How steak and eggs may increase heart attack risk

Published: July, 2017

Image: © gbh007/Thinkstock

New research may help explain why diets rich in animal-based foods are linked to a higher risk of heart attack.

The average American diet contains about 300 milligrams per day of choline, a nutrient found in meat, eggs, and milk. Earlier research found that when gut bacteria feed on choline, they make a compound called TMA. In the liver, TMA is converted to TMAO — a compound closely tied to heart disease risk.

For the new study, 18 people took 500-milligram supplements of choline twice daily for two months, which caused their TMAO levels to rise by more than 10 times. In addition, the tiny blood cell fragments in their blood known as platelets were much more likely to form clots. Excessive clotting can limit or block blood flow, triggering a heart attack or stroke. The study was published online April 24, 2017, by Circulation.

As the lead author noted, people should avoid choline supplements unless recommended by their doctor. Plant-rich diets, such as a vegetarian or Mediterranean-style diet, tend to be lower in choline and may therefore reduce TMAO levels.

As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.