A team of Canadian scientists have found a link between metabolites from gut bacteria and the development of atherosclerosis plaque that is one of the biggest causes of chronic kidney disease, heart disease and stroke. The research findings were published in the journal Atherosclerosis. Their findings show that gut bacteria contribute a lot to the risk of atherosclerosis and they point to new ways of treatment and prevention based on the microbiome.
The study involved 316 people divided into 3 distinct groups:
- People with plaque levels as expected from traditional risk factors.
- People with high levels of traditional risk factors but had normal arteries – protected somehow from plaque.
- People who have low traditional risk factors but have high levels of plaque formation.
The researchers analyzed blood levels of the metabolites TMAO, p-cresyl sulfate, p-cresyl glucuronide, and phynylacetylglutamine produced by gut bacteria and compared these to atherosclerotic plaque in the three groups.
They found that people with low risk but “unexplained excess plaque” had very high levels of the metabolites in their blood and those who had high risk but low plaque had significantly lower levels of the metabolites.
The differences could not be explained by diet or kidney function and can only be due to differences in the makeup of the intestinal bacteria. “What we found was that patients with unexplained atherosclerosis had significantly higher blood levels of these toxic metabolites that are produced by the intestinal bacteria,” said Professor David Spence.
The team of scientists concluded that the gut microbiome seems to contribute significantly to the development of atherosclerosis. “There is growing consensus in the microbiome field that function trumps taxonomy. In other words, bacterial communities are not defined so much by who is there as by what they are doing and what products they are making,” said Gregg Gloor from the study.
The researchers are convinced that the identification of gut bacteria metabolites as a potential risk factor and predictor of atherosclerosis provides new ways of treatment and prevention for the condition. They see an opportunity to use probiotics to counter these metabolites in the gut and that way reduce the risk of kidney and heart issues.