Going on a plant-based diet reduces the risk of coronary heart disease risk, research finds.
This is because the consumption of animal products causes some damage to the gut microbiome.
The gut flora or gut microbiome is a complex system in which micro-organisms, including bacteria, live together and work in harmony.
These microbes are important and help our immune system and our metabolism in order to convert food to energy and absorb nutrients.
When we eat animal products such as red meat, as part of the digestive process gut bacteria produce a substance called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO).
TMAO has been shown to increase the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) and heart attack.
Changing to a vegetarian or vegan diet and maintaining it would diminish the TMAO levels in the body.
A study of 760 healthy women over a 10-year period found that high levels of TMAO in the blood increase the odds of CHD.
Participants who were omnivorous and had elevated TMAO levels were at a 67 percent greater risk of CHD.
For every additional increase in TMAO there was a 23 percent increase risk of developing CHD.
But the research team noticed that by changing the dietary pattern to higher intake of vegetables and cutting down animal foods TMAO levels were considerably reduced.
Dr Lu Qi, the study’s senior author, said:
“Diet is one of the most important modifiable risk factors to control TMAO levels in the body.
No previous prospective cohort study has addressed whether long-term changes in TMAO are associated with CHD, and whether dietary intakes can modify these associations.
Our findings show that decreasing TMAO levels may contribute to reducing the risk of CHD, and suggest that gut-microbiomes may be new areas to explore in heart disease prevention.”
About the author
Mina Dean is a Nutritionist and Food Scientist. She holds a BSc in Human Nutrition and an MSc in Food Science.
The study was published in Journal of the American College of Cardiology (Heianza et al., 2020).