For Heart Health, Look to the Gut

Gut bacteria linked to weight, body fat, cholesterol levels


The tiny microbes living in your digestive system may actually have a big impact on the health of your heart.

A new study from the Netherlands found that gut bacteria may affect patients’ weight, body fat and cholesterol levels — factors all necessary for optimum heart health.

"Our study provides new evidence that microbes in the gut are strongly linked to the blood level of HDL (good cholesterol) and triglycerides and may be added as a new risk factor for abnormal blood lipids, in addition to age, gender, BMI and genetics," said lead study author Jingyuan Fu, PhD, an associate professor of genetics at University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands, in a press release.

The digestive system and gut bacteria have a symbiotic relationship. The trillions of microbes present in the gut help the body digest food and train the immune system to fight against harmful bacteria.

According to these researchers, the gut's bacterial community is sometimes even referred to as an additional organ because of its vital role in health.

Dr. Fu and team used a technique called deep sequencing technology on 893 patients to look at the health effects of gut bacteria.

These researchers identified 34 different types of bacteria that affected levels of body fat or blood fats like triglycerides and HDL cholesterol. High levels of HDL cholesterol have previously been linked to a decreased risk of heart disease.

Gut bacteria had little effect on LDL (or bad cholesterol) levels, however. High levels of LDL cholesterol have previously been linked to an increased risk of heart disease.

Despite these findings, the potential health effects of gut bacteria still remain largely unknown.

"As less than 30 percent of bacteria in the human gut have been cultured, we know very little about who they are and what they do," Dr. Fu said. "With state-of-art deep sequencing technology, we are now able to identify them. We also hope our findings inspire microbiologists to continue to research the function of these bacteria and their specific role in the regulation of lipid metabolism."

This study was published Sept. 10 in the journal Circulation Research.

This research was funded by the Technological Top Institute Food and Nutrition, the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research and the European Community's Health Seventh Framework Programme. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.