A chemical found in red meat helps explain why eating too much beef and bacon is bad for the heart, say scientists.

A U.S. study shows carnitine, a compound found in in red meat, is broken down by digestive bacteria and kicks off a chain of events that results in higher levels of cholesterol as well as increased risk of heart disease. (The cholesterol and saturated fat content of lean red meat is not that high.)

There has been an abundance of studies suggesting that regularly eating red meat may be damaging to health.

Carnitine can be broken down and converted in the liver to a chemical called . The study showed TMAO was strongly linked to development of fatty deposits in blood vessels.

Reducing the number of bacteria that feed on carnitine would in theory reduce the health risks of red meat. Vegetarians naturally have fewer bacteria which are able to break down carnitine than meat-eaters.

Learn more at the BBC’s website