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Carnitine Controversy

The strikes against meat keep piling up. This time it's a study implicating carnitine, a compound found in meat and dairy products, as a factor in heart disease. High cholesterol, hypertension, overweight, family history and a sedentary lifestyle are known risk factors for heart disease but the disease can strike people who have none of these risk factors. According to recent research at the Cleveland Clinic, maybe carnitine plays a role in such cases. Bacteria in the gut convert carnitine to trimethylamine N-oxide which is known to cause damage to the coronary arteries. And it seems that meat eaters have more of the required bacteria than vegans or vegetarians. Even when vegetarians are given carnitine supplements there is little conversion to the artery damaging compound. Interestingly carnitine is available as a dietary supplement in health food stores and pharmacies with claims of reducing weight and converting fat into muscle. There is no convincing evidence that it has any significant efficacy along these lines. Some studies have suggested that carnitine may be useful as an adjunct to angina therapy since it does have a role in the cell's production of energy, but supplements should only be considered on a physician's advice. Carnitine is also added to some energy drinks with claims of boosting energy, without any corroborating evidence. What's the take away message here? We have yet another reason to cut down on meat consumption and another reason to cast a wary eye on dietary supplements that are too loosely regulated. Veggie hot dogs are looking better and better. Just wish they tasted better.


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