Could Your Gut Be The Secret To Curing High Cholesterol? A New Study Explains

Keeping an eye on your cholesterol levels is more important than you think. You could have high cholesterol and not even know it, so you'll need to get your cholesterol levels checked every 4 to 6 years. Untreated high cholesterol can lead to heart problems and increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke. About one in four people over 20 in the United States have total cholesterol levels over 200, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even 20% of adolescents can have unhealthy cholesterol levels.

Even though a healthy diet, regular exercise, and quitting smoking can help lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease, sometimes that's not enough to manage your cholesterol. More than half of people choose to take medication to reduce their cholesterol levels. Now, researchers are looking to your gut to control your cholesterol. A 2024 study in Cell found that a certain group of gut bacteria is connected to lower cholesterol levels.

Studying the microbiome's role in cholesterol

The study looked at genetic material and metabolites in stool samples from more than 1,400 people, noting the connection between cholesterol and cardiovascular health. The researchers identified the presence of Oscillibacter bacteria as being linked with reduced cholesterol. Then, the researchers used deep-learning technology to study how specific genes in the bacteria affect cholesterol. These genes make proteins that are similar to genes that process cholesterol. A 2020 study in Cell Host and Microbe had previously identified a specific enzyme that changes cholesterol to a cholesterol metabolite that is shuttled out of your body through your poop.

In the future, the bacteria or the enzymes themselves could be added to the gut so that people taking statins or other cholesterol-lowering drugs could reduce their medication. However, sometimes people's current gut microbiome might not have room for good bacteria. According to a news release about the study, it might be a long time before these probiotic treatments are developed.

Your gut and disease

Your health is linked to your gut microbiome, according to a 2020 article in Toxics. Toxic chemicals in the environment, such as pesticides and heavy metals, can affect the gut microbiome. Food additives, such as artificial sweeteners, aren't processed well by your body, and some can lead to glucose intolerance and inflammation. When these toxins enter the body, they can disrupt the diversity of bacteria in the gut. As gut diversity becomes imbalanced, it can affect your body's ability to extract energy from food and disrupt the production of metabolites like short-chain fatty acids that are linked with health. A lack of gut bacteria diversity is also linked to diabetes, obesity, digestive issues, and brain health.

You have trillions of microorganisms living in your gut, and some of the species of bacteria are harmful while others are linked to better health. The greater the diversity of bacteria, the better. You can improve your gut health by cutting back on sugary and processed foods while eating high-fiber foods. According to Healthline, eating garlic, fermented foods, and collagen-boosting foods will also benefit your gut.