A by-product produced by intestinal bacteria has been shown to contribute to heart disease. It can also be used as a screening tool for predicting future risks of heart attack and stroke.
This new research is a continuation of studies into the chemical byproduct called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), as previously reported by the Digital Journal. TMAO is produced when intestinal bacteria digest the nutrient lecithin (from foods such as eggs). TMAO elevated levels in the blood are associated with heart disease.
A new study has now shown that gut bacteria are essential in forming TMAO in humans and there is a relationship between TMAO levels and future cardiac events like heart attack and stroke, and death.
This study examined subjects divided into two groups, where one group was given an antibiotic (to suppress levels of gut bacteria) and the other no anti-microbial compound. Those without the antibiotic shoed elevated TMAO levels when consuming certain types of food.
The study then proceeded to examine TMAO levels in a larger study, consisting of more than 4,000 adults undergoing cardiac evaluation at Cleveland Clinic, over a three-year period. When other risk factors were accounted for, the researchers found that found that higher TMAO blood levels were associated with higher future risks of death and nonfatal heart attack or stroke over the ensuing three-year period.
The researchers now consider that measuring blood levels of TMAO could serve as a powerful tool for predicting future cardiovascular risk.
However, some medics are less sure. Joseph Loscalzo (New England Journal of Medicine), for example, notes that “much remains to be done to determine the precise role of TMAO in athero-thrombogenesis — whether it has a direct effect on pathogenesis, is an epiphenomenal biomarker, or is a precursor to a more direct effector.”
The research was led by Stanley Hazen, M.D., Ph.D., Vice Chair of Translational Research, Chair of the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine for the Lerner Research Institute and section head of Preventive Cardiology & Rehabilitation in the Miller Family Heart and Vascular Institute at Cleveland Clinic, and W.H. Wilson Tang, M.D., Department of Cardiovascular Medicine in the Miller Family Heart and Vascular Institute and Lerner Research Institute.
The research findings have been published in the journal The New England Journal of Medicine.
This is the latest in a series of research findings about the role that the bacteria inside the human body play in terms of diseases and health. Last year the Digital Journal reported on the role that the bacteria of the gut play in relation to strokes.