As you may know, if you have high levels of cholesterol—specifically LDL-cholesterol—you are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease. Cholesterol is mainly made in the body, but you can also get it from dietary sources. It is converted to bile acids (a major component of bile secretions) in the liver, which are then secreted into the intestine and either removed from the body or recycled back to the liver.
Now new research from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden shows that cholesterol metabolism is regulated by bacteria that live in our small intestine. This is an interesting development, as the influence of gut bacteria on human health and disease is of growing interest to health experts. Gut bacteria may reduce bile acid synthesis in the liver by signaling through a specific protein in the small intestine known as FXR, which not only affects cholesterol metabolism but is also involved in sugar and fat metabolism.
If future research is able to identify the specific bacterium that affects FXR signaling, it could lead to new ways to treat diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
In an earlier study, researchers at University College Cork in Ireland had shown that gut bacteria communicate with their host via a bacterial protein known as bile salt hydrolase to manage weight gain and cholesterol levels by changing the chemical properties of bile acids. The higher the levels of bile salt hydrolase in mice, the lower their cholesterol levels and the lesser their weight gain. In other words, bile acids act as signaling molecules and can influence host metabolism. If gut bacteria can influence this process, it can have significant consequences for their human hosts.
In the future, these findings may help with the selection of probiotics or dietary interventions relative to managing weight gain and high cholesterol, although more research is needed to understand exactly how this system works in humans.
Millions of Americans are at risk for cardiovascular disease because of high LDL-cholesterol levels. The current research shows that improving the beneficial gut bacteria with probiotics can offer a convenient and inexpensive way to lower this risk. Many people include probiotics in their daily diet by consuming foods such as yogurt and kefir, and by taking probiotic supplement.
There are many probiotic supplements on the market today, and some are offer an acid-proof delayed-release formula. Once in your intestines, delayed-release probiotics can deliver the living probiotics necessary to balance your gut bacteria quickly; and as studies show, this can benefit your cardiovascular health.