It’s not just beef: Eggs, too.
I was delighted to realize that my disinclination to eat beef after watching the (fascinating) documentary King Corn was a good decision in the light of recent discoveries. It’s nice to know that have a steak or a roast once in a while (every month or two) is not bad. But now I learn that the same thing is true for eggs: Gina Kolata reports in the NY Times [UPDATE: See note below]:
For the second time in a matter of weeks, a group of researchers reported a link between the food people eat and bacteria in the intestines that can increase the risk of heart attacks.
Two weeks ago, the investigators reported that carnitine, a compound found in red meat, can increase heart disease risk because of the actions of intestinal bacteria. This time they reported that the same thing happens with lecithin, which is abundant in egg yolks.
The lecithin study, published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine, is part of a growing appreciation of the role the body’s bacteria play in health and disease. With heart disease, investigators have long focused on the role of diet and heart disease, but expanding the scrutiny to bacteria adds a new dimension.
“Heart disease perhaps involves microbes in our gut,” said the study’s lead researcher, Dr. Stanley Hazen, chairman of the department of cellular and molecular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute.
In the case of eggs, the chain of events starts when the body digests lecithin, breaking it into its constituent parts, including the chemical choline. Intestinal bacteria metabolize choline and release a substance that the liver converts to a chemical known as TMAO, for trimethylamine N-oxide. High levels of TMAO in the blood are linked to increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
To show the effect of eggs on TMAO, Dr. Hazen asked volunteers to eat two hard-boiled eggs. They ended up with more TMAO in their blood. But if they first took an antibiotic to wipe out intestinal bacteria, eggs did not have that effect.
To see the effects of TMAO on cardiovascular risk, the investigators studied 4,000 people who had been seen at the Cleveland Clinic. The more TMAO in their blood, the more likely they were to have a heart attack or stroke in the ensuing three years. . .
Immediate effect: Instead of one egg each day atop my breakfast hot cereal, I’ll take the cereal sans egg (and butter) except for a Sunday treat. That should be okay.
UPDATE: Gina Kolata seems to be one of (several) unreliable writers for the NY Times. I include John Tierney on science; Kit Seelye, Elisabeth Bumiller, Judith Miller (now, thankfully, gone), Bill Keller, David Brooks, and Maureen Dowd on politics; and others.
Reader Josh was kind enough to email me two interesting links about Gina Kolata’s reportage:
First, the Columbia Journalism Review slams Kolata for her feud against Gary Taubes (whose own reporting on food, diet, and health issues is simply great: I highly recommend his book Good Calories, Bad Calories). From that article:
. . . [Kolata] cited Hirsch in a memorably hostile review of Taubes’ book, Good Calories, Bad Calories in October 2007, that dismissed his exhaustive reporting out of hand. (Kolata had her own, competing diet book out at the time,Rethinking Thin, meaning that she probably shouldn’t have gotten the assignment.) From her patronizing lede (“Gary Taubes is a brave and bold science journalist who does not accept conventional wisdom”) to her weirdly personal ending (“I am sorry, I am not convinced”), she knew something was wrong with the book, only she didn’t know what. “[T]he problem with a book like this one,” she wrote, “which goes on and on in great detail about experiments new and old in areas ranging from heart disease to cancer to diabetes, is that it can be hard to know what has been left out.”
Poor Taubes. No one warned him that 600 pages of evidence were never going to be enough. The theory that weight gain boils down “calories-in, calories-out” is the last man standing in the diet wars. The principle anchors the comforting American belief that personal responsibility explains all of our ills. It validates all that wasted time on the treadmill that people like Kolata and others endorse. It keeps us watching shows like The Biggest Loser. It leaves the door open to low-calorie, high-carbohydrate food products that make the economy hum, are portable, do not require we learn to cook, make children stop crying, and taste good. Any efforts at reporting science to the contrary will always have a rough road.
Second, a more detailed report shows the depth of the problems in science reporting at the NY Times, which (unfortunately) goes far beyond Ms. Kolata. This one you really should read.