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Is Carnitine Bad For You? Beef Experts Say No

Is Carnitine Bad For You Beef Experts Say No

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.


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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, “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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