A team led by National Taiwan University (NTU) researchers yesterday announced a reagent test that can determine if a person’s gut microbiome allows for consumption of more red meat and eggs, aiming to make people more conscious of cardiometabolic disease risk factors.
Dubbed “the second brain,” gut microbiota is linked to metabolic, cardiovascular, immune and nervous system disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, autism and depression, NTU Hospital vice superintendent Wu Ming-shiang (吳明賢) told a news conference at the Ministry of Science and Technology in Taipei.
A metabolite generated by gut microbiota called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) has been identified as a key factor in cardiovascular diseases, he said.
Photo: Chien Hui-ju, Taipei Times
Consuming too much carnitine and choline from foods, such as red meat and eggs, might increase TMAO levels in the blood and urine, potentially causing artery hardening or platelet adhesion, Wu said.
However, not all people produce the same amount of TMAO, he said.
To allow people to better understand their “gut feeling,” Wu’s team developed an oral carnitine challenge test to tell if a person’s gut microbiota tends to produce more TMAO, providing a basis for personalized nutrition and precision medicine.
Test results are available within 24 to 48 hours after the subject takes the researchers’ reagent containing carnitine, Wu said, adding that their experiments found that omnivores are 10 times more likely to be “high producers” of TMAO than vegetarians.
The team has obtained patents in Taiwan and the US, and is working with cardiologists to conduct clinical tests, he said.
After it is commercialized, the test is expected to be included in physical exams, Wu added.
TMAO levels might be affected by genes and dietary habits, said Sheen Lee-yan (沈立言), distinguished professor at NTU’s Institute of Food Science and Technology.
For example, the team also found that garlic helps reduce TMAO concentration, which is why garlic is often served with steak, Sheen said.
Garlic is most effective in curbing TMAO levels when it is consumed raw or when it is made into an essential oil, he said, advising that a 60kg adult consume one to three garlic cloves (5g each) every day.
The researchers in October last year published their findings in the journal Gut.
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