Could intestinal bacteria be the cause of countless heart attacks?
Intestinal bugs convert food into harmful compound called TMAO, hardening the arteries
Intestinal or gut bacteria may be responsible for thousands of heart attacks, especially for people who have no obvious risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol. Certain gut flora turn a nutrient found in egg yolks, liver, beef, pork and wheat germ into the compound known as Trimethylamine N-oxide, or TMAO, scientists say. TMAO makes blood cholesterol build up on artery walls, causing hardening of the arteries.
Certain gut flora turn a nutrient found in egg yolks, liver, beef, pork and wheat germ into the compound known as Trimethylamine N-oxide, or TMAO, scientists say.
As researched by the Cleveland Clinic's Lerner Research Institute, scientists asked 40 healthy adults to eat two hard-boiled eggs, which are rich in a fatty substance called lecithin. The blood levels of TMAO became raised after the ingestion of the eggs.
If participants took antibiotics, which kill bacteria in the gut before eating the eggs, their TMAO levels were suppressed.
"This showed that intestinal bacteria are essential for forming TMAO," Dr. Stanley Hazen, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic told reporters.
In order to determine if TMAO predicts cardiovascular events, the researchers measured its levels in 4,007 heart patients. Noting age along with a history of heart attacks, researcher found that high levels of TMAO were predictive of heart attack, stroke and death over the three years that the patients were followed.
Participants who had a heart attack, stroke or died during the study had higher than average TMAO levels than those who didn't. Test subjects who possessed the highest TMAO levels had more than twice the risk of a heart attack or stroke compared to people in the bottom quartile. The study proved that even people with high TMAO levels and no cardiovascular risk factors were 1.8 times more likely to experience a cardiovascular event than those with low levels.
The findings suggest TMAO could serve as a marker for predicting heart disease although more studies are required to confirm the link, said the paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
If the findings are confirmed, it is hoped that researchers will be able to develop a drug that blocks the production of TMAO.
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