A metabolomic study of red and processed meat intake and acylcarnitine concentrations in human urine and blood

Am J Clin Nutr. 2020 Aug 1;112(2):381-388. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqaa140.


Background: Acylcarnitines (ACs) play a major role in fatty acid metabolism and are potential markers of metabolic dysfunction with higher blood concentrations reported in obese and diabetic individuals. Diet, and in particular red and processed meat intake, has been shown to influence AC concentrations but data on the effect of meat consumption on AC concentrations is limited.

Objectives: To investigate the effect of red and processed meat intake on AC concentrations in plasma and urine using a randomized controlled trial with replication in an observational cohort.

Methods: In the randomized crossover trial, 12 volunteers successively consumed 2 different diets containing either pork or tofu for 3 d each. A panel of 44 ACs including several oxidized ACs was analyzed by LC-MS in plasma and urine samples collected after the 3-d period. ACs that were associated with pork intake were then measured in urine (n = 474) and serum samples (n = 451) from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and nutrition (EPIC) study and tested for associations with habitual red and processed meat intake derived from dietary questionnaires.

Results: In urine samples from the intervention study, pork intake was positively associated with concentrations of 18 short- and medium-chain ACs. Eleven of these were also positively associated with habitual red and processed meat intake in the EPIC cross-sectional study. In blood, C18:0 was positively associated with red meat intake in both the intervention study (q = 0.004, Student's t-test) and the cross-sectional study (q = 0.033, linear regression).

Conclusions: AC concentrations in urine and blood were associated with red meat intake in both a highly controlled intervention study and in subjects of a cross-sectional study. Our data on the role of meat intake on this important pathway of fatty acid and energy metabolism may help understanding the role of red meat consumption in the etiology of some chronic diseases. This trial was registered at Clinicaltrials.gov as NCT03354130.

Keywords: acylcarnitines; blood; meat intake; metabolomics; red and processed meat; urine.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Carnitine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Carnitine / blood
  • Carnitine / chemistry
  • Carnitine / urine
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meat Products / analysis*
  • Metabolomics
  • Prospective Studies
  • Swine


  • acylcarnitine
  • Carnitine

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT03354130