It is well established that high cholesterol is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease and now scientists have shown that cholesterol metabolism is regulated by bacteria in the small intestine.
Cholesterol is mainly synthesised in the body but it is also obtained through the diet. Cholesterol is converted to bile acids in the liver which are then secreted into the intestine and either removed from the body or recycled back to the liver.
Gut bacteria is shown to reduce bile acid synthesis in the liver by signalling through a protein known as the FXR receptor in the small intestine. It is not just cholesterol metabolism that gut bacteria are involved with; they also appear to play a role in the body’s metabolism of fat and sugar. This leads scientists to believe that they will be able to develop an effective treatment for heart disease, diabetes and obesity by targeting gut bacteria and the mechanism by which it regulates cholesterol metabolism.
Backhed F, et al., Gut Microbiota Regulates Bile Acid Metabolism by Reducing the Levels of Tauro-beta-Muricholic Acid, A naturally Occurring FXR Antagonist, Cell Metabolism, 2013, 17(2): 225-35.