Certain Gut Bacteria May Help Lower Risk of Heart Disease, Study Finds


New research suggests that microbes in the gut could be related to cardiovascular health. The study, published in Cell, identified specific gut bacteria that may help lower cholesterol and reduce heart disease risk.

For the investigation, researchers from the Broad Institute of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard, and Massachusetts General Hospital used data from over 1,400 participants in the Framingham Heart Study to analyze metabolites and microbial genomes. They discovered that a group of bacteria known as Oscillibacter metabolizes cholesterol, correlating with lower cholesterol levels in hosts.

"Our research integrates findings from human subjects with experimental validation, offering actionable insights to potentially improve cardiovascular health," explained Ramnik Xavier, MD, a core member at the Broad Institute and a professor at Harvard Medical School.

The study combined advanced genetic sequencing and metabolomic analysis techniques to examine stool samples, revealing over 16,000 microbe-metabolite associations. The results showed that the Oscillibacter species were abundant in the gut, comprising roughly one in every 100 bacteria.

The researchers then grew Oscillibacter bacteria in the lab, allowing them to identify the biochemical pathways used to break down cholesterol. Through mass spectrometry, they determined that Oscillibacter converts cholesterol into intermediates that other bacteria can further break down and excrete.

Additionally, the investigators found another species, Eubacterium coprostanoligenes, that aids in reducing cholesterol levels, suggesting potential synergistic effects between different bacterial species in managing cholesterol.

Chenhao Li, a postdoctoral researcher in Xavier's lab, emphasized the broader implications of their findings. "Many clinical studies are exploring fecal microbiome transfers with limited success due to a lack of understanding of microbial interactions,” said Li. “Our study provides a systematic approach that could lead to more effective therapeutic strategies.”

According to the study’s authors, this research paves the way for new therapeutic avenues targeting the gut microbiome to combat cardiovascular disease, offering hope for more precise and effective treatments in the future.