and CVD. he is just worried about his pending salary cut

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 11, 2013

One of the results in this new publication is that high levels of carnitine in the blood are associated with heart disease. Beef has much higher levels of carnitine than any other food. One of the authors of the study now eats beef no more than once per two weeks.

Anonymous (not verified)
on May 19, 2013

Your statement that beef contains might higher levels of carnitine than any other food is untrue. There is substantially more carnitine in lamb than in beef. The study claims that danger arises when carnitine is converted into TMAO. What the study doesn't address is that TMAO is already present in fish, which is generally considered heart-healthy. The fact is that it isn't conclusive, and the articles that make it sound as though it is are misleading.

Ben Campbell (not verified)
on Apr 11, 2013

With the average American having such a sedentary lifestyle this does'nt surprise me. If you are active, eat as much beef as you'd like. Yet another advantage to not being lazy!! Get off the couch America!!

on Apr 11, 2013

I think the concerns are more about the body builders who supplement with carnitine and overdo it. If you're eating a whole, natural food like beef, you're probably okay.

Jen (not verified)
on Apr 11, 2013

In moderation, very few things are bad for you. Honestly, losing weight and staying healthy has a lot to do with what you're eating and more important NOT eating. You should check out this blog on how important it is to avoid certain foods. Helped me a lot, and may help you too: http://how-to-reduce-belly-fat-blog.com/

John R. Dykers, Jr. (not verified)
on Apr 11, 2013

The key is the relationship of trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO) to plaque formation. TMAO is in high concentrations in fish and has been shown to decrease opacification of lens cells and be responsible for 11% of the variation of atheresclerosis in mice, The oxidation of TMA to TMAO is inhibited by flavin mono oxygenase 3 which in turn is downregulated by andorgen, which is more prevalent in men,(counterintuitive as coronary artery disease occurs about 10 years earlier in males than females despite smaller female coronary ateries) so it is certainly an active biochemical agent and I found references to biochemistry research back to 1961..
There are different kinds of plaque. The formation process varies. The stability varies. The causes of rupture and subsequent blockage of a heart artery differs from that in a brain artery.
Amanda would do us a great service to communicate her research to Dr. John Lapook (and include Dr. Dave Huida, medical editor) on air commentator at CBS. He has usually seemed to be straightforward in his approach to new research and judicious in his choice of words on air.
You may quote me if you wish and you may email me for a CV.I planned and moderated the continuing education series.at our hospital every other Thursday Morning for 35+ years.
johndykersdm@dykers.com

Bert Whetten (not verified)
on Apr 14, 2013

I have been a cattle rancher for 15 yrs I decided to go back to veterinarian school as a 40 year old primarely to defend the beef industry from a scientific point of view. Last month we learned about L-carnatine in my biochem class this week we were learning about tryglicerides and fatty acids. I really enjoyed and commend you on you're article as beef producer we need to defend our product. What I have found most food that is natural like beef and butter are good for you in adequate servings. Unlike margin wich is a unsaturated oil that they add hydrogen to make it saturated and apear like butter. Our bodies have a really hard time processing hydrogenated oils.

Kenny (not verified)
on Apr 16, 2013

Funny, Mayo Clinic just did a report that L-carnitine given to heart patients greatly improves their function and healing.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 23, 2013

What nature intended, is that a diet of whole foods including Meats is essential for the body. Rather than finding quick fixes and miracle drugs (as if there really are any) find out how your body works and regulate your consumptions of processed food. This should help anyone looking to be a healthy person.

Anonymouse (not verified)
on Aug 24, 2014

Hardening of the arteries is not a good idea for billions of people. Twisted stuff people.

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”

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Amanda Radke

A fifth-generation rancher from Mitchell, SD, Amanda grew up on a purebred Limousin cattle operation in which she and husband Tyler are active. She graduated with a degree in agriculture journalism...

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