Using bacteria to improve heart health

by | Cardiovascular Health, Heart Attacks and Strokes

Supplementation with specific type of bacteria has been found to improve risk factors for cardiovascular disease and even slow the progression of pre-diabetes.

It seems almost daily that new insights emerge into how the microbes in our gut can affect our health. Adding to this fascinating area of medical research is a new direction looking at a particular microbe called Akkermansia muciniphila. At least in mice, supplementation with this intestinal bacterium can alter the development of obesity and insulin resistance leading to type 2 diabetes.

So what happens if you supplement the probiotic Akkermansia bacteria into humans? This was the subject of a pilot study undertaken by European researchers.

The study population was people displaying signs of metabolic syndrome – which meant the people were overweight or obese and displayed signs of insulin resistance (which is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes) along with other risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Over three months, 40 volunteers were randomly allocated to take Akkermansia supplements (either unpasteurised or pasteurised) or a placebo. It was those taking the pasteurised Akkermansia that saw the greatest improvements in insulin sensitivity together with reduced insulin levels and total cholesterol.

There was also a small decrease in body weight of almost a kilogram greater than the placebo group. Blood markers for liver dysfunction and inflammation were also lower with Akkermansia supplementation.

On the surface, the study may seem to have failed as surely pasteurised bacteria could not exert a beneficial effect? While counter-intuitive, ‘dead’ bacteria can have beneficial effects on the gut microbiome because they can act as a substrate (or surface) for fermentation by other bacteria as well as exert other physiologic effects that science is only now starting to understand.


This was a small-scale pilot study but nonetheless showed some impressive results. Targeted supplementation with probiotic Akkermansia bacteria, especially in the pasteurised form, may be a future way to reduce cardio-metabolic risk factors.

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