Impact of chronic dietary red meat, white meat, or non-meat protein on trimethylamine N-oxide metabolism and renal excretion in healthy men and women

Eur Heart J. 2019 Feb 14;40(7):583-594. doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehy799.


Aims: Carnitine and choline are major nutrient precursors for gut microbiota-dependent generation of the atherogenic metabolite, trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO). We performed randomized-controlled dietary intervention studies to explore the impact of chronic dietary patterns on TMAO levels, metabolism and renal excretion.

Methods and results: Volunteers (N = 113) were enrolled in a randomized 2-arm (high- or low-saturated fat) crossover design study. Within each arm, three 4-week isocaloric diets (with washout period between each) were evaluated (all meals prepared in metabolic kitchen with 25% calories from protein) to examine the effects of red meat, white meat, or non-meat protein on TMAO metabolism. Trimethylamine N-oxide and other trimethylamine (TMA) related metabolites were quantified at the end of each diet period. A random subset (N = 13) of subjects also participated in heavy isotope tracer studies. Chronic red meat, but not white meat or non-meat ingestion, increased plasma and urine TMAO (each >two-fold; P < 0.0001). Red meat ingestion also significantly reduced fractional renal excretion of TMAO (P < 0.05), but conversely, increased fractional renal excretion of carnitine, and two alternative gut microbiota-generated metabolites of carnitine, γ-butyrobetaine, and crotonobetaine (P < 0.05). Oral isotope challenge revealed red meat or white meat (vs. non-meat) increased TMA and TMAO production from carnitine (P < 0.05 each) but not choline. Dietary-saturated fat failed to impact TMAO or its metabolites.

Conclusion: Chronic dietary red meat increases systemic TMAO levels through: (i) enhanced dietary precursors; (ii) increased microbial TMA/TMAO production from carnitine, but not choline; and (iii) reduced renal TMAO excretion. Discontinuation of dietary red meat reduces plasma TMAO within 4 weeks.

Keywords: Atherosclerosis; Diet; Gut microbiota; Metabolism; Red meat; TMAO.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Diet*
  • Dietary Proteins*
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Methylamines / metabolism*
  • Middle Aged
  • Poultry*
  • Red Meat*
  • Reference Values
  • Renal Elimination / physiology*
  • Young Adult


  • Dietary Proteins
  • Methylamines
  • trimethyloxamine