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34 Types of Bacteria Associated with Cholesterol Levels and BMI

A study that included 893 Dutch adults has identified a potential relationship between the bacteria living in the gut and metabolic health.

Gut flora are thought to have an impact on various disease states such as dyslipidemia, diabetes, asthma, and obesity. The study authors claim that this is the first published study with a solid link between gut flora and cholesterol levels. The adults included in the study ranged from the ages of 18 to 80. Their intestinal microbiomes were ascertained via analysis of fecal samples.

The gut microbiome includes trillions of microorganisms that reside in the human gut. The microflora in the gut directly impact human health because they contribute to digestion, immune health, intercellular messaging, and drug metabolism. Precise links between gut microflora and health are not yet known, but it is suspected that a lack of diversity in the gut microbiome can negatively impact health. Several things can contribute to a lack of microbiome diversity. C-sections may lower microbiome diversity in newborns, while breastfeeding can increase microbiome diversity. There is also a link between diet and gut microbiome changes; for instance, diets high in processed foods can result in decreased diversity.

The study authors were able to identify 34 different species of bacteria that they linked to cholesterol levels and BMI of patients. They connected the bacteria to a change between 4 to 6 percent in BMI, HDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. The exact nature of the relationship between these alterations and the bacteria is unknown. The bacteria themselves could directly impact BMI and cholesterol, or the bacterial composition of the gut microbiome may be the result of BMI and cholesterol changes. Several of the bacterial species have previously been linked to the metabolism of bile acids, which can impact cholesterol levels.

While the specifics of how the microbiome flora affect health are unknown, this research demonstrates the potential importance of further studying the relationship. Until there is more information on the ways that diet can impact gut flora, the study authors recommend that patients eat a diet of fruits, vegetables, fiber, and unprocessed foods to support heart health.

Practice Pearls:

  • There are trillions of bacteria living the gut that are thought to impact our health.
  • A study of Dutch adults identified 34 different bacteria in the gut microbiome that were associated with changes in BMI and cholesterol levels.
  • The precise relationship between microflora in the gut and health is unknown, as are the specifics of what constitute a healthy gut microbiome. Diet is thought to influence the composition of the gut microbiome.

Norton A. “Gut Bugs May Affect Body Fat, ‘Good’ Cholesterol.” The findings, published online Sept. 10 in the journal Circulation. Published September 10, 2015.