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Recent research suggests that the gut microbiome influences many health parameters, including cardiometabolic health. One large-scale study with 893 participants provides evidence that certain families of gastrointestinal bacteria can either positively or negatively affect cardiovascular health.1 Different compositions in the gut microbiome were correlated to both BMI and lipid levels, independent of genetics, age, and gender.1 Lower levels of bacterial families Christensenellaceae and Rikenellaceae, class Mollicutes, genus Dehalobacterium, and kingdom Archaea correlated with high BMI.1 The researchers estimated that 4.5-6% of BMI, triglyceride, and HDL variations could be explained by these variations in the microbiome, independent of other risk factors.1
In the following video, IFM educator Shilpa P. Saxena, MD, IFMCP, discusses how gut health and the microbiome impact cardiovascular health.
Fecal Transfers & Cardiometabolic Impacts
Although not conclusive, animal studies using fecal transfers allow us to better investigate the nature of the relationship between the microbiome and various diseases. One such analysis transplanted fecal microbiota from human donors to germ-free mice.2 The healthy human controls had a much richer and more diverse microbiome than the individuals with pre-hypertension and hypertension, who had overgrowth of bacteria such as Prevotella and reduced populations of bacteria correlated with improved health.2 After fecal transplantation, the germ-free mice who got material from individuals with hypertension soon exhibited elevated blood pressure themselves.2
In addition, a small 2017 human study (n=38) investigated the effect of lean donor (allogenic) versus own (autologous) fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) to male recipients with metabolic syndrome.3 Results after the allogenic FMT indicated a significant improvement in insulin sensitivity at six weeks, accompanied by altered microbiota composition.3 However, the benefits and microbiota composition changes were short-term, returning to baseline measurements at 18 weeks. Investigators noted that participants did not deviate from their regular lifestyle practices, including diet, during the study and that this may have impacted the FMT benefit.3
Microbiota Mechanisms & Metabolism
One mechanism by which the microbiome affects the body is through generation of metabolites that alter host physiology4–6 and influence metabolic inflammation.7 After performing 16S rRNA gene sequencing in 531 Finnish men, researchers found gut microbiota correlated with fasting serum levels in fatty acids, amino acids, lipids, and glucose, as well as with levels of trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), a metabolite associated with coronary artery disease and stroke.8 Recent systematic reviews have associated high circulating levels of TMAO with cardiometabolic disorders in adults,9 as well as both major adverse cardiovascular events and all-cause mortality.10 The microbiome may also influence remote body sites through alterations of pathways such as the short-chain fatty acids and bile acids pathways.4,11
The gut microbiome is also known to affect metabolism and may contribute to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.8,12 In individuals with metabolic syndrome, arterial stiffness predicts cardiovascular risk.13 In a study of 617 women, analysis of the microbiome accounted for 8.3% of the variation in arterial stiffness, while visceral adiposity and insulin resistance only accounted for 1.8%. Examining the microbial makeup showed that butyrate-producing Ruminococcaceae bacteria were negatively correlated with arterial stiffness.13
This research is exciting in part because the microbiome changes rapidly in response to diet,14 making nutrition an important part of the microbiome-cardiometabolic equation.15,16 For example, research suggests that diets naturally rich in polyphenols and/or long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids may significantly increase gut microbial diversity and bifidobacteria concentrations impacting glucose and lipid metabolism,17 and that bioactive compounds found in Mediterranean-style diets potentially adjust the ratio of Firmicutes/Bacteroidetes in the microbiome, improving the management and prevention of metabolic syndrome.18
Treating the gut using diet, probiotics, prebiotic foods, and other therapies may reduce risks for many cardiometabolic patients. IFM’s Cardiometabolic Food Plan is one therapeutic resource that is easily personalized and helps to support cardiac and metabolic health, in part by effecting the microbiome. Learn more about cardiometabolic conditions and clinical applications that support your patient’s health journey at IFM’s upcoming Cardiometabolic Advanced Practice Module (APM).
- Fu J, Bonder MJ, Cenit MC, et al. The gut microbiome contributes to a substantial proportion of the variation in blood lipids. Circ Res. 2015;117(9):817-824. doi:10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.115.306807.
- Li J, Zhao F, Wang Y, et al. Gut microbiota dysbiosis contributes to the development of hypertension. Microbiome. 2017;5(1):14. doi:10.1186/s40168-016-0222-x.
- Kootte RS, Levin E, Salojärvi J, et al. Improvement of insulin sensitivity after lean donor feces in metabolic syndrome Is driven by baseline intestinal microbiota composition. Cell Metab. 2017;26(4):611-619. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2017.09.008.
- Tang W, Kitai T, Hazen SL. Gut microbiota in cardiovascular health and disease. Circ Res. 2017;120(7):1183-1196. doi:10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.117.309715.
- Tang W, Hazen SL. The gut microbiome and its role in cardiovascular diseases. Circulation. 2017;135(11):1008-1010. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.116.024251.
- Ottosson F, Brunkwall L, Smith E, et al. The gut microbiota-related metabolite phenylacetylglutamine associates with increased risk of incident coronary artery disease. J Hypertens. 2020;38(12):2427-2434. doi:10.1097/HJH.0000000000002569.
- Tilg H, Zmora N, Adolph TE, Elinav E. The intestinal microbiota fuelling metabolic inflammation. Nat Rev Immunol. 2019;20(1):40-54. doi:10.1038/s41577-019-0198-4.
- Org E, Blum Y, Kasela S, et al. Relationships between gut microbiota, plasma metabolites, and metabolic syndrome traits in the METSIM cohort. Genome Biol. 2017;18(1):70. doi:10.1186/s13059-017-1194-2.
- Abbasalizad Farhangi M, Vajdi M. Gut microbiota–associated trimethylamine N-oxide and increased cardiometabolic risk in adults: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis. Nutr Rev. 2021;79(9):1022-1042. doi:10.1093/nutrit/nuaa111.
- Guasti L, Galliazzo S, Molaro M, et al. TMAO as a biomarker of cardiovascular events: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Intern Emerg Med. 2021;16(1):201-207. doi:10.1007/s11739-020-02470-5.
- Brown JM, Hazen SL. Microbial modulation of cardiovascular disease. Nat Rev Microbiol. 2018;16(3):171-181. doi:10.1038/nrmicro.2017.149.
- Pedersen HK, Gudmundsdottir V, Nielsen HB, et al. Human gut microbes impact host serum metabolome and insulin sensitivity. Nature. 2016;535(7612):376-381. doi:10.1038/nature18646.
- Menni C, Lin C, Cecelja M, et al. Gut microbial diversity is associated with lower arterial stiffness in women. Eur Heart J. 2018;39(25):2390-2397. doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehy226.
- David LA, Maurice CF, Carmody RN, et al. Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome. Nature. 2014;505(7484):559-563. doi:10.1038/nature12820.
- Bennett BJ, Hall KD, Hu FB, McCartney AL, Roberto C. Nutrition and the science of disease prevention: a systems approach to support metabolic health. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2015;1352(1):1-12. doi:10.1111/nyas.12945.
- Attaye I, Pinto-Sietsma SJ, Herrema H, Nieuwdorp M. A crucial role for diet in the relationship between gut microbiota and cardiometabolic disease. Annu Rev Med. 2020;71(1):149-161. doi:10.1146/annurev-med-062218-023720.
- Vetrani C, Maukonen J, Bozzetto L, et al. Diets naturally rich in polyphenols and/or long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids differently affect microbiota composition in high-cardiometabolic-risk individuals. Acta Diabetol. 2020;57(7):853-860. doi:10.1007/s00592-020-01494-9.
- Louis-Jean S, Martirosyan D. Nutritionally attenuating the human gut microbiome to prevent and manage metabolic syndrome. J Agric Food Chem. 2019;67(46):12675-12684. doi:10.1021/acs.jafc.9b04879.