A recent prospective cohort study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology has found that a primarily plant-based diet can decrease your risk of heart disease through beneficial changes to the gut microbiome.
The body’s gut microbiota is comprised of a series of microbes that play an important role in metabolism, nutrient absorption, energy levels and immune response.
A gut-microbiota related metabolite known as trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) is produced when gut bacteria digests nutrients commonly found in animal products such as red meat.
It has been connected to increased heart attack and coronary heart disease (CHD) risk.
Maintaining a vegan or vegetarian diet has been found to reduce the amount of TMAO produced in the body.
According to the study’s senior author and Tulane University Obesity Research Centre Director, Dr Lu Qi, MD, “diet is one of the most important modifiable risk factors to control TMAO levels in the body”.
“Our findings show that decreasing TMAO levels may contribute to reducing the risk of CHD, and suggest that gut-microbiomes may be new areas to explore in heart disease prevention.”
They study examined 760 women in the Nurses’ Health Study. Data on dietary patterns, smoking habits and physical activity, plus other demographic data was self-reported. Blood samples were taken at Cleveland Clinic on two occasions, 10 years apart.
The risk of CHD was calculated by changes in TMAO levels in the body throughout the follow-up period.
Assessing TMAO levels relies on diet and nutrient intake; the researchers investigated how diet quality modifies the association between TMAO and CHD.
Women who developed CHD had higher concentrations of TMAO levels, higher BMI, family history of heart attack and did not follow a healthy diet including higher intake of vegetables and lower intake of animal products.
Women with the largest increases in TMAO levels across the study had a 67% higher risk of CHD.
Professor of Medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine, Dr Paul A. Heidenreich, MD, MS, adds: “The findings of the study provide further evidence for the role of TMAO as a predictive biomarker for heart disease and strengthens the case for TMAO as a potential intervention target in heart disease prevention.
“The results should encourage us to continue to advocate for a more widespread adoption of healthy eating patterns.”
For further information or to read the research paper, visit: sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0735109719387595?via%3Dihub