The discovery may represent a potential new therapeutic approach for the prevention of heart disease, as well as other metabolic diseases linked to gut microbes, such as diabetes, researchers said.

The new approach demonstrated by researchers from Cleveland Clinic in US centres around the research team's previous discovery that TMAO (trimethylamine N-oxide), a byproduct formed in the gut during digestion of animal fats, is linked to atherosclerosis and heart disease.

The link between TMAO, gut microbes and heart disease was first discovered four years ago by the same team, led by Stanley Hazen, from the Cleveland Clinic.

TMAO is a gut metabolite formed during the digestion of the nutrients choline, phosphatidylcholine (lecithin) and carnitine, which are abundant in animal products.

Blood TMAO levels are associated with heightened risk of heart attacks, stroke and death in clinical studies Carnitine is abundant in red meat and liver, while choline and lecithin are abundant in beef, lamb, liver, egg yolk and high-fat dairy products.

The study suggests that targeted inhibition of the first step in TMAO generation, commensal microbial trimethylamine (TMA) production, can help to prevent diet-induced atherosclerosis.

The study was published journal Cell.

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