Plant-based diets may change gut bacteria to protect heart health

It's no secret that one's diet has a big impact on their gut microbiome, shaping which bacteria strains are present and their quantities. Certain bacteria have been linked with protective effects, including beneficial changes related to everything from mental health to inflammation, body weight, and even heart health. Eating a mostly plant-based diet, it turns out, may help boost the bacteria that protect heart health.

The latest study was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology; it details the potential heart health benefits that come from eating a plant-based diet, particularly the gut bacteria linking the two. At the heart of the matter is a metabolite called TMAO that is produced by the gut bacteria that break down red meat and other animal products.

TMAO has been linked to an increased risk of developing heart disease and suffering from a heart attack, according to the study. By eliminating or greatly reducing the number of animal products in one's diet, the researchers found that TMAO resulting from gut bacteria is also reduced, helping eliminate the risk associated with the metabolite.

The study involved data on 760 women who had participated in the Nurses' Health Study, all of whom provided lifestyle information as well as blood samples a decade apart. After narrowing down the data, the researchers found that women who developed coronary heart disease during that time period also had higher amounts of TMAO in their blood, as well as poorer diets, higher BMIs, and a family history of heart attack.

Ultimately, the study found that participants who had the greatest increases in TMAO level during the study also had a 67-percent higher risk of developing coronary artery disease. The study's senior author Lu Qi, MD, explained, "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."