At present, the guideline approach to the medical treatment and prevention of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) is to classify patients by risk and treat the known risk factors (contributory causes), e.g., hypertension, diabetes, obesity, smoking, and poor diet, as appropriate. All high-risk patients should receive statins. This approach has had substantial success but ASCVD still remains the number one cause of death in the United States. Until recently, the underlying cause of ASCVD remained unknown, although a potential dietary cause was suggested by the fact that vegetarians, especially vegans, have a much lower incidence of ASCVD than animal flesh eaters. Recently, consistent with the vegetarian data, substantial evidence for a cause of ASCVD in animals and humans has been discovered. Trimethylamine (TMA)-containing dietary compounds in meat, milk, and other animal foods (e.g., lecithin, choline, and carnitine) are converted by closely related gut bacterial TMA lyases to TMA, which is absorbed and converted predominantly by flavin mono-oxygenase 3 to the toxic trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO). TMAO causes atherosclerosis in animals and is elevated in patients with coronary heart disease. Inhibition of bacterial lyases in mice prevents TMA and secondarily TMAO formation and atherosclerosis, strong evidence for the TMAO hypothesis. At present, the challenge for the pharmaceutical industry is to discover and develop a potent “broad spectrum” bacterial lyase inhibitor that, along with diet and exercise, could, if the TMAO hypothesis is correct, revolutionize the preventive treatment of ASCVD.
- Received March 2, 2016.
- Accepted April 21, 2016.
- Copyright © 2016 by The American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics