Is The Carnivore Diet Bad For Your Heart?

In this article, we will take a close look at the carnivore diet, a dietary plan that involves consuming only animal products. We will explore its potential good and bad impacts on heart health. We will discuss the various cardiovascular diseases that may arise with high meat consumption and present better dietary options for the heart.
Jakub Gwiazdecki

Jakub Gwiazdecki

Fifth year medical student at the Medical Faculty of Comenius University in Bratislava.

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Is Carnivore Diet Bad For Your Heart?

The carnivore diet appears to have some positive short-term effects, especially when it comes to the overall (subjective) feeling. However, in the long term, it increases your risk for heart disease and cardiovascular mortality.

The main concern in the animal product-only diet is the high content of saturated fats. Large amounts of saturated fats consumed regularly are linked to an 18% increased risk for cardiovascular disease. This is based on a study performed on more than 100,000 people. Statistically, a 1% replacement of eaten fats with plant sourced food decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease by 6 to 8% [1].

On the other hand, better well-being and overall health were reported in a survey conducted among adults being on the carnivore diet for at least 6 months. However, their subjective feelings about their health had little to do with their LDL-cholesterol levels. This lipoprotein is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and was significantly elevated among the participants of this survey [2].

The carnivore diet is not the best diet for the heart. There are better foods for the heart, especially plant-based foods. A heart-oriented diet should maximize the consumption of whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and legumes. Consumption of meat and animal products as well as refined and processed foods should be limited as much as possible. An example of a healthy heart diet is the Mediterranean diet. It is rich in dietary fiber, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and phytochemicals. Such diet is linked with reduced levels of traditional and novel risk factors and lower risk of cardiovascular disease [3].

What is a carnivore diet?

The carnivore diet involves exclusive consumption of animal products. It gained ground and interest with proponents like Dr. Shawn Baker. He is an orthopedic surgeon, who embarked on a journey of self-experimentation to explore the impact of this diet on his health. He reported improvements in his health and body composition. The diet primarily consists of all animal foods, often the eaters favor high fat cuts. The spectrum of meat consumed includes red meat, poultry, organ meats, processed meats like bacon, sausage, and hot dogs. Additionally, some people add fish, eggs, or dairy products like cheese to the dining plan [1].

What does the consumption of only meat and animal product do to the heart?

A meat diet can have many impacts on the human heart. A nowadays more and more known effect of high meat consumption is an increased risk of heart disease. Especially in men, there is a positive link between meat eating and fatal ischemic heart disease. Men aged 45 to 64 who eat meat daily, increase their risk of fatal ischemic heart disease 3 times compared to men who do not eat meat [1].

On a cellular level, animal-based diets elicited a specific pathway. There are a few factors which contribute to its activation. They are higher levels of endotoxins, as well as increased levels of oxidized LDL cholesterol. The high intake of fats leads to an excess in fatty acid metabolism and over time, lipotoxicity develops. This leads to an upregulation of the renin-angiotensin system responsible for vasoconstriction and blood pressure regulation. Blood pressure increase, combined with oxidative stress, causes damage to the endothelium, the lining cells of the vessels. This cascade is behind the increases in cardiovascular risk and pathological developments. The endothelial damage works like a key to for development of atherosclerosis, which can eventually lead to a heart attack [3]. Furthermore, animal diets have been associated with an increased risk of left ventricular diastolic dysfunction. Dysfunction of the filling of the ventricle is an early heart failure that is reversible [4].

However, it's important to note that not all meat and animal products have the same impact. For example, there exists a reformulated meat that has a reduced fat and sodium content. This meat has even exerted some cardioprotective effect in cardiomyopathies (structural changes in the heart’s muscle tissue)[5, 6].

Also, some animal food is considered extremely positive for the cardiovascular health. For example, fish oil can attenuate myocardial dysfunction caused by ischemia-reperfusion. Such characteristics can be very helpful in the event of a heart attack. Thanks to this more of the heart after the attack will sustain its function [7].

What cardiovascular diseases arise with high meat consumption?

High meat consumption, particularly red, is linked to various health conditions like cardiovascular diseases (CVDs). This connection is very individual in everyone. It depends on the diet and general health as e.g. genetic predispositions.

A well-known CVD often associated with meat diet is coronary heart disease. Studies indicate a positive connection and one of the mechanisms of how a CHD can develop was described in the cellular pathway above. Interestingly, there are some studies indicating some inconsistency in this statement. However, it has to be pointed out that everyone has a different organism and the amount of risk and protective factor varies from person to person[8, 9].

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is another condition that has been linked to high meat consumption. The mechanism behind it is not clear only some thesis exist. The renin-angiotensin upregulation by the high animal product intake fits perfectly into the shame. However, recent Mendelian randomization studies have found no causal association between the consumption of processed and red meat and the incidence of hypertension. A similar situation is with stroke. It is linked to meat by atherosclerosis. However, also here, like in hypertension, recent studies have not found a causal relationship between meat consumption and stroke [10, 11].

Also, heart failure is associated with high red meat consumption. An increase in blood pressure over the years exhausts the age weakened heart. This has been shown in a study by A Ashaye et al. They found a positive and graded relation between red meat consumption and heart failure [8].

A better option for the heart

Based on the above mentioned it is clear that the carnivore diet is not the best that a heart can get. Also, it is sure that when it comes to heart health, diet plays a crucial role. A recommended and ideal diet for the cardiovascular system is rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes [12, 13].

Particularly The Mediterranean diet comes close to the wished ideal. There is much evidence indicating that it is a diet to go for to protect and care for the cardiovascular system. This diet is rich in plant foods. There is plenty of dietary fiber, nuts, fruits, and vegetables on the menu. This is a combination that is effective in reducing CVD risk factors [12].

Another diet that has shown potential benefits is the moderate carbohydrate diet. It has a beneficial impact on body weight and blood pressure [14].

No diet is perfect. However, a balanced diet, with a major part of plant foods and small amounts of animal food, supported by a good lifestyle is the best for the heart. Regular exercise is key. At least 150–300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity is recommended by the WHO [15]. Also, smoking cessation and an alcohol-free life play a significant role in maintaining a healthy heart [16].

Jakub Gwiazdecki

Jakub Gwiazdecki

Jakub is in his fifth year as a medical student at Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia. He has special interested in cardiology and in patient-centered medicine. His love for heart health isn't just book-smarts; he wants to know how it works, what it means for our feelings, and how key it is for health and happiness. Jakub thinks real good health care comes from always putting the patient at the centre, treating each person as a whole.