A new study found that resveratrol, a polyphenolic compound found in red wine and the skin of berries, reduces the risk of heart disease by changing the gut microbiome. [NIH]
A new study found that resveratrol, a polyphenolic compound found in red wine and the skin of berries, reduces the risk of heart disease by changing the gut microbiome. [NIH]

Could your daily tipple of fermented grape juice help to prevent cardiovascular disease? While this is a question scientists have seemingly asked for a few decades—with data often providing ambiguous results—researchers are just now beginning to learn the specific molecular mechanisms that may be providing possible cardioprotective effects.    

A new study from investigators in China describes how the compound resveratrol, a polyphenolic molecule naturally found in the skin of grapes and other berries, reduces the risk of heart disease by changing the gut microbiome. 

“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,” explained senior study author Man-tian Mi, Ph.D., scientist at the Research Center for Nutrition and Food Safety, Institute of Military Preventive Medicine, Third Military Medical University, Chongqing, China.

The findings from this study were published recently in mBio in an article entitled “Resveratrol Attenuates Trimethylamine-N-Oxide (TMAO)-Induced Atherosclerosis by Regulating TMAO Synthesis and Bile Acid Metabolism via Remodeling of the Gut Microbiota.”

Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death in industrialized societies, with the incidence growing in developing countries. In recent years, researchers have learned that the gut microbiome plays a pivotal role in the buildup of plaque inside arteries, otherwise known as atherosclerosis. Resveratrol has been thought to have antioxidant properties that protect against conditions such as heart disease. However, researchers were unclear as to the exact mechanisms for this occurrence. 

In this new study, the research team hypothesized that the protective effect of resveratrol against atherosclerosis was related to changes in the gut microbiome. Consequently, the scientists used a mouse model to conduct their experiments and determine if their supposition was accurate. The team found that resveratrol reduces levels of trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO), a known contributor to the development of atherosclerosis. They also found that resveratrol inhibits trimethylamine (TMA) production by gut bacteria—TMA is necessary for the production of TMAO.

“In our current study, we found that resveratrol can remodel the gut microbiota including increasing the Bacteroidetes-to-Firmicutes ratios, significantly inhibiting the growth of Prevotella, and increasing the relative abundance of Bacteroides, Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Akkermansia in mice,” noted Dr. Mi. “Resveratrol reduces TMAO levels by inhibiting the gut microbial TMA formation via remodeling gut microbiota.”

Interestingly, another recent study came to a similar conclusion about the inhibition of TMA and reduced levels of TMAO, while looking at novel compounds found in Mediterranean diets.

Taken together the results of this study suggest that a natural polyphenol could be used as a treatment for cardiovascular disease, with little to no side effects. The researchers are looking at future steps to define further the role of resveratrol in cardiovascular disease and to replicate their findings in humans.