The animal study – published online in the FASEB Journal – suggests that the types and levels of bacteria in the intestines could be used to predict the likelihood of having a heart attack, and that manipulating the microflora via dietary interventions could help to reduce heart attack risk.
The authors of the research, led by Dr John Baker from the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, USA, said that their discovery suggests that probiotics may be able to protect the heart in people who are undergoing surgery. They added that the findings could also lead to new diagnostic tests and therapies that may help to prevent and treat heart attacks.
"Our discovery is a revolutionary milestone in the prevention and treatment of heart attacks," said Baker.
"The biochemical link between intestinal bacteria, their metabolites, and injury to the heart will reduce the risk of death from a heart attack and, coupled with the use of probiotics, will ultimately be able to improve the overall cardiovascular health of the human population,” he suggested.
Commenting on the research, Dr Gerald Weissman, editor-in-chief of the FASEB Journal explained that the research has added to the knowledge of how gut bacteria may affect health.
"Just as physicians use cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and overall body composition as measures of heart disease risk, we may soon evaluate our body's susceptibility to disease by looking at the microbes that inhabit the gut," he explained.
Baker and his team said that their proof-of-concept study “is the first to identify a mechanistic link between changes in intestinal microbiota and myocardial infarction.” They said the results demonstrate that “a probiotic supplement can reduce myocardial infarct size.”
Weissman commented that whilst "we may not be ready to prescribe yogurt to prevent heart attacks,” the research does give a better understanding of how gut bacteria affect our health and responses to injury.
In the study, Baker and his colleagues conducted experiments involving three groups of rats. The first group was fed a standard diet. The second group was treated orally with the antibiotic vancomycin in the drinking water. The third group was fed a collercially probiotic supplement (Goodbelly – NextFoods, USA) that contains Lactobacillus plantarum – a probiotic bacteria that suppresses the production of leptin (a protein hormone that plays a key role in appetite and metabolism).
The group treated with the antibiotic were found to have decreased levels of leptin (by 38%), which resulted in less severe heart attacks (27% reduction), and improved recovery of mechanical function (35%) compared to the group fed a standard diet.
Rats fed the commercially available probiotic – containing the leptin-suppressing bacteria Lactobacillus plantarum 299v – also resulted in decreased circulating leptin levels (by 41%), smaller myocardial infarcts (29% reduction), and improved mechanical function (23%).
Source: FASEB Journal
Published online ahead of print, doi:10.1096/fj.11-197921fj.11-197921
“Intestinal microbiota determine severity of myocardial infarction in rats”
Authors: V. Lam, J. Su, S. Koprowski, A. Hsu, J.S. Tweddell, et al