Thousands of heart attack victim every year have none of the notorious risk factors before their crisis-- not high cholesterol, not unhealthy triglycerides. The search for mysterious culprits turned up some surprising suspects: the trillions of bacteria and other microbes living in the human gut.
Scientists have discovered that some of the bugs turn lecithin -- a nutrient found in egg yolks, liver, beef, pork and what germ -- into an artery-clogging compound called trimethylamine-N-oxide or TMAO. They also found that blood levels of TMAO predict heart attack, stroke or death, and do so "independent of other risk factors," said Dr. Stanley Hazen, chairman of cellular and molecular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic.
The study joins a growing list of findings that link human "microbiota" -- microbes in the gut, nose and genital tract, and on the skin -- to health and disease.
Do high levels of TMAO predict heart attack and strokes in people many years out?
Hazen and his colleagues had 40 healthy adults eat two hard-boiled eggs, which contain lots of lecithin. TMAO levels in the blood rose. After a week of antibiotics, however, the TMAO levels barely budged after they ate eggs, researchers reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.