The bacteria associated with the human gastrointestinal (GI) tract have important effects on the whole body. There’s a long way to go, though, in understanding how those bacteria affect the development of major, common diseases. Those diseases include the leading cause of death in the United States – heart disease, and metabolic diseases, such as diabetes.
We can credit Dr. Sofia Forslund, head of the Host-Microbiome Factors in Cardiovascular Disease Lab at the Experimental and Clinical Research Center (ECRC), with leading the way in identifying the decisive roles of gut bacteria in cardiometabolic diseases. She and her colleagues are also examining the roles of prescribed drugs in these complex relationships.
The research is focused especially on coronary heart disease (CHD), in which the blood vessels that supply oxygen to the heart muscle are constricted. CHD is the most frequent cause of death in Western countries. The group’s work may create new pathways for preventing heart disease.
The researchers recruited 1,241 middle-aged Europeans for the study. Some subjects were healthy, some had CHD, and some had metabolic diseases, such as obesity or Type 2 diabetes.
The scientists analyzed the genetic information of all the microorganisms (the microbiome) that inhabited the GI tracts in the subjects. The molecules of the blood and urinary systems involved in metabolism (the metabolome) were also analyzed. Lifestyle factors and medication effects were considered in the analyses. The scientists found that about three-quarters of the microorganisms and molecular characteristics that distinguish people with CHD from healthy individuals are also present in people with metabolic diseases.
“This suggests that the microbiome and metabolome are altered long before cardiovascular disease, and the early stages of metabolic disease, are detected,” Forslund says in a statement.
That in turn, she says, strongly suggests that the microbiome is involved in the early pathogenesis of heart disease. The information gleaned from these studies may facilitate accurate diagnosis in the future.
“Many of the signatures we found are not specific to cardiovascular disease,” she adds, noting that additional research is still necessary. “As this is a cross-sectional study, we can’t determine causality but only associations.”
The study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.