How our gut flora affects heart disease risk

Two experts, who were not involved in this research, spoke to Medical News Today about the study.

Cheng-Han Chen, MD, board certified interventional cardiologist and medical director of the Structural Heart Program at Memorial Care Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills, CA, said, “the gut microbiome is increasingly being understood as playing a major role in human health, including cardiovascular health.”

“This study utilized metagenomic and metabolomic techniques to identify and focus on a specific species of gut bacteria (Oscillibacter) that appeared to be associated with lower stool and blood cholesterol levels, likely due to their cholesterol-metabolizing properties. As more research is performed to understand the connections between the microbiome and cardiovascular disease, we will be able to identify many more bacterial species that play a role in regulating our cardiovascular risk factors.”
— Dr. Cheng-Han Chen

Chen pointed out that “as gut uptake and metabolism of fats and cholesterol affects our blood cholesterol levels, it is important for us to understand the mechanisms by which this occurs.”

“This research can potentially lead to therapeutics that help our natural gut flora better maintain a favorable blood cholesterol profile, which in turn may even lead to improved cardiovascular health,” he explained.

Using probiotics to target cholesterol

Yu-Ming Ni, MD, board certified cardiologist and lipidologist at MemorialCare Heart and Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA, agreed, saying, “there’s been a lot of interest in the effect of the microbiome on general health.”

“We coexist with trillions of organisms on our skin and in our intestinal and genitourinary tract. These organisms play a critical role in our ability to fight off external pathogens, in the metabolism of food, and in the health of our immune system. Specifically, this study shows that there are bacterial strains that may affect cholesterol exposure in the intestinal tract.”
— Dr. Yu-Ming Ni

“The discovery of the cholesterol metabolizing properties of Oscillibacter bacteria is fascinating, and it suggests the possibility of the use of this probiotic strain as a therapeutic agent for treating high cholesterol,” Ni said.

However, Ni also noted a few limitations of the study.

“Given that this study was in vitro, it is too early to tell whether the cholesterol effects of this organism in the human body can be replicated. More importantly, we don’t know what other effects this organism may have on the human body, and these other effects may be harmful,” he said.

Ni noted that “further study is needed in actual patients to determine if this organism can play a helpful role in reducing cholesterol uptake.”