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How Does Meat Cause Inflammation?

The anti-inflammatory effect of plant-based diets is about more than just the power of plants. It’s also the avoidance of animal foods. In my blog last week, Treating Crohn’s Disease With Diet, I profiled the extraordinary power of even a semi-vegetarian diet to calm inflammatory bowel disease. We’ve known for 14 years that a single meal of meat, dairy, and eggs triggers an inflammatory reaction inside the body within hours of consumption. This results in a stiffening of our arteries (you can see the arterial response curve in my 4-min. video The Leaky Gut Theory of Why Animal Products Cause Inflammation). Within 5 or 6 hours, the inflammation starts to cool down, but then what happens? Lunchtime! At that point we can whack our arteries with another load of animal products for lunch. In this routine, we may be stuck in a chronic low-grade inflammation danger zone for most of our lives. This can set us up for inflammatory diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers one meal at a time.

What exactly is causing the meat-induced inflammation? Inflammation is an immune response to a perceived threat, but what’s the body attacking? At first, scientists thought it might be the animal protein, which is thought to be the culprit in certain types of arthritis. However, similar inflammatory reactions were triggered by whipped cream, which is mostly just animal fat. After digging deeper, investigators discovered that after a meal of animal products one’s bloodstream becomes soiled with bacterial toxins known as endotoxins. No wonder there’s so much inflammation! But where are the endotoxins coming from?

Endotoxins come from bacteria. Where are there lots of bacteria? In our gut. Thus, researchers figured that maybe the saturated animal fat was causing our gut lining to become leaky, allowing our own bacteria to slip into our blood stream. Experiments on mice showed that indeed saturated fat made their guts leaky, so for years this was the prevailing theory as to why animal products caused inflammation within hours of consumption. Only recently did researchers realize this didn’t make any sense.

In my 2-min. video The Exogenous Endotoxin Theory, I illustrate the critical flaw to the leaky gut theory: the time scale. The rise in inflammation after a meal of meat, dairy, and eggs starts within just an hour of ingestion, but our gut flora aren’t in our small intestine–rather, twenty feet farther down in our large intestine. It can take food hours to get down there, so what was going on? If the bacterial endotoxins were not coming from our gut, maybe they were coming from the food.

For the first time ever, 27 common foodstuffs were tested and they found endotoxin equivalents in foods such as pork, poultry, dairy, and egg products, as well as certain fermented foods. Can endotoxins be cooked out of the meat? Find out in the final wrap-up video in the series, Dead Meat Bacteria Endotoxemia.

Saturated fat also appears to have other deleterious effects such as increasing the risk of heart disease (see Blocking the First Step of Heart Disease and Tolerable Upper Intake of Zero) and shortening the lives of breast cancer survivors (Breast Cancer Survival, Butterfat, and Chicken). For more on foods that fight inflammation, see my videos Fighting Inflammation in a Nut Shell and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Purple Potatoes.

-Michael Greger, M.D.


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

58 responses to “How Does Meat Cause Inflammation?

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  1. I love how these blogs pull information together in such a way that add so much value to the videos.

    In this case, I have a question about the saturated fat paragraph.  It seems like every time someone mentions the problems with saturated fat, someone else starts talking about medium vs long chains, etc.  They throw out a lot of technical jargon for which I am not familiar.  What I want to know is, what is the response to someone who says that some saturated fats (for example, maybe from coconut oil) has been shown to be good for one? 

    I would guess that the response might be: “you can throw out all the jargon and theories that you want, but when tested, all saturated fats come out having the same effects on the body when it comes to negative health impacts.”  But is that true?  Or did I just make that up?  I can’t tell from Dr. Greger’s videos whether he is addressing the issue of medium vs long chains in fats.

    1.  I’ll just add in response to my own comment: “…some saturated fats (for example, maybe from coconut oil) has been shown to be good for one? ”  I have read Toxin’s reply specifically about studies on coconut oil.  If I understood Toxin’s reply, he (she?) is saying that the studies really do not support coconut oil as being good for one.  But is that a direct answer to when people start talking about length of fat chains?  I just want to know if there is really an answer to this or not.

      1. Toxins, why classify coconut oil as a junk food. Then you would have to classify most if not all oils as junk food. People are not normally eating oil as a food, but are using it to cook food. Comparing it to other oils and not food, it is head and shoulders above other oils. Its lauric acid is antiviral, antifungal and aids the immune system. Its medium chains fatty acids are better than the long chain fatty acids of other oils because it is metabolized much more quickly and are used for quick energy, rather than being stored as triglycerides in fat cells as do much of the oil from other veggie oils do.

        1. All oils are junk food based on the definition of a junk food. Why would you consume something on the basis that it is antiviral and fungal? should we begin consuming alcohol based on this presumption? Where is your evidence for your claims or do you follow the bandwagon and recite what an appealing article has stated?

          1. Yes you can classify coconut oil as having empty calories but I wouldn’t classify it as a junk food. Being realistic about coconut oil consumption, it is not consumed as a food like hotdogs and hamburgers, that replace meals that are healthier and are higher in nutritional value. Coconut oil is an additive used to either cook are season foods, and most people are not drinking a gallon of coconut oil in a sitting to satisfy their food needs. I study everything I write about and you can look at my articles on I would tell people to stay away from junk foods, but I wouldn’t tell people to stay away from coconut oil, because it has many health/nutrition benefits. If you are really interested in finding out about the benefits of coconut oil you can easily find scholarly articles on the web.

            1. I believe you are missing the point entirely, the evidence used for coconut oil is quite scant and I have not seen any concrete studies that have supported coconut oil to the degree of making the claim that it is a healthful “condiment”, in ones diet.

              The link you posted to natural life energy leads me to this article which is purely anecdotal, and I am missing the studies. Anecdotal evidence is the least reliable form of evidence.

              Here are some of the most common studies I have seen used to support the use of coconut oil.

              Forty obese women cut their food intake by 200 calories a day and exercised four days a week. Half of them used two tablespoons of coconut oil (about 240 calories’ worth) every day in their cooking and the other half used soybean oil.

              After three months, both groups had lost the same amount of weight, about two pounds. To me this is not at all significant, and it could very well be attributed to the loss of calories as well as the exercise, not the oil.

              Placebo and coconut fat takers scored no different on a cognitive impairment test when the subjects were randomized. If they weren’t randomized (which could represent stacking up the placebo group with very sick patients) then the coconut fat consumers scored slightly better after 45 days. After 90 days though everyone pretty much evened out. This is
              not something I would use as evidence to support the notion that coconut oil can help with Alzheimers.


              In the only study done in people in the last 17 years, Malaysian researchers last year found that when they fed young men and women 20 percent of their calories from coconut oil for five weeks, LDL cholesterol was 8 percent higher and HDL cholesterol was 7 percent higher than when the participants were fed 20 percent of their calories from olive oil.

              Just because both bad cholesterol and good cholesterol went up does not mean that coconut oil is protective against heart disease. This
              doesn’t make good sense.


              Even using coconut oil as a condiment in the fashion that you are claiming, a mere tablespoon has 120 empty calories and 12 grams of saturated fat. 8 grams of this saturated fat is medium chain fatty acids which we have very limited evidence to claim is completely negligible as well as 3.7 grams of saturated fat for which to which we know to be unhealthful. A tablespoon is easy to add to food and people likely add much more throughout the day leading to excess calories and saturated fat, needlessly. The national academy of science notes that any incremental increase in saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease incrementally. Using this advise, we should consume whole plant foods and if we choose to include nuts in our diet, choose the healthiest variety with the best omega 6:3 ratios.

              So I ask you again to show me the evidence for your claims.

              1. Please refer to Dr Nadir Ali, of University of Houston on science about Cholesterol, HDL/LDL etc. etc.. He and others have a huge presence on YouTube.

                Given what he and others say I am trying my best to come up with a middle-of-the-road diet that enables minimization of inflammation and damage caused by it (for me, erosion of cartilage and other damage to knees. Hopefully damage is reversed thru proper, balanced diet).

                Non meat/fat diet has problems and all meat/fat diet has problems. Somehow I am inclined to believe that out there someone with my objective can find the recipe.

            2. That is a nice plant based website AqiylHenry btw, thanks. Esselstyn says if you have heart disease stay away from all refined oils and oily plants; Campbell in his new book Whole says that isolated nutrients are rarely as healthy as the whole plant source (unless you are treating a deficiency) and often less healthy. So I don’t try to micromanage my nutrient levels anymore, I just eat a varied diet and stay away from anything refined (like oils), extracted or isolated and stick with whole foods – no supps other than B12. Coconut oil is quite good topically btw

              1. Thanks Dan. I totally understand about eating “a varied diet and stay away from anything refined (like oils), extracted or isolated and stick with whole foods.” As you can see I eat a plant based diet, which consists mostly of wholefoods, and mostly raw. I use coconut oil and olive oil minimally. I oil pull with coconut oil which has greatly helped my oral hygiene and I used to drink a tablespoon of coconut oil before strenuous workouts like my 50 mile bicycle, for quick energy. I am moving towards more carbs, lots of fruits, for energy while reducing my fat intake, so I have cut down on the coconut oil, but it has been good for quick energy. I also ate lot of nuts, but I am going the way of carbs, (fruits).

          2. Excellent response. I have a question though. What if you are diagnosed with Histoplasmosis. Would it then be desirable to consume coconut oil for it’s anti-fungal properties?

            1. Dear Helenox,

              in my opinion, you can use it safely if it’s only short-time for infections. Histoplasmosis is a pretty serious disease, so I would rather use a substance (found in coconut oil) called monolaurin as a histoplasmosis supporting treatment. You can find more about it here:


              Always consult with your doctor, hope that helps

              Health Support Adam P.

    2.  Coconut oil does indeed contain medium chain fatty acids and this may be metabolized differently but there are very few studies to make the conclusion that coconut oil is “ok” or that medium chain saturated fats are negligible. A tablespoon of coconut oil has about 11.7 grams of saturated fat. about 8 grams of this is medium chain saturated fat and about 3.7 grams of this is long chain saturated fat. We have an abundance of evidence concluding that that long chain saturated fats are harmful so we cannot consider this oil a healthy option based on that alone.

      As far as minerals and vitamins go, there is not one significant vitamin or mineral in coconut oil. The only vitamin present in a tablespoon of coconut oil is .1 micrograms of vitamin k which does not even register as a percentage of daily value. Its also absent of any omega 3 fats. Just looking at coconut oils nutritional profile we see that it is clearly a junk food. Junk food is by definition empty calories.

      1. nonsense coconut oil is nbo junk food seriously why are u even promoting this bogus science GO LOOK AT THE MOVIE FAT HEAD U F**KING MORON

    3. What I’d like to know is, why don’t these so called Endo toxins which cause systemic inflammation of the body including the arteries have any negative effect on animals when ‘they’ consume animal flesh?

      1. There are very few animals that classified as omnivores, and none of them live as long as humans. In addition, animals don’t typically pollute their diets by eating refined foods with little nutritional value, nor are they known for obesity or sedentary lifestyles. It’s likely that animals experience the same problems with inflammation that humans do, but they don’t overeat and overtax their digestive systems. When they’re sick, they stop eating and don’t worry if they’re going to do into “starvation mode” and have their metabolisms drop. There are many reasons why animals and humans don’t have the same inflammation issues.

    4. Hi Thea,
      From my understanding, coconut oil is much better for you than animal fat because raw coconut oil still has enzymes intact which makes it easier to be digested and assimilated, the reason why animal fat is so bad for us is because if has to be cooked and contains no enzymes

      1. Kimberly: Thanks for your reply. I submitted that comment a long time ago. I’m pretty clear in my mind now that coconut oil is not a good idea. The coconut oil industry has a very good marketing department and lots of people who want to believe the marketing because that oil is just so yummy and sometimes perfect for vegan desserts. However, when all is said and done, I think the following information is compelling.

        > coconut oil increases cholesterol levels almost as much or just as much (depending on the study) as butter. (See videos here on NutritionFacts)

        > a comment from participant “Darryl”: If Dr. Swank’s leaky gut theory of why saturated fats cause MS is true, then coconut oil is problematic. A study this year (, demonstrated that n-3 fatty acids (like those in flax) reduce endotoxin transport from the gut by 50%, olive and most vegetable oils had no effect, but coconut oil increased transport by 60%.

        > like any other extracted pure oil/fat, coconut oil is extremely calorie dense and lacking in important nutrients found in whole plant foods, including fiber. For a really great perspective on this point, I highly recommend the following 6 minute video from Jeff Novick who compares oils to sugar. The video specifically addresses olive oil, but if you watch the whole talk, you will see that he gets to coconut oil next and with the same conclusion/points.

        That enzyme angle is not very compelling to me. You might want to research the enzyme topic some more? Bottom line for me is: I might use coconut oil now and then as a special treat, but I don’t kid myself that it is healthy.

      1. Nianbo, I saw your rather unprofessional and quite ridiculous comment in my email that you deleted below and I urge you to raise your standard for evidence. Using a movie as the base of your argument is simply bad science.

        1. hello mr lowfat now lot’s of expert’s disagree with the lipid hypothesis coz when the expert’s did studys to prove saturated fat causes heart disease they found there is no link between sat fats and disease not only that u have to look at the kind of study coz almost all observational studys don’t prove anything coz they don’t find a link but a clinical study actually is well controlled and does find a link i’m done

          1. Thats a dilema. By seperating the observed objekt in Clinical studys you construkt a unnatural envirement. And by just looking at oberservational studys you dont get to the detail. We are stuck :(

  2. Could you please start listing references to your posts so those of who are interested in learning where you get your information can also review the sources?

    1. What reference this article as none because it’s nonsense no scientific backup what so ever just one own need to push people towards HIS lifestyle choice.

  3. Dr. Greger — This is really informative.  Thank you.  Can you please share where we may find the 27 foods that were tested, which include fermented foods?  We aren’t talking tempeh or sauerkraut here, are we?  Gulp.  :-/

  4. I obtained a shower gel containing coconut oil. It appears to cause jock itch which came after using the gel, failed to respond to doctor prescribed treatments and almost completely departed when gel use was discontinued. Was the condition feeding on the coconut oil?

  5. this article is total BULLSHIT IT’S JUST BULLSHIT michael greger u just don’t try to post ur propaganda on us it’s totally unscientific geddit and btw it’s refined carbs that cause inflammation and also carbs increase insulin and make u store fat just look at weson a price and the movie fat head they will tear apart this shitty propaganda

  6. whoever wrote this i’m betting he is either a paid liar or a quack. coz saturated fat dosen’t oxidize if at all and talk about oxidized fats and omega 6 they are even more pro inflammatory saturated fats are’nt inflammatory coz they are heat stable

  7. which were the fermented foods that had endotoxins–I eat a lot of them for the health benefits–so I guess these endotoxins mean not to eat the particular fermented foods carrying them–therefore, important to know which ones to eliminate. thank you

  8. Those academics think they are smart. They can´t blame seafood to be bad because it contains DHA, DPA, and EPA in a good ratio to ARA. All this crap meat they sell is not healthy, poultry, and pig is the worst. Grassfed beef contains at least a decent amount of DHA, DPA and EPA and less ARA than this crap. Less fat, a lot of CLA AND VA can´t be that bad. Fowl is also bad. So if you eat meat eat grass fed beef and wild meat except fowl is a good choice. Don´t be afraid of dairy, soured milk, youghurt, medium fat cheese is a good choice. Many people say milk is not natural it is for babies or calves but they eat a lot of high fat dairies like butter, fat french cheese and cream. Enjoy your grass fed steak and treat it gently. Eat some seafood sometimes and a lot of fruit and vegitables and let the suckers eat poultry and pig. I am a former ovo lacto vegitarian and now I am a pescetarian.

  9. Very intetesting info but I was wondering if the tests were done by using factory farming produce or products produced in organic environments. I think tests of such varying diets should be examined.

  10. While this study is interesting, it is not proving conclusively that the lack of animal protein is the key driver in maintaining remission.

    The same study could also be used to demonstrate that eating a much healthier diet, one that includes many more nutrients from the increased vegetable consumption, is they key driver behind the impressive remission rates. As the experimental group were told to go on a semi vegetarian diet they would have replaced the animal products with plant based foods or fruits and so have had a significant overall increase in anti oxidants and nutrients.

    A further study is necessary to establish whether diets that are maximised for nutrient content (by greatly increasing fresh vegetable and fruit intake) or diets that leave out animal protein are the most effective in treating Crohn’s disease.

    I say this as a mother of a Crohn’s patient who has seen very good results with diet. Our 12 year old has had Crohn’s for almost two years (confirmed with biopsy and in the moderate to severe category). He has never taken any medication except an 8 week exclusively liquid diet (this was a liquid food -not medicine- formulation) taken by nasal feed of Modulan, a special formulation as prescibed by his gastroenterologist for inducing remission. When we saw the power of this diet in inducing remission we decided to postpone medication for as long as possible and explore the diet route. He has not relapsed. He has been following a wholefoods diet that maximises the intake of anti inflammatory and immunity enhancing foods and drinks (including daily supplements of probiotics, fish oil and a multi vitamin) but which includes a daily serving of unprocessed meat, fish or eggs. We also monitor the omega 3 to omega 6 ratio of his food intake. The diet also includes all lactose free dairy.

  11. Dear Dr.Gregor, Dear NutritionFacts-Team, Dear Community,

    I’m adressing this question to all of you, cause I think this could need as many resources as possible. I’m a medical student from Austria and went plant based about a year ago. Since then I’m having a hard time to discuss the benefits with my friends, colleagues and professors at my University.

    One of the main things we talk about, is the direct relation and response from our body to animal products. I tried to research a perfect example to find the direct correlation to the immediate harmfull reactions after consuming meat or dairy. Now as I discovered this video and article, I was thinking about another part of the animal product which could explain the inflammatory reactions of our body.

    Couldn’t it be that the animal DNA is the main reason why our immunesystem is going crazy? A similar reaction like in human organ transplants? I don’t think that you can just say it’s only the fat or the protein. What about the specific cell surface proteins, couldn’t these be the main inflammatory agents?

    Does anyone here have some specific information about that?

    Best regards


  12. This post is really insightful. Inflammation is a vital part of the body’s immune response.
    Welcome to the DeFlame Nation, DeFlaming is about reducing inflammation. The focus of is about how poor nutrition promotes chronic inflammation, which leads to aches, pains, depression, fatigue, general ill health, and chronic disease.
    For more information, Visit:

  13. Hi, i have M.E and have found out ,1st by experiencing it and 2nd by other M.E sufferers, that eating red meat gives us the energy just to move. No amount of iron supplements and protein shakes helped. I ate all the plant based foods and ended up bedbound within a year. Now i eat 3 steaks a day and can move about. What is in red meat that helps people with M.E and what about research on this? I eat beef and my stomach is so so inflamed so I ate kangaroo meat instead and my stomach went down. Problem is Every one has stopped selling kangaroo because of the way the are killed. My solution is to run a kangaroo farm and have a pain/ fear free death. What would be better is to find what is in the red meat that help M.E sufferers and see if its in the plants and can it be put into a supplement that M.E sufferers can absorb??

    1. Hi, HoneyBee! I was unable to find a study answering your question regarding red meat. Unfortunately, there is currently limited information on the role nutrition plays in combating the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis. There are a few links on the chronic fatigue syndrome topic page ( that you may find helpful. Because chronic fatigue may in some cases be a long-term side effect of a type of food poisoning called Ciguatera caused by fish (usually red snapper or grouper), eliminating fish from the diet may prevent the initial onset of chronic fatigue, or in the case of someone who already has it, prevent a re-infection that would perpetuate the condition (
      Cacao phytonutrients have been shown to help combat symptoms of chronic fatigue ( The research suggests adding just two and a half tablespoons of cocoa or cacao powder a day to one’s diet can yield benefits. This would be a simple possible solution to try out; you could even try substituting the cacao in place of the red meat and see how you feel. Additionally, evidence has shown that taking probiotics may reduce the “gut dysfunction” often associated with chronic fatigue.
      If possible, consulting with a doctor to try to find the underlying cause of the chronic fatigue (if any) and perhaps getting some blood work done to ensure adequate nutrition status could be very helpful. Best of luck to you!

  14. I have a question. He says the problem with the theory that the endotoxins come from our own gut flora is the time line. He then states that the endotoxins are actually coming from the animal foods we eat. But wouldn’t the time line again be a problem? He states they are detected in our blood within an hour. Doesn’t it take a lot longer than one hour for the food we eat to be absorbed in our intestines?

  15. Yes, I totally agree, if you get your meat from a bad source, like a grocery store, animal fats are incredibly unhealthy for you. I’ve researched a lot about heavy metal detoxing and the first place toxins and heavy metals are stored, is your fat. So it totally makes sense the same goes for other mammals.

    That being said, the first food in the GAPS diet, (which heals leaky gut, and has helped many, many vaccine injured children with managing their autism) is meat broths. But the meat and bones have to come from a healthy, all natural source. Meat and animal fats are actually incredibly heathy for you and provide the body with protein, amino acids, healthy fats and bone broths provide your body minerals and glutamine that help heal a leaky gut and heavy metal detoxing.

    But if your animal comes from a feedlot where they’re rolly polly fat from heavy processed fattening diet, you better skip the meat because it’ll do more damage then good. But if you want to provide your body with nutritious foods rich in proteins, vitamin B’s, essential amino acids and iron, then meat is good.

  16. Is this the same for dogs? I have a Shar Pei who has an Inflammatory Disease and his Herbalist wants him on a plant based diet

  17. Wait…grass fed beef is healthier? Do you mean that cohorts that consume it have lower rates of disease and premature death? If so, please post a link to the well founded, unbiased, peer reviewed published research studies that demonstrate this. I don’t think it exists but would like to be proven wrong. My impression is that the notion that grass feed beef is “healthier” is nothing more than advertising from the meat industry, but as always, I’m very interested in being proven wrong by high quality evidence.

    1. Yes, grass-fed meat IS healthier. Where’s YOUR unbiased, peer-reviewed articles that claim “all meat is unequivocally bad and we’ll all get cancer or cardiovascular disease if we continue to eat what our ancestors ate for thousands of years BEFORE the Agricultural Revolution????”

  18. I feel like this is a very biased article. Most animal proteins are blamed for causing inflammation but yet a “semi-vegetarian” gets credit for reducing inflamnation? Last time, I checked if you eat meat sometimes you’re NOT a vegetarian. I think the “semi-vegetarian” should be re-labeled as an “omnivore.” If you cut back on meat but still eat it occasionally, you’re not a vegetarian and you’re still getting animal proteins.

    I think a better, non-biased article would be more aware and fair in the labels they use and not give the “vegetarian” label credit for everything, when it’s not even a complete vegetarian diet!

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