Research Links Protein, Gut Bacteria and Heart Disease

A new study shows the link between protein and heart heath happens in the gut.

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CLEVELAND – For years, we’ve heard what you eat can affect your heart health

A new study is helping to explain why.

The study, led by Stanley Hazen, M.D. Ph.D., of Cleveland Clinic, shows the link between protein and heart heath happens in the gut.

“We are what we eat, and this helps explain how different people who eat the same kind of meals might experience, and be at higher risk for, heart disease than someone else,” said Dr. Hazen.

Researchers discovered a chemical named phenylacetylglutamine (PAG), which predicts risk for heart disease.

PAG, which is produced by bacteria in the gut as it digests protein – like meat, beans and soy -eventually shows up in the blood.

The study looked at more than 5,000 patients over three years.

Researchers found people with high levels of PAG in their blood were more likely to develop blood clots, which can cause a heart attack, stroke or death.

However, Dr. Hazen admits people need protein in their diets, therefore changing our diets won’t affect our PAG levels.

“We can’t really change our diet to prevent getting this,” he said. “It has to do with what the microbes in your gut are and whether or not you make this metabolite.”

Researchers found a common blood pressure medication, beta blockers, stopped the negative effects of PAG on the body.

Dr. Hazen believes this discovery could lead to new testing at the doctor’s office.

In the future, a simple blood test could potentially help decide what type of blood pressure medication a person needs to take. 

Complete results of the study are available in Cell.


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