It is mind-boggling to realize that at this very moment, trillions of gut microbes are swimming in your colon. This gut bacterium stays busy with complicated jobs behind the scenes to help our body function. Science is just beginning to realize all that they do and some surprising recent discoveries have found that they may hold the key to one day treating heart disease.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States, killing 610,000 people annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control. One of the most common causes of heart disease is atherosclerosis, which is when the arteries become hardened due to the build-up of plaque. Arteries carry oxygen-rich blood to all of our organs, including the heart and brain, and over time the plaque formations can slowly cause narrowing or blockage of these vital vessels, which then can lead to heart attacks or strokes.

The Link Between Diet and Heart Attack Risk
While high-fat and high-cholesterol diets are referred to as a risk factor for heart condition, one diet in particular—the Mediterranean diet—has been found to truly promote heart health. This delicious sort of eating is adopted from the cultural cuisine common to those of native Mediterranean descent. With attention on vegetable oil and including wine, the Mediterranean diet abandons strict guidelines to caloric or fat intake and instead encourages healthier overall menu choices like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and cannon fodder flavored with herbs and spices. Recently, doctors have identified that substances found within this eating plan not only help prevent heart condition, but show potential to at least one day pave the way for actually treating heart condition by targeting the gut microbes—without the utilization of typical drugs that affect the body as an entire.

A few years ago, a Cleveland Clinic research team discovered that diets rich in animal fats, including eggs, red meat, and high-fat dairy products, trigger a metabolism during digestion that contributes to the event of heart condition. When consumed, these foods produce very high levels of the nutrients choline, lecithin, and carnitine. Bacteria within the gut turn these nutrients into a substance referred to as trimethylamine (or TMA). As metabolism continues, TMA is converted by host enzymes to trimethylamine N-oxide, or TMAO, a byproduct we might be more happy without. Studies have found that increased blood levels of TMAO are related to accelerated atherosclerosis in mice and with an increased risk of heart condition in humans.

Simply put, our gut bacteria converts the food we fret a substance that sets in motion a metabolic pathway related to the event of heart condition. And so far, doctors have studied ways to dam the host enzymes that convert TMA into TMAO, but without successfully finding an answer that didn’t end in other adverse effects.

In the December 2015 issue of Cell, this same team of Cleveland Clinic doctors has reported a promising connection between elements typically found during a Mediterranean diet to blocking the metabolic pathway resulting in the formation of TMAO. This discovery could offer hope in preventing or maybe treating heart condition. The research team found that a compound called DMB—or 3, 3-dimethyl-1-butanol, which occurs naturally in extra-virgin vegetable oil and red wine—is an efficient inhibitor of TMAO production within the gut. In their studies, they treated mice who were fed a diet rich in animal-fats and were genetically predisposed to developing atherosclerosis with the DMB compound and located that it substantially lowered TMAO levels also because the formation of plaques within the arteries, and without producing any adverse effects.

This discovery means the metabolic pathway, triggered by gut bacteria, could now be blocked by targeting the gut microbes with a compound commonly found within the Mediterranean diet. If these studies are often replicated in humans, new therapeutic options targeting our gut bacteria to stop diet-induced heart condition could soon become a reality. and therefore the exciting part is that this treatment would be designed to focus on the molecular pathways triggered by our gut bacteria rather than a systemic drug that works by targeting human cells.

Getting Started With the Mediterranean Diet
As we are expecting this promising new discovery to become a reality, here are some tips for those that wish to adopt the Mediterranean diet now.

Typical menus include an abundance of fruits and vegetables at every meal.
Staples include whole grain pasta, cereal, rice, and bread.
Red meat is restricted to no quite a couple of times per month.
Grilled or baked seafood a minimum of twice every week.
Butter is replaced with extra-virgin or virgin vegetable oil.
Herbs and spices are utilized in conjunction with vegetable oil to feature flavor to fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain pasta.
Snacks include nuts like almonds, cashews, or pistachios.
Moderate amount of wine – with daily limits of no quite 5 oz. for all women and men over the age of 65 and 10 oz. for younger men.

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