Studies show resveratrol, a plant compound found naturally in peanuts, grapes, some berries has antioxidant properties that may be protective against cardiovascular diseases (as well as cancer and even neurodegenerative conditions). But so far, researchers know little about how resveratrol exerts these specific effects on the body.
According to the findings of a new study led by Chinese scientists and published in mBio, an open-access journal published by the American Society for Microbiology, resveratrol was able to change the gut microbiota composition of mice and thus prevent the atherosclerosis that leads to cardiovascular diseases.
Chinese researchers, led by Dr. Man-Tian Mi, from the Research Center for Nutrition and Food Safety, Institute of Military Preventive Medicine, in Chongqing (China), wanted to know whether the protective effect of resveratrol against atherosclerosis was, in fact, related to changes in gut microbiota. The scientists saw that when resveratrol was given to mice, it induced a new shaping of the gut microbiota. This polyphenol increased the ratio of Bacteroidetes to Firmicutes, a configuration generally associated with a leaner physique. Moreover, resveratrol appeared to promote the growth of Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and Akkermansia, all of which are bacteria associated with a healthy gut.
All these changes in composition of the intestinal microbiota resulted in a decrease in the bacterial production of trimethylamine (TMA), which is a precursor to trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO)—an organic compound involved in the development of atherosclerosis. The final conclusion was that resveratrol indeed contributed to the reduction of TMAO blood levels in rodents and prevented the development of cardiovascular diseases.
Although these findings come from an animal-based study, the results open new routes for the human being. Cardiovascular diseases remain the leading cause of death in developed countries; it is responsible for 17.5 million deaths worldwide every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It’s possible that resveratrol, with its prebiotic effect, could be used as an efficient preventive treatment.
“Our results offer new insights into the mechanisms responsible for resveratrol’s anti-atherosclerosis effects and indicate that gut microbiota may become an interesting target for pharmacological or dietary interventions to decrease the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases”, states Man-Tian Mi in a press release.
Cristina Sáez Cristina Saez is a freelance science journalist. She works for several media, for instance the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia, where she coordinates the science section, Big Vang; as well as research centres and scientific societies. She has been awarded for her journalistic work, among others, with the Boehringer Ingelheim Award in Medical Journalism 2015. Follow Cristina on Twitter @saez_cristina