Neutralizing the breakdown of gut microbes may be the key to maintaining a healthy heart. How? A compound in some red wines, olive oils, balsamic vinegars, and grape seed oils known as DMB can alter gut microbes in a way that might help prevent heart disease.
In a recent study, researchers from the Cleveland Clinic and UCLA’s division of cardiology targeted mice’s gut microbes with DMB, and found the compound suppressed atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) from developing in the rodents without any serious side effects.
“This new approach shows that one can target microbes to inhibit atherosclerosis,” said study senior author Dr. Stanley Hazen, section head of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic.
The findings might explain why people who eat a Mediterranean diet appear to have a lower risk of heart disease and better gut health.
The Los Angeles Times explains that when we eat eggs, meat, and high-fat dairy products, they are broken down by a group of microorganisms in our guts. This results in trimethylamine, which is then “attacked” by a group of liver enzymes, producing a byproduct called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO).
People who have had heart attacks often have high levels of TMAO. This byproduct is also a sign that someone’s arteries have narrowed and they are at risk for having a heart attack.
The findings suggest that by interrupting the chain of events that leads to the production of TMAO, we might also ward off the types of fatty buildup in the arteries that cause heart disease.
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Countering the Negative Impact of Fatty Diets
The team discovered DMB treatment did not kill the mice’s gut microbes. That could mean gut bacteria are significantly less likely to become resistant to DMB as they would to an antibiotic.
The technique, dubbed “drugging the microbiome,” basically counters the negative impact of fatty diets. The researchers have written that the study offers “proof of the concept” that being able to alter gut microbes in such a fashion might allow people to continue to load up on fatty food with fewer ill effects on their arteries.
Hopefully it would be used to help people transition to a healthy diet and not merely become a crutch that allows them to continue to gorge on fast foods, though some research suggests high-fat diets are actually not to blame for heart disease (fast food is terrible for many reasons apart from its fat content).
“Our work opens the doors to therapies for many chronic diseases where gut microbe participation is implicated,” Hazen told Live Science.
Past efforts to lower TMAO in an effort to decrease heart disease risk have centered on suppressing the enzymes in individuals that convert TMA, another compound produced by gut microbes. When gut microbes digest choline, lecithin and carnitine, they excrete TMA, which then gets converted into TMAO.
Researchers’ attempts at lowering TMAO were initially stymied by the fact that this approach causes liver damage, resulting in a buildup of TMA that causes a toxic fishy odor.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both sexes and claims about 610,000 lives in the United States every year, accounting for 1 in every 4 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
It is often linked with atherosclerosis.
Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.