Steak. Hamburgers. Egg yolks. Liver. New research shows that these foods are as dangerous for your arteries as smoking, but surprisingly, the fat and cholesterol they contain aren’t the only reasons. A heart-threatening substance called TMAO (trimethylamine n-oxide) is an even bigger menace, plugging arteries with ever-more plaque, and maybe helping cancers thrive, too.
Fortunately, we now know how to prevent TMAO-related health risks. New studies from the Cleveland Clinic have uncovered a Superman compound that thwarts TMAO.
This protector is called DMB. Found in some extra-virgin olive oils and red wines, DMB (3,3-dimethyl-1-butanol) stops bacteria in your digestive system from turning choline, l-carnitine and lecithin from food into TMA, a precursor that the liver then converts into TMAO. With less TMAO in the bloodstream, the study showed that atherosclerosis — the buildup of fatty, gunky plaque in artery walls — slowed down and even went into reverse. Meanwhile, back in the digestive system, there was a decrease in TMA-producing gut bugs.
Why TMAO Matters
The Cleveland Clinic’s Steven Hazen and his team a few years ago measured TMAO in 4,007 people; those with the highest levels were two and a half times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke over the next three years than those with the lowest. It turns out that TMAO traps cholesterol inside gunky, foamy cells that burrow into artery walls. Normally, some of this cholesterol is sucked out and whisked away by friendly HDL cholesterol. But TMAO shuts down that cleanup operation, inviting more and more cholesterol to pile in. The shocker: Risk was high regardless of whether levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol were high or low.
Where did this TMAO come from? In related studies, people who ate two hard-boiled eggs or an 8-ounce sirloin steak saw blood levels of TMAO soar.
▪ Don’t eat more than 4 ounces of red meat, 8 ounces of lean pork or two egg yolks per week. Fish is a better entree, but limit servings of tilapia, cod and Chilean sea bass; these contain more TMAO than other seafood.
▪ There’s DMB in some fruity-tasting extra-virgin olive oils. You need two to four tablespoons a day; at 120 calories per tablespoon, you need to be aware of how that could add up to extra calories. Be sure to use olive oil in place of other fats and make other calorie adjustments as needed. Grapeseed oil, balsamic vinegar and red wine also may be good sources.
▪ Available to doctors since December 2015, the TMAO blood test could give you and your health-care team new insights into your future heart health.
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