EMBARGOED UNTIL 5 P.M. EDT, WEDNESDAY, APRIL 24, 2013, Cleveland: A microbial byproduct of intestinal bacteria contributes to heart disease and serves as an accurate screening tool for predicting future risks of heart attack, stroke and death in persons not otherwise identified by traditional risk factors and blood tests, according to Cleveland Clinic research published today in The New England Journal of Medicine.
The research team was led by Stanley Hazen, M.D., Ph.D., Vice Chair of Translational Research, Chair of the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine for the Lerner Research Institute and section head of Preventive Cardiology & Rehabilitation in the Miller Family Heart and Vascular Institute at Cleveland Clinic, and W.H. Wilson Tang, M.D., Department of Cardiovascular Medicine in the Miller Family Heart and Vascular Institute and Lerner Research Institute.
The current study is an extension of Dr. Hazen's previous work, in which he found that a chemical byproduct called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) is produced when intestinal bacteria digest the nutrient phosphatidylcholine, commonly known as lecithin. The prior research showed that TMAO levels in the blood were associated with heart disease. Dr. Hazen and colleagues have now confirmed that gut flora are essential in forming TMAO in humans and demonstrated a relationship between TMAO levels and future cardiac events like heart attack, stroke, and deatheven in those with no prior evidence of cardiac disease risk.
To demonstrate the role of gut flora in forming TMAO, human subjects were asked to eat two hard-boiled eggs (a common dietary source of lecithin) and a capsule of labeled lecithin (as a tracer). After ingestion, TMAO levels in the blood increased. However, when these same subjects were given a brief course of broad-spectrum antibiotics to suppress their gut flora, their TMAO levels were suppressed, and no additional TMAO was formed, even after ingesti
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