A new study published by researchers from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden suggests that mouth and intestinal bacteria can influence the outcome of atherosclerosis - the first, necessary step for heart disease to occur.
Some of the diseases that may develop as a result of atherosclerosis include coronary heart disease, angina (chest pain), carotid artery disease, peripheral artery disease (PAD) and chronic kidney disease.
While the causes of atherosclerosis have recently become clearer, health experts are still unsure as to why atherosclerotic plaque in arteries rupture, contributing to clot formation. They know that inflammation increases the risk of plaque rupture in arteries, but they are not quite sure why and how.
Recent research has shown that our gut flora changes during obesity, which can eventually lead to cardiovascular disease. Poor dental health and periodontitis have also been linked to atherosclerosis - indicating that mouth or gut bacteria could be responsible.
First, the study authors found that the number of bacteria in atherosclerotic plaques corresponded to the number of white blood cells - which is a typical measure of inflammation.
Next they examined the composition of the bacteria in the mouth, gut and arterial plaque of 15 patients, as well as in the mouth and gut of 15 healthy control subjects. They found several bacteria in atherosclerotic plaques as well as in the mouth and gut - for example, the bacteria Pseudomonas luteola and Chlamydia pneumoniae were present in all plaques.
These results suggest that these and perhaps other bacteria can enter the body through the mouth and gut and end up in atherosclerotic plaques in arteries - perhaps contributing to inflammation and plaque rupture.
In fact, some of the mouth and gut bacteria found in this study had previously been associated with cardiovascular disease.
The finding that the same bacteria exist in atherosclerotic plaques as well as in the mouth and gut of the same individuals paves the way for new diagnosis and treatment strategies - although larger studies are needed to establish a direct causal relationship between the bacteria, atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.