Plasma Concentrations of Trimethylamine-N-oxide Are Directly Associated with Dairy Food Consumption and Low-Grade Inflammation in a German Adult Population1,2

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Trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO) is a metabolite of carnitine, choline, and phosphatidylcholine, which is inversely associated with survival of cardiovascular disease (CVD) patients.


We examined the associations of diet with plasma concentrations of TMAO, choline, and betaine and the associations of TMAO with plasma concentrations of various cytokines.


Plasma TMAO, choline, and betaine concentrations were measured using LC-high resolution mass spectrometry in 271 participants, ≥18 y old, of the Second Bavarian Food Consumption Survey, conducted in 2002 and 2003. Food consumption was assessed using at least two 24-h dietary recalls. Cytokines were measured in plasma with enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays. Geometric mean concentrations of TMAO, choline, and betaine by categories of meat, dairy food, egg, and fish consumption were computed, adjusted for sex, age, and BMI. Multivariable-adjusted geometric mean concentrations of cytokines [tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), soluble TNF receptors (sTNF-R) p55, sTNF-R p75, interleukin-6 (IL-6), and C-reactive protein (CRP)] were computed by quartiles of TMAO concentration using general linear models.


Meat, egg, or fish consumption was not associated with TMAO, choline, or betaine concentrations (all P-trend ≥ 0.05). With increases in milk and other dairy food consumption, the plasma TMAO concentration increased [geometric mean bottom quartile of milk consumption: 2.08 μM(95% CI: 1.69, 2.57 μM); compared with top quartile: 3.13 μM (95% CI: 2.56, 3.84 μM); P-trend = 0.008]. Participants in the top TMAO quartile had higher plasma concentrations of TNF-α, sTNF-R p55, and sTNF-R p75 than participants in the bottom quartile (percentage difference ranging between 14.4% and 17.3%; all P-trend < 0.05), but there were no differences in plasma concentrations of CRP and IL-6 (all P-trend ≥ 0.05).


Results of this study conducted among healthy adults from the general population do not indicate a strong effect of diet on plasma concentrations of TMAO, choline, or betaine, with the exception of a positive association between dairy food consumption and plasma TMAO concentrations. Also, plasma TMAO concentrations were positively associated with inflammation. Whether habitual diet is strongly linked to the plasma TMAO concentration, a potential marker of CVD risk, needs to be determined in further studies. J Nutr 2016;146:283-9.

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