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Gut bacteria may affect weight, fat, good cholesterol levels

A new study reveals the roles microorganisms in the human body play in heart disease.

By Stephen Feller
Researchers identified 34 microorganisms in the human gut that play a role in weight and body fat. Photo by bikeriderlondon/Shutterstock
Researchers identified 34 microorganisms in the human gut that play a role in weight and body fat. Photo by bikeriderlondon/Shutterstock

GRONINGEN, Netherlands, Sept. 11 (UPI) -- Researchers identified bacteria in the gut that may play a role in body fat and good cholesterol, which may help lead to new therapies that prevent the development of heart disease.

The bacteria are part of the microbiome, microorganisms in the body that are essential to many of its functions, which is sometimes referred to as the body's extra, or "forgotten," organ. Previous research has shown the microbiome plays a role in everything from digestion to the immune system.

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There are 10 times more microbial cells than human cells in the body, however they only account for between 1 and 3 percent of body weight, according to the National Institutes of Health.

"As less than 30 percent of bacteria in the human gut have been cultured, we know very little about who they are and what they do," said Dr. Jingyuan Fu, an associate professor of genetics at University Medical Center Groningen, in a press release. "With state-of-art deep sequencing technology, we are now able to identify them."

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Researchers studied the relationship between the microbiome and blood lipid levels in 893 people using data collected in the Netherlands as part of the LifeLines-DEEP population cohort study.

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They found 34 different bacteria contributed to differences in body mass index and blood lipids such as triglycerides and high-density lipoproteins, or good cholesterol. The results showed that bacteria were involved in 4.6 percent of the difference in body fat, 6 percent of the difference in triglycerides and 4 percent of the difference in HDL.

Researchers said their hope is for the identification of the bacteria to aid in the development of treatments to prevent heart disease.

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"Our study provides new evidence that microbes in the gut are strongly linked to the blood level of HDL and triglycerides and may be added as a new risk factor for abnormal blood lipids, in addition to age, gender, BMI and genetics," Fu said.

The study is published in Circulation Research.

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