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Treating heart disease through the gut

By Tim Sandle     Dec 23, 2015 in Science
Scientists have shown that focusing on microorganisms within the human gut could be the answer to prevent a type of heart disease associated with diet.
The type of diet associated with a higher risk of heart disease is one made up of red meat, eggs and high-fat dairy products. When foods rich in animal fats are digested in the gut a chemical called TMAO (trimethylamine N-oxide) is formed as a by-product of the process. High concentrations of TMAO have been connected with atherosclerosis and heart disease.
TMAO is produced in the highest quantities through the digestion the nutrients choline and phosphatidylcholine (lecithin) (found in beef, lamb, liver, egg yolk and high-fat dairy products); and also carnitine (associated with red meat and liver). The digestion process is triggered via the microorganisms that reside in the gut (the 'gut microbiome'.)
Researchers have found an inhibitor to TMAO called DMB (or 3,3-dimethyl-1-butanol). The inhibitor occurs in foods like cold-pressed extra virgin olive oils and grape seed oils.
In studies run in mice, adding DMB to diets lowered levels of TMAO and, in turn, this reduced atherosclerosis in the mice. The DMB stopped the bacteria in the gut from generating the dangerous by-product. It is thought that DMB inhibits a specific microbial pathway.
Lead researcher, Dr. Stanley Hazen, stated in a research brief: “We were able to show that 'drugging the microbiome' is an effective way to block this type of diet-induced heart disease. The inhibitor prevents formation of a waste product produced by gut microbes.”
The inference from this is that a new therapeutic approach for the prevention of heart disease could be possible.
The study was conducted at Cleveland Clinic, with the findings published in the journal Cell. The associated paper is headed “Non-lethal Inhibition of Gut Microbial Trimethylamine Production for the Treatment of Atherosclerosis.”
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