New Study Finds Clogged Arteries More Connected To Oral Bacteria Than Fatty Foods

Posted on Nov 13, 2017 by William J. Claiborne, DDS MS

For years, we’ve been led to believe that the main cause of clogged arteries is the cholesterol-rich diet we consume. However, a recent study published by the Journal of Lipid Research has found fat molecules unrelated to butter, fatty animal meats and eggs may be the true source.

According to an article in Medical News Today (, the University of Connecticut (Storrs) conducted a study showing the fat molecules in plaque that are typically blamed for clogged arteries may actually originate from oral and gut bacteria.

In past studies, researchers have known there are strong connections between the bacteria of gum disease and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Yet, pinpointing the precise cause-&-affect has been elusive. This study may have tracked down the intricate path.

Atherosclerosis occurs when fat molecules, calcium, cholesterol, and other compounds in the blood form plaque on the inside walls of arteries. These arteries are what carry oxygen via the bloodstream to the heart, brain, kidneys, and other parts of the body.

When plaque accumulates, it can harden and narrow the arteries, thus depriving oxygen-rich blood to vital organs and tissues. This can lead to heart attack, stroke, other serious health problems and, in some instances, even death.

For decades, it was assumed that the fatty molecules of atherosclerosis, or lipids, are the result of a diet rich in foods high in fat and cholesterol. This study focused on the formation of plaque (that include fat molecules) as well as other growths known as atheromas.

Atheromas  refer to fatty masses that develop in the artery walls. Their presence activates the immune system, which recognizes that the lipids are not of human origin. This, in turn, tends to trigger inflammation. Inflammation is what leads to the thickening of the smooth muscles that line artery walls.

When the research team analyzed atheromas of hospitalized patients, they found the chemical makeup of lipids were not from animals. Rather, the fat molecules matched bacteria belonging to the Bacteroidetes family.

Bacteroidetes, fatty acids that do not have the same features as animal fat, are not typically harmful. They exist in the mouth and, in some situations, can activate gum disease but are not known to invade blood vessels. The culprit, however, lies in the lipids they secrete, which can penetrate cell walls and enter the bloodstream.

Apparently, it is an enzyme that breaks down the bacterial lipids that can activate a process that manufactures molecules that promote inflammation. When the immune system encounters the bacteria and then couples with the enzyme that creates inflammation, their combined actions can lead to an even higher risk for the formation of plaque.

The researchers are continuing efforts to further study how atheromas form where Bacteroidetes lipids accumulate. They are seeking even more evidence that fat molecules from Bacteroidetes are linked to atheroma growth, and thus to heart disease.

In the meantime, we certainly encourage you to eat a diet low in cholesterol. Yet, keep this study in mind as reinforcement to the need to maintain good oral health. For decades, research has shown the close relationship of oral health and overall health.

In addition to heart disease and stroke, past research has correlated the bacteria of periodontal (gum) disease to diabetes, arthritis, preterm babies, some cancers and impotency. Obviously, this is potent bacteria and keeping its accumulation to a minimum is beneficial to your overall health.

Is is important to know the signs of gum disease. Seeing blood in the sink while brushing, tender or swollen gums, frequent bad breath, and gums that pull away from teeth and expose sensitive tooth roots are just a few of the signs. Without treatment, gum disease will only worsen. It affects over 47 percent of American adults and is the leading cause of adult tooth loss.

Protect your smile and your overall health. In addition to a thorough at-home commitment to oral hygiene, have twice-yearly dental check-ups and watch for signs of gum disease. If you suspect gum disease exists, call 828-274-9440 to schedule an exam. This will be the first step to protecting your smile, and apparently, your heart!

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