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Say goodbye to meat: A vegetarian diet may reduce risk of heart disease

Reducing meat intake minimises the adverse effects of the microbes living in the gut associated with cardiac diseases.

Last Updated: Feb 19, 2020, 04.00 PM IST
Maintaining a vegetarian diet can reduce the amount of TMAO produced in the body. (Representative image)
WASHINGTON: Reducing meat intake, and following a plant-based diet can decrease the risk of heart ailments, according to study which suggests this change can minimise the adverse effects of the microbes living in the gut associated with cardiac diseases.

According to the study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, the human digestive tract houses a community of bacteria called the gut microbiota that play an important role in our metabolism, nutrient absorption, energy levels, and immune response.

One of the natural chemicals produced by the gut bacteria when they digest nutrients in animal products such as red meat is a metabolite known as trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) which has been connected to increased heart attack risk, the researchers, including those from Tulane University in the US, said.

They said maintaining a vegan or vegetarian diet can reduce the amount of TMAO produced in the body.

In the study, the scientists examined 760 women in the Nurses' Health Study - a prospective cohort study of 1,21,701 female nurses aged 30 to 55 years old.

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Participants of the study were asked to report data on dietary patterns, smoking habit, and physical activity, plus other demographic data, and provide two blood samples taken 10 years apart.

The researchers measured concentrations of TMAO in the blood's liquid component, plasma, from the first collection to the second blood collection.

Women with the largest increases in TMAO levels across the study had a 67 per cent higher risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).

"Diet is one of the most important modifiable risk factors to control TMAO levels in the body," said Lu Qi, study co-author from Tulane University

"No previous prospective cohort study has addressed whether long-term changes in TMAO are associated with CHD, and whether dietary intakes can modify these associations," Qi said.

According to the researchers, the findings show that decreasing TMAO levels may contribute to reducing the risk of CHD.

They said the gut-microbiome may be a new area to explore in heart disease prevention.

When TMAO was examined in the second blood sample collection taken 10 years later, their levels were significantly higher in participants with CHD.

Every increase in TMAO, the researchers said, was associated with a 23 per cent increase in CHD risk.

This association, they said, remained after controlling for demographic, diet and lifestyle factors, strengthening the link between higher TMAO levels and CHD risk.

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