When Meat Can Be a Lifesaver

When Meat Can Be a Lifesaver
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There are rare birth defects in which the inability to produce certain compounds requires an exogenous source. Presented here is a case report of a boy with a mutation in his carnitine transport system.

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Remember the arachidonic acid story? We make it, but we can also get it in our diet eating other animals that make it; same thing with cholesterol.  Well, there are similar necessary components found exclusively, or almost exclusively, in the animal kingdom—not the plant kingdom—such as carnosine, carnitine, creatine, and taurine.

But if something is made only by animals, what about those eating vegetarian? Thankfully, vegetarians are animals too, so they make it themselves. Now, true carnivores are the exception. Cats don’t make taurine, for example, but that’s because they’re built to eat animals that do. But humans produce all these compounds on their own—unless they have some rare genetic inborn error of metabolism birth defect.

There is actually a hereditary disease that may affect as many as one in 40,000 births. It’s a mutation on chromosome 5 of a carnitine transport protein. They actually make enough carnitine; but because of the birth defect, end up peeing too much out, and so develop a carnitine deficiency.

And actually, there was a case report about 30 years ago of a 10-year-old boy in Israel in and out of the hospital every four or five months. No one knew what was going on. The clue only came when he decided to go meat-free, and that made things worse. Then he started having attacks every three weeks. Turns out he had that rare disorder; that’s why he was sick. But it was being kept somewhat at bay by the exogenous, external dietary source of carnitine in the meat that the other 39,999 kids out of 40,000 don’t need.

He stayed vegetarian, but they gave him high-dose carnitine supplements, and at the time of the report he was 12, and completely cured.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Ben Mills, Bb3cxv, Sbrools, and Edgar181 via Wikimedia Commons; Kay Gaensler via Flckr; and Thora Thinks.

Remember the arachidonic acid story? We make it, but we can also get it in our diet eating other animals that make it; same thing with cholesterol.  Well, there are similar necessary components found exclusively, or almost exclusively, in the animal kingdom—not the plant kingdom—such as carnosine, carnitine, creatine, and taurine.

But if something is made only by animals, what about those eating vegetarian? Thankfully, vegetarians are animals too, so they make it themselves. Now, true carnivores are the exception. Cats don’t make taurine, for example, but that’s because they’re built to eat animals that do. But humans produce all these compounds on their own—unless they have some rare genetic inborn error of metabolism birth defect.

There is actually a hereditary disease that may affect as many as one in 40,000 births. It’s a mutation on chromosome 5 of a carnitine transport protein. They actually make enough carnitine; but because of the birth defect, end up peeing too much out, and so develop a carnitine deficiency.

And actually, there was a case report about 30 years ago of a 10-year-old boy in Israel in and out of the hospital every four or five months. No one knew what was going on. The clue only came when he decided to go meat-free, and that made things worse. Then he started having attacks every three weeks. Turns out he had that rare disorder; that’s why he was sick. But it was being kept somewhat at bay by the exogenous, external dietary source of carnitine in the meat that the other 39,999 kids out of 40,000 don’t need.

He stayed vegetarian, but they gave him high-dose carnitine supplements, and at the time of the report he was 12, and completely cured.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Ben Mills, Bb3cxv, Sbrools, and Edgar181 via Wikimedia Commons; Kay Gaensler via Flckr; and Thora Thinks.

Doctor's Note

The arachidonic acid story I refer to in the video can be viewed here: Chickens, Eggs, and Inflammation. Vitamin B12 is a nutrient not made by plants or animals, and is critical for those eating plant-based diets. See Safest Source of B12 for an introduction, and also check out my blog post Vegan B12 Deficiency: Putting It Into Perspective.

Note that both of the sources listed in Sources Cited (above) are open access, so you can download them by clicking on the links.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

37 responses to “When Meat Can Be a Lifesaver

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  1. The “arachidonic acid story” I refer to in the video can be viewed here: Chickens, Eggs, and Inflamation. Vitamin B12 is a nutrient not made by plants or animals and is critical for those eating plant-based diets. See Safest Source of B12 for an introduction, and my blog post Vitamin B12 Deficiency: Putting It Into Perspective. And there are hundreds of other videos on more than a thousand subjects. Note that all of the sources listed above in “Sources Cited” are open access, so you can download them by clicking on the links.

  2. Thanks for sharing this fascinating story! This is a great example of what I love about Dr. Gregor: he reports the facts rather than only giving examples that bolster veganism. Granted, 99%+ of the data do show good results for veganism, but some other groups promote the idea that it is impossible for any vegan diet (no matter how badly planned) can have any deficiencies for any people. It’s great having someone I can trust for nutrition advice!

  3. What is also interesting to me is that the boy chose not to eat meat, but simply to take the supplements. 

  4. I suffer from Gilberts Syndrome and find that my body is unable to synthesize Taurine well, I substitute with supplement tablets when required but find my bodies health breaks down without red meat consumption. I don’t feel that the understanding medically around the affect of Gilberts allows for a true meat-free diet yet as most doctors still believe GS is asymptomatic. Instead I seek to obtain grass fed/free range animal products which have healthier fat and nutrition profiles.

    I am very interested in some of the statistics you show when comparing diets as having seen the vast difference in nutrient profiles put forth from farms like Polyface when comparing their eggs to others. I can’t help but see the need for another classification. One which would represent the consumption of locally, freshly and sustainably harvested animal product grown in a way that respects the historical living conditions and diets of the animals without pesticides, hormones, chemicals and production based breeding specialisation. The comparison between these animal products and the mass-produced animal products is a question that I’ve not found answered clearly yet. Thanks for your videos, very informative.

    1. I have Gilbert’s, too and I have been eating a vegan diet for over 10 years and I’m doing quite well. What do you mean your body “breaks down” without red meat? I tried taurine and I didn’t feel anything different with it.

    2. you use a lot of words trying to justify eating animals.

      I see you want to have the least negative impact possible, dr greger has many more videos describing how your gut bacteria can thrive on a meat free, all vegan diet.

      I’d recommend talking to your doctor of trust and switching to a whole foods plant based diet testing your blood regularly and supplementing what you actually miss… so you have the best of both worlds as always recommended here, get the best out of every world.

      good luck for you and your part regardless how you decide

  5. I recently read Dr. Michael Lam’s article on “Adrenal Fatigue and Estrogen Dominance.” He states “Women who are on estrogen replacement, birth control pill, or those suffering from excessive estrogen (this is a widespread condition commonly called estrogen dominance) may need more taurine. ” I was on birth control for 20 years due to PCOS, and just came to the realization that it was not good for me. I know better late than never. Dr. Lam does emphasize dangers of commercially grown, hormone ridden, pesticide filled animal protein and plants though. What is your opinion on this study/opinion? BTW BIG FAN!!!!!

  6. I just stumpled over a word taurine – it was one of the ingredients of a food supplement. This lead me to a article in the internet and I read that taurine is important for the human brain (keyword mitochondria function). The writer siggested, that vegans are pure in taurin and this could lead to a strong reduction in brain function in the age, like dementia and alzheimer.
    I could’t find any information about taurin in plants.
    Just in case a patient will speak about taurin with me – can anybody give me safe information about this topic? Is there any study available Mr. Greger and Team?

  7. I’m over 65 and have read that production of taurine decreases with age. Any truth in this? Any down side of supplementing with taurine? Just looking to keep brain function protected but I don’t “buy in” until Dr. Greger and Team look in to this and provide more info. Most studies I could find were on rats. I eat vegan, follow Dr. G’s Daily Dozen, supplement with B12 and algae based DHA.

    1. Hi Andrew

      Taurine is not an essential amino acids. What that means is that, providing the body has all of the essential amino acids it needs from protein in food, it can make it own taurine (and other non-essential amino acids that the body uses.) Generally protein intake can decline as people age, mainly because often taste/smell declines and that’s a big driver for eating. If all of the essential acids are present in the amount needs, there should not be a problem with taurine production. But if they are missing, there may be. This doesn’t mean you need to supplement with taurine unless there is a proven deficiency. But it does suggest that one needs to make sure to ensure adequate protein intake. This doesn’t necessarily mean through supplements, but just through healthy whole foods—beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds, along with the leafy greens and other veggies.

      Hope that helps!
      – nutrition professor and volunteer moderator, ‪ Martica Heaner, PhD‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

  8. My daughter has low level of CREATININE (mg/dL) 0.45
    She is 12 y.o. She was on plant based diet for almost a year.
    Does she need to take any supplements?

  9. Hello Alyona,
    Thank you for your question. I am a family doctor with a private practice in lifestyle medicine. Your daughter’s creatinine level is actually not low at all. The normal range for children up to age 12 is 0.0-0.7 mg/dL, and for adult females is is 0.4-1.1 mg/dL. Creatinine levels that are low are fairly rare, and almost always reflect low muscle mass. I have never worried about a patient with a low-normal or slightly low creatinine — I don’t know of anything bad caused by that. High creatinine levels are what we worry about, because that usually means decreased kidney function.

    I hope this helps.
    Dr. Jon
    PhysicianAssistedWellness.com

  10. Could you please make a video on Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency (G6PD deficiency)?
    How can people with this enzyme deficiency be vegans? Is it not better for them not to eat legumes at all, since hemolysis (in some degree) occurs after eating foods from the list to avoid? I know that some may be more sensitive than others, but is it true that hemolysis happens (even when there aren’t any physical symptoms) every time they eat beans or lentils?
    thank you

    1. Doris,

      the diet is usually not that “drastic.” Usually avoiding red wine, beans/legumes, blueberries, soya products and tonic water should be enough.

      Hope this helps,

      Moderator Adam P.

      1. Thank you for your reply, Following this course of diet, eliminates many sources of protein.
        In that case, how can he get protein in his diet?

        1. Hi Doris- Vegan protein sources other than beans/legumes include: whole grains like oats and brown rice, pseudo grains like quinoa, nuts like cashews and almonds (not peanuts, which are legumes), plus all fruits and vegetables have protein. If one eats sufficient calories to maintain a healthy weight, even with avoiding hemolysis-inducing foods, one will get enough protein to thrive on a plant based diet. -Best, Dr Anderson, volunteer

  11. Do you have any information on the treatment of Gaucher’s Disease or Fabri’s using diet?

    Thanks for all the wonderful work.

  12. Thank you for your interesting question. As you know, both these diseases are genetic leading to an enzyme deficiency. I don’t believe there have been any dietary intervention studies in these patients. It is known that patients may require a higher calorie intake due to increased basal energy expenditure. However, given that these diseases affect many organs of the body and Gaucher in particular has a high incidence of certain cancers, including myeloma, I would suggest that eating the most healthy diet for general health (whole food plant based; scientifically proven) would also be a good idea in these diseases (although I have not seen any studies that say this).

  13. Neurofibromatosis is another genetic condition that may need carnitine supplementation. My daughter, with NF, craves meat, eggs and diary. They recently discovered a “myopathy” in NF that makes it difficult to digest long-chain fats, the ones found in healthy foods. Carnitine helps with this. The deficiency of carnitine could lead to the lessened muscle strength, energy, bone weakness etc. found in NF. I started my daughter on carnitine supplementation six months ago and have been pleased with her increased height growth rate and more energy. She says she feels stronger. https://nfwithkerry.wordpress.com/2018/01/29/taller-and-stronger/

  14. If one supplements such nutrients that the body can produce (but may not produce enough for health reasons or unusual demand), such as carnitine, carnosine, creatine, taurine, DHA, ribose, will the supplementation inhibit the natural processes that produce any of these (i.e. use it or lose it)? Some of these nutrients are shown to improve conditions like chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, or enhance athletic performance and body building (e.g. aiding ATP production). But could that enhancement come at a cost of losing natural production? Also, are there natural ways (nutritional, behavioral, mind management) to improve production of any of these?

  15. You’re getting at the metabolism of various substances in the body. In general, the body closely regulates blood concentrations of substances. In the case of carnitine, the main mechanism is increasing or decreasing elimination of carnitine via the kidneys. If the body detects a lower level, carnitine excretion is slowed. If the level is high, the body excretes more.The liver makes sufficient amounts in the vast majority of people. Without deficiency, a daily supplement doesn’t really affect the levels of carnitine, because the body maintains the optimal level. I couldn’t find evidence that production is affected in a substantial way in the setting of supplementation. For high dose carnitine supplementation, though, there are harms. Here’s a video on that topic: https://nutritionfacts.org/2013/11/14/avoid-carnitine-and-lethicin-supplements/ -Dr Anderson, Health Support Volunteer

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