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Bacteria tied to heart disease

Researchers find that components in eggs and beef cause gut bacteria to produce a compound that may increase heart disease risk.


Turns out what you eat may not only be a factor in determining your risk for heart disease—how your gut bacteria digests it may play a role, too. And yet again, eggs just can’t catch a break.

A study published in Wednesday’s New England Journal of Medicine, found that lecithin—abundant in egg yolks—can cause intestinal bacteria and increase a person’s risk of heart disease.

Two weeks ago, another report said that carnitine, a compound found in red meat, can increase heart disease risk due to the actions of intestinal bacteria.

When the body digests lecithin, it breaks it into parts including the chemical, choline. Intestinal bacteria metabolize choline and release a substance that the liver converts to trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO). Scientists have linked high TMAO levels to increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

The studies are important because they point to gut bacteria’s role in the disease, not just diet as previously scrutinized.

“Heart disease perhaps involves microbes in our gut,” said the study’s lead researcher, Dr. Stanley Hazen, chairman of the department of cellular and molecular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute.

The results also reinforce existing recommendations for lowering heart disease risk, which include avoiding high-fat foods.

Hazen says that researchers could, in the future, develop a drug to stop TMAO production, which could be a “whole new pathway” to beat heart disease.

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