Why high-protein diets may harm your heart health

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Phenylalanine is an amino acid found in many foods, including plant- and animal-based protein sources like meat, beans, and soy.

In a recent study from Cleveland Clinic, researchers found that when phenylalanine is broken down by microbes in the gut, it produces a byproduct that ultimately shows up in blood called PAG that contributes to the development of heart attack, stroke, and death.

The study is published in Cell. The lead author is Stanley Hazen, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Cardiovascular & Metabolic Sciences.

Over the past decade, there has been increasing evidence to suggest that gut microbes play a role in health, especially as it relates to heart disease.

This study found that blood levels of PAG contribute to cardiovascular disease risk in a couple of different ways.

The team analyzed samples from more than 5,000 patients over three years and revealed that elevated PAGln levels predicted heart attack and stroke in the future, and also in those with type 2 diabetes (an independent risk factor for heart disease).

Animal model and microbe transplantation studies suggest the gut microbe-produced PAG can play an important role in driving heart disease.

The researchers also found that PAG increases the likelihood of blood clots, a major cause of cardiac events like heart attack and stroke.

Additionally, they found that using gene-editing technology or drugs to block PAG strongly reduced clotting activity.

These findings suggest that some of the benefits of beta-blockers may be attributed to preventing PAG—related activity.

Beta-blockers have been widely studied and are prescribed to many cardiac patients, but this is the first time that this mechanism has been suggested as an explanation for some of their benefits.

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