The gut microbiome plays an important role in an individual's risk for atherosclerosis, one of the major causes of heart attack and stroke, says a study.
Atherosclerosis is a disease in which plaque builds up in the arteries.
The researchers believe that the new finding could open the door for new treatment options for those patients with unexplained plaque build-up in the arteries.
In order to understand the role that bacteria in the gut may play in atherosclerosis, the researchers examined blood levels of metabolic products of the intestinal microbiome.
They studied 316 people from different groups of patients, including those with unexplained atherosclerosis, who do not have any traditional risk factors but still have high levels of plaque burden.
"What we found was that patients with unexplained atherosclerosis had significantly higher blood levels of these toxic metabolites that are produced by the intestinal bacteria," said David Spence, Professor at Western University, London, Canada.
The researchers measured the build-up of plaque in the arteries using carotid ultrasound.
The study, published in the journal Atherosclerosis, noted that these differences could not be explained by diet or kidney function, pointing to a difference in the make-up of their intestinal bacteria.
"The finding, and studies we have performed since, present us with an opportunity to use probiotics to counter these compounds in the gut and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease," said Gregor Reid, Professor at Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at Western University.
Repopulation of the intestinal microbiome is another novel approach to treatment of atherosclerosis that arises from this study, Spence added.