Manipulating the activity of the gut microbiome has been linked to reducing the risk for cardiovascular disease like stroke and atherosclerosis. A team of researchers from the Cleveland Clinic published their results from this study in Cell
Atherosclerosis risk can be increased by eating meat and dairy products with high amounts of choline and carnitine. These nutrients alone are not damaging to the arteries, but “gut microbes convert these nutrients into a compound called trimethylamine (TMA), which in turn is converted by host enzymes into a metabolite called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO).” These metabolites then increase the risk for heart disease like atherosclerosis.
In the past, scientists attempted to reduce risk produced in situations like this by preventing transition of TMA into TMAO. After TMA build-up caused negative side effects, scientists knew this wouldn’t be a viable option. This led the team from the Cleveland Clinic to try halting the reaction from the gut microbe angle instead.
Researchers from the team identified 3,3-dimethyl-1-butanol (DMB), which is “naturally abundant in some cold-pressed extra virgin olive oils, balsamic vinegars, and grape seed oils” that inhibits choline production via gut microbes and choline.
“In mice that were on a choline rich diet and genetically predisposed to atherosclerosis, DMB treatment substantially lowered TMAO levels and inhibited the formation of arterial plaques without producing toxic effects,” the team reported.
Fortunately, DMB could inhibit TMA production effectively without killing the gut microbes, which was important to the team.
"There should be less selective pressure for the development of resistance against a nonlethal drug than an antibiotic," Hazen said.
In addition, since the potential DMB-based drug would be targeting the gut bacteria instead of human cells, it could be used as an entirely new approach to treating cardiovascular and metabolic disease.