Gut bacteria blocker prevents diet-induced atherosclerosis

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published February 15, 2016

Key Takeaways

Researchers have brought new meaning to the old saying, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” They’ve found a potential way of preventing heart disease by blocking certain bacteria in the gut, according to a study published online December 17, 2015, in Cell.

“Many chronic diseases like atherosclerosis, obesity, and diabetes are linked to gut microbes,” said study investigator Stanley Hazen, MD, PhD, The Jan Bleeksma Chair in Vascular Cell Biology and Atherosclerosis at Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, OH. “These studies demonstrate the exciting possibility that we can prevent or retard the progression of diet-induced heart diseases starting in the gut.”

In prior research, Dr. Hazen’s team discovered that certain nutrients—choline, phosphatidylcholine, and carnitine, which are abundant in foods such as meat, egg yolks, and high-fat dairy products—produce TMA N-oxide (TMAO), a gut-microbiota-dependent metabolite that accelerates atherosclerosis in animal models. They showed that high levels of TMAO levels are associated with risks for both atherosclerotic heart disease and cardiac events, such as heart attack, stroke and cardiac death.

The researchers reasoned that if they could find a way to reduce TMAO levels, they could potentially treat or prevent diet-induced heart disease.

In this proof-of-concept study, they reported that a structural analog of choline—3,3-dimethyl-1-butanol (DMB)—inhibited the production of TMAO in cultures. When they tested DMB in mice fed a high-choline diet, the investigators found that it blocked the production of TMAO and also diminished the buildup of atherosclerotic plaque in the mice.

“This opens the door in the future for new types of therapies for atherosclerosis, as well as other metabolic diseases,” Dr. Hazen said.

DMB is present in some balsamic vinegars, some red wines, and some cold-pressed extra virgin olive oils and grapeseed oils. Because DMB is not an antibiotic, its use won’t contribute to antibiotic overuse or resistance, the researchers noted.

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