The Dangers of TMAO

We’ve known for years that animal products promote heart disease but now we know the mechanism by which this occurs. We also need to appreciate the fact that over 70% of our immune system resides in our gut; collectively called our microbiome. In our gut, resides about 38 trillion microbes made up of mostly bacteria, fungi, and viruses; both good and bad. What we eat determines if those microbes are good or bad. 

Animal proteins contain 2 substances that are particularly harmful to our gut microbiome:

  1. Choline: this is a nutrient that’s found in red meat, liver, egg yolk and dairy products
  2. L-carnitine: an amino acid found in red meat, some energy drinks and supplements

For the record, both choline and L-carnitine can be found in plants but not in such large amounts and do NOT cause harm.

When we eat foods containing choline and/or L-carnitine, they’re metabolized by the 38 trillion microbes in our intestines. As a result of this process, the gut bacteria produce a compound called TMAO (trimethylamine N-oxide). 

The harm caused by TMAO:

- it feeds the harmful gut microbes (Salmonella & E.Coli being two among many)

- it creates inflammation

- it suppresses the natural killer T cells whose job it is to hunt down and kill cancer cells.

- it creates dysbiosis (defined as a damaged gut microbiome where the bad microbes dominate)

- it injures the lining of the blood vessels and arteries

Dysbiosis can cause severe health issues such as colitis, Crohn’s Disease, colon cancer and more.As you can see, this creates a hostile environment in the gutand with TMAO at the helm, these harmful microbes will start to eat away at the 1-cell thick intestinal wall that leads to the bloodstream. This is called “leaky gut”.

Let’s look at a healthy gut for comparison: our 1-cell thick intestinal walls are like cheesecloth; they allow vitamins and minerals to go into the bloodstream. This is how we get our nutrients.

When leaky gut or “intestinal permeability” occurs, food particles, harmful bacterial endotoxins, and viruses go into the bloodstream. Our immune system goes haywire and may attack the foods causing food sensitivities. Organs will be attacked such as the kidneys causing kidney disease. The pancreas could be attacked causing diabetes. This is the cause of heart disease and plaque accumulation. TMAO goes to the brain causing dementia. If the nerves are attacked, it could cause Parkinson's or Multiple Sclerosis. When the joints are attacked, it causes Rheumatoid Arthritis or osteoarthritis. These are all autoimmune diseases and this is how they come to be. 

A study was published in 2014 Nature Magazine by Lawrence David comparing a plant based diet to an animal based diet (Keto, Paleo). They took 2 groups of people and had them eat a plant-based diet for 5 days, then switched them to an animal-based diet for 5 days and vice versa.

The results were profound!

In just 5 days, those eating the animal-based diet showed elevated levels of bad bacteria associated with colitis and colorectal cancer. There was also the emergence of antibiotic resistance. And, there were NO signs of short chain fatty acids (the counterpart “good guy” to keep the bad bacteria in check).

Whereas, those on the plant-based diet showed changes in the gut within 24 hours. Healthy anti-inflammatory microbes appeared along with an increase in short chain fatty acids. 

From this information, we know that dybiosis is preventable and reversible. It takes about 4 weeks for TMAO to disappear after giving up the animal foods and switching to a plant-based diet.

Many autoimmune diseases are also reversible. For example, Dr. Brooke Goldner reversed Lupus in herself, Dr. Saray Stancic reversed her Multiple Sclerosis and Dr. Monica Aggarwal reversed her Rheumatoid Arthritis. All of these doctors follow a whole food plant based diet.

It’s also well known that those who eat a whole food plant based diet (fruits, vegetables, lentils, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole unprocessed grains) have NO TMAO and if they were to eat one meal of meat, no TMAO will form.

To summarize, TMAO is formed by the gut bacteria when we eat animal proteins containing L-carnitine and choline. TMAO creates a hostile environment in the gut by feeding the harmful gut microbes. Eventually, the gut lining becomes compromised allowing harmful endotoxin bacteria, viruses and food particles into the bloodstream. These are attacked by the immune system causing food sensitivities and/or autoimmune disease.

We know that we can prevent most chronic disease by boosting our immune system. We just need to commit to making the changes that will allow our gut microbes to happily and healthily thrive. 


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