Don’t believe the the hype! That’s the cardinal rule to obey when reading health news. “Breakthroughs” and “cures” are rare, and should always be viewed with caution and skepticism.
This week was a great example. Last Sunday, the New York Times, the major networks, and a host of other media outlets (including this one) reported on a paper in Nature Medicine about the discovery of a novel and potentially significant pathway linking red meat to heart disease. Briefly, the research suggested that carnitine, which is found naturally in high concentrations in red meat, can lead to atherosclerosis when it is converted by gut bacteria to a chemical called TMAO. Almost immediately I received a lot of comment from experts who raised serious questions about the research. Then today, a separate study was published with an entirely different perspective on carnitine. Although the two studies don’t directly contradict each other, they suggest that the real truth about carnitine is likely to be quite complex and will never be adequately summarized in a headline.