Altering intestinal bacteria with probiotics improved rats' heart health

Probiotics--a crucial ingredient in yogurt and supplements that promotes healthy digestion--could someday play a role in helping to prevent and treat heart attacks.

A new finding by study author John Baker of Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and his team may make this possible. That's because Baker determined the level of intestinal bacteria in rats could affect the risk and the severity of heart attacks. And using probiotics appeared to help the rats' heart health recover.

While some early-stage research has explored the use of probiotics combined with polymers in a drug delivery capacity, the notion of connecting probiotics to heart health appears to be novel. The idea of altering the amount of intestinal bacteria for your heart's benefit is an intriguing one. It could certainly be a cost-effective option for many patients who would otherwise rely on expensive medication or other options. And probiotics are found not only in yogurt, but also in supplement capsules for sale at local grocery or health food stores. However, animal testing does not equal an instant elixir for people. A lot more testing will be needed to prove the finding's viability.

And as the research progresses, a question comes to mind: If probiotics prove to be so valuable in treating the heart, would the FDA step in and wield its considerable regulatory might for something currently available over-the-counter?

For Baker's research, it turns out the key involved decreasing levels of the protein hormone leptin, which affects appetite and metabolism. One of three groups of rats tested drank water laced with the antibiotic vancomycin, which reduced intestinal bacteria and fungi. Their leptin levels also declined. And those rats suffered smaller heart attacks and better mechanical function recovery than a group that ate regular rat food. But when researchers treated the rats with more leptin, they lost some of the antibiotic protection.

A third group of rats got to eat a probiotic with Lactobacillus plantarum, which also hammers down leptin production. Those rats also saw the numbers of bacteria and gut fungi change, but their leptin levels declined, too. They also faced smaller heart attacks and better mechanical recovery versus the rats that ate normally. In turn, leptin treatments reduced the probiotic protection.

The paper written by Baker and his team has been published online in The FASEB Journal.

- here's the release
- read the journal abstract