In a new study from Vanderbilt University, researchers found a high-fat diet disrupts the biology of the gut’s inner lining and its microbial communities.
It also promotes the production of a metabolite that can contribute to heart disease.
The findings support a key role for the intestines and gut microbiota in the development of heart disease.
Before COVID, obesity and metabolic syndrome were considered the pandemic of the 21st century. Right now, roughly 40% of the U.S. population is obese, and that percentage is predicted to climb
This research found a previously unexplored mechanism for how diet and obesity can increase the risk of heart disease—by affecting the link between our intestines and the microbes that live in our gut.
In previous studies, Byndloss and Andreas Bäumler, Ph.D., at the University of California at Davis, found that the epithelial cells lining the intestines and gut microbes share a mutually beneficial relationship that promotes a healthy gut environment. They wondered if diseases like obesity affect this relationship.
In the study, the team found that a high-fat diet causes inflammation and damages intestinal cells in animal models.
The high-fat diet impairs the function of energy-generating mitochondria, causing the intestinal cells to produce more oxygen and nitrate.
These factors, in turn, stimulate the growth of harmful microbes, such as E. coli, and boost bacterial production of a metabolite called TMA (trimethylamine).
The liver converts TMA to TMAO (trimethylamine-N-oxide), which can increase atherosclerosis and the death risk in patients.
The researchers also found that a drug currently approved for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease restored the function of intestinal epithelial cells and blunted the increase in TMAO.
The drug is called 5-aminosalicylic acid. It might be used in conjunction with a probiotic to both restore a healthy intestinal environment and boost beneficial microbe levels.
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The study is published in Science. One author of the study is Mariana Byndloss, DVM, Ph.D.
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