Over the last decade, research on the human microbiome has become increasingly prevalent. Researchers are understanding the importance of the microbes in our gastrointestinal tract and the role they play in the presence or absence of diseases such as irritable bowel disease, obesity, and more recently, cardiovascular disease. Wilson Tang and associates at Lerner Research Institute published their groundbreaking findings in a recent issue of Circulation Research where they were able to show a definite link between the bacterial composition of the gut and atherosclerosis, hypertension, and heart failure.

The gut microbiome, also known as the gut microbiota, in simplest terms is a description of the composition of the bacteria that live in the gut of an organism that help the organism live and perform day to day metabolic functions. When there is a change in the composition of these bacteria, there can be severe health-related consequences for the organism. Recently, Tang and his colleagues discovered that cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis, hypertension, and heart failure could be among a few detrimental side effects of having an imbalance in the gut microbiota.

Atherosclerosis, or the buildup of plaque in the walls of the arteries, was most closely associated with an increase in Lactobacilli and a decrease in Roseburiam whereas hypertension, or high blood pressure, was associated with an increase in the Firmicutes and Bacteroides ratio. Finally, heart failure was closely linked to an increase in Escherichia coli and Streptococcus viridans. Because these diseases were correlated with unique bacterial organisms, it may be possible in the future to easily detect, prevent, and treat such maladies based on information known about a patient’s gut microbial composition. This type of research is just the beginning to uncovering the beauty and complexity of our newest ‘multifunctional organ’, otherwise known as the gut microbiome.

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