Probiotics may play a role in preventing heart attacks, initial research shows, and may offer an option to add to healthy dieting, regular exercise, and making good choices like not smoking.
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women in the United States. Any weapon that can be put in the arsenal to fight the development of cardiovascular illness can be helpful. Probiotics have been well-studied for gastrointestinal disorders, but medical researchers are just beginning to delve into how gut bacteria plays a role in how the heart works.
Probiotics have been shown in some tests to lower LDL cholesterol, the "bad" cholesterol, according to a 2014 study on PubMed
. A specific strain of probiotics, Lactobacillus reuteri NCIMB 30242, was found to lower LDL-C and total cholesterol in effects that were similar to effects seen from changing the diet, and it also "improved other coronary heart disease risk factors, such as inflammatory biomarkers."
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In 2012, a rat study, published in the FAESB Journal and done by researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin
, found a distinct link between probiotics, gut bacteria, and heart attacks, finding that rats given a probiotic strain of Lactobacillus plantarum had less severe heart attacks, as well as better function after a heart attack. Further research at the college is seeking to identify the way that gut bacteria can be an indicator of heart disease and other illnesses.
"The link between gut bacteria and the severity of heart attacks may lead to novel approaches to prevent heart attacks from ever happening, as well as new diagnostic tests,” said Dr. John Baker, who led the initial study.
Links between gut bacteria and heart disease continue to be the focus of research, and it can be extrapolated that at some point, researchers will determine whether probiotics – which affect gut bacteria – can be helpful.
The "New England Journal of Medicine" in 2013 reported on a study exploring what factors besides cholesterol and saturated fats contribute to heart disease, NPR said
. In looking at the blood, they discovered that TMAO, a byproduct of food components like lecithin and L-carnitine, found in foods like red meats and eggs.
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When researcher Dr. Stanley Tazen measured fasting blood levels of TMAO in thousands of people and then followed them for three years, he found out that TMAO was a strong predictor of "who was at risk for experiencing a heart attack, stroke or death in that ensuing three-year period," NPR reported.
More research was needed, and Hazen wasn't even clear on where TMAO comes from. But he suspected it was a byproduct of gut bacteria breaking down foods. In further research, Hazen showed that gut bacteria was crucial to the TMAO production.
He speculated that a "probiotic approach" might alter the gut microbiota in such a way as to lower TMAO production.
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