Dietary Meat, Trimethylamine N-Oxide-Related Metabolites, and Incident Cardiovascular Disease Among Older Adults: The Cardiovascular Health Study

Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2022 Sep;42(9):e273-e288. doi: 10.1161/ATVBAHA.121.316533. Epub 2022 Aug 1.


Background: Effects of animal source foods (ASF) on atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) and underlying mechanisms remain controversial. We investigated prospective associations of different ASF with incident ASCVD and potential mediation by gut microbiota-generated trimethylamine N-oxide, its L-carnitine-derived intermediates γ-butyrobetaine and crotonobetaine, and traditional ASCVD risk pathways.

Methods: Among 3931 participants from a community-based US cohort aged 65+ years, ASF intakes and trimethylamine N-oxide-related metabolites were measured serially over time. Incident ASCVD (myocardial infarction, fatal coronary heart disease, stroke, other atherosclerotic death) was adjudicated over 12.5 years median follow-up. Cox proportional hazards models with time-varying exposures and covariates examined ASF-ASCVD associations; and additive hazard models, mediation proportions by different risk pathways.

Results: After multivariable-adjustment, higher intakes of unprocessed red meat, total meat, and total ASF associated with higher ASCVD risk, with hazard ratios (95% CI) per interquintile range of 1.15 (1.01-1.30), 1.22 (1.07-1.39), and 1.18 (1.03-1.34), respectively. Trimethylamine N-oxide-related metabolites together significantly mediated these associations, with mediation proportions (95% CI) of 10.6% (1.0-114.5), 7.8% (1.0-32.7), and 9.2% (2.2-44.5), respectively. Processed meat intake associated with a nonsignificant trend toward higher ASCVD (1.11 [0.98-1.25]); intakes of fish, poultry, and eggs were not significantly associated. Among other risk pathways, blood glucose, insulin, and C-reactive protein, but not blood pressure or blood cholesterol, each significantly mediated the total meat-ASCVD association.

Conclusions: In this large, community-based cohort, higher meat intake associated with incident ASCVD, partly mediated by microbiota-derived metabolites of L-carnitine, abundant in red meat. These novel findings support biochemical links between dietary meat, gut microbiome pathways, and ASCVD.

Keywords: cardiovascular diseases; microbiome; myocardial infarction; red meat; stroke; trimethylamine N-oxide.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Atherosclerosis*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / diagnosis
  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / epidemiology
  • Carnitine
  • Humans
  • Meat
  • Methylamines / metabolism
  • Risk Factors


  • Methylamines
  • trimethyloxamine
  • Carnitine