Energy drink and body building supplement manufacturers often add carnitine to their products. Unfortunately, scientists have found a strong connection between carnitine and heart disease. Since carnitine is found mostly in red meat, the scientists found an additional connection between eating red meat and heart disease risk beyond saturated fat and cholesterol. I have based most of this post on the New York Times article about this very important finding.
While carnitine is in red meat, it is also in fish, chicken and dairy products, but in smaller amounts. As I said above, manufacturers are adding carnitine to their drinks and supplements. They do this because they think it increases fat metabolism and increases a person’s energy. Carnitine does not appear to be dangerous by itself.
Here’s what seems to happen when you consume something with carnitine: The carnitine enters your intestines where it is eaten by certain bacteria. The bacteria then excrete a gas that your liver quickly turns into a chemical called TMAO (trimethylamine-N-oxide).
TMAO appears to significantly increases the risk of heart disease. TMAO seems to enable cholesterol to get into artery walls and also prevents your body from getting rid of excess cholesterol.
The scientists wanted to know if eating meat would cause people to promptly have higher levels of TMAO in their blood. Yes, it does. Swallowing pills with carnitine also quickly caused TMAO blood levels to arise.
Now here’s a really interesting finding: Meat eaters have way higher levels of TMAO in their blood after consuming carnitine than do vegetarians or vegans. Apparently people who eat meat have the bacteria which eats carnitine, but vegetarians and vegans don’t.
Anyway, here’s a partial list of products which may contain carnitine: Monster Energy Drink, Rockstar, Full Throttle. Be sure to check the ingredients on any energy drinks or supplements so that you can avoid additional carnitine.
Added carnitine is another really good reason to keep kids away from energy drinks.