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A nutrient in meat and eggs may conspire with gut bacteria to make the blood more prone to clotting, a small study suggests.

The nutrient is called choline. Researchers found that when they gave 18 healthy volunteers choline supplements, it boosted their production of a chemical called TMAO.

That, in turn, increased their blood cells’ tendency to clot. But the researchers also found that aspirin might reduce that risk.

TMAO is short for trimethylamine N-oxide. It’s produced when gut bacteria digest choline and certain other substances.

Past studies have linked higher TMAO levels in the blood to heightened risks of blood clots, heart attack and stroke, said Dr. Stanley Hazen, the senior researcher on the new study.

These findings, he said, give the first direct evidence that choline revs up TMAO production in the human gut, which then makes platelets (a type of blood cell) more prone to sticking together.

Choline is found in a range of foods, but it’s most concentrated in animal products such as egg yolks, beef and chicken.

Hazen said he and his colleagues at the Cleveland Clinic wanted to isolate the effects of choline on people’s levels of TMAO and their platelet function. So they studied supplements.

The researchers had 18 healthy adults –10 meat-eaters and eight vegetarians/vegans — take choline supplements for two months.

The supplements provided around 450 milligrams of choline daily — roughly the amount in two or three eggs, Hazen said.

One month in, the study found, the supplements had raised participants’ TMAO levels 10-fold, on average. And tests of their blood samples showed that their platelets had become more prone to clotting.

“This study gives us one of the mechanisms by which TMAO may contribute to cardiovascular disease,” said Dr. J. David Spence.

Spence, who was not involved in the study, directs the Stroke Prevention & Atherosclerosis Research Centre at Western University in London, Ontario, Canada.

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