Cholesterol-lowering drugs may boost gut health in obese people

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In a new study, researchers found that statin drugs, a group of cholesterol-lowering medications, may help improve gut health in obese people.

The research was conducted by a team at the University of Copenhagen.

The human gut microbiota consists of trillions of bacteria, fungi and viruses constituting an inner chemical factory producing a multitude of microbial compounds affecting immunity, neurobiology, and metabolism of the human host.

It has for long been known that imbalances in the composition of gut microbes link with a variety of chronic human disorders spanning from obesity, diabetes inflammatory bowel diseases to depression, schizophrenia, autism, and Parkinson’s.

In addition, it is known that unhealthy dieting and the use of some medications, for instance, stomach acid neutralizers, the so-called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), are linked to further disruption of the microbial communities of the gut.

In the study, the team examined gut bacteria in almost 900 individuals from Denmark, France, and Germany.

The intestinal microbiota in obese individuals had previously been shown to differ from those in lean subjects with a poor bacterial diversity, a relative depletion of health-promoting bacteria, and the remaining bacteria dominated by an inflammatory tone.

The researchers found a cluster of bacteria called Bact2 enterotype, which is found in 4% of lean and overweight people but in 18% of obese individuals who did not use statins.

However, in other obese study participants who were treated with statins, the prevalence of the unhealthy Bact2 enterotype was much lower (6%) than in their non-treated counterparts (18%) — comparable to levels observed in non-obese participants (4%).

The same trend was validated in a Flemish study sample of about 2000 participants.

Statins are commonly prescribed to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases like myocardial infarction and stroke.

It is estimated that more than 200 million people worldwide are prescribed statins.

Besides their cholesterol-lowering effects, statins also tend to appease patients’ systemic inflammation levels which in part may be related to disrupted gut microbiota.

The results suggest that statins may modulate the disrupted gut microbiota and linked inflammation in obesity.

Previous experiments have shown an impact of statins on bacterial growth, which might benefit non-inflammatory bacteria and underlie the anti-inflammatory effects of statin therapy.

The study is published in Nature.

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