University of Wisconsin-Madison Helping Hearts: Discovering the Impacts of Flavonoids and Interpersonal Gut Variations to Improve Cardiovascular Health

Photo credit: Bryce Richter, University of Wisconsin-Madison

The American Heart Association notes a recent study that showed millions of people worldwide could prevent early deaths and disability from heart disease by eating more fruits and vegetables. Some health benefits associated with this diet are derived from pigments present in plants called flavonoids. However, our bodies do not absorb most flavonoids in their natural state. Flavonoids can be metabolized by our microbiome, the trillions of microbes that inhabit our gut.

Studies that analyze the health effects of flavonoids show either positive or no effects. However, there is limited research on how different gut microbes affect the ways that flavonoids are metabolized. The team theorized that specific gut microbes contribute to the beneficial effects of flavonoids by making them more absorbable. Thus, they are studying the relationship among interpersonal differences in how the gut microbia help digest flavonoids and their resulting health impacts.

To see the effects of flavonoids on cardiovascular diseases in humans, his lab bred germ-free mice that were genetically susceptible to heart disease. They introduced bacteria from a human microbiome into half of the mice and left the other half germ-free. After feeding all of the mice a flavonoid-rich diet, only those with the added microbiome benefited from the consumption of the flavonoids, highlighting the importance of gut bacteria in mediating the effects of flavonoids. The next step is to see exactly which bacteria in the microbiome help metabolize flavonoids and can help diminish cardiovascular disease.

As I grew up, my parents instilled the concept that we can improve our health by making good decisions at the grocery store and the dinner table. I hope my work inspires people to make dietary choices that take into consideration their gut microbes. Eat lots of whole grains, veggies, and fruits!

– Dr. Federico Rey

Retaking The Field Volume 3 “Retaking the Field: Empowering Agricultural Sciences for Health” is a collaborative report from eleven universities and the SoAR Foundation. The report — the third in SoAR’s series — explores the success of research projects funded by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), the flagship competitive grants program of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). It is part of SoAR’s broader education and advocacy initiative to encourage additional federal support for food and agricultural research. View The Issue
Retaking the Field Volume 3: The Case for a Surge in Agricultural Research Click to download report

More Stories from the community

Raising Resilient Pigs

Through cutting-edge genome editing, scientists are working to help the swine (pig) industry produce healthier, more resilient animals. Genome editors are enzymes that allow scientists to cut the DNA strands in cells at a specific position and introduce very precise genetic changes. With funding from USDA, scientists at Iowa State University and Kansas State University have discovered a genetic marker in pigs that is associated with resistance to porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS).

Read More
Sterilizing Screwworm

A highly successful example of public research for animal health began in the 1950s in the fight to eradicate the New World Screwworm. The screwworm is a maggot that feeds off the flesh of livestock as well as humans, which causes animal suffering, requires expensive treatments, and has ruined farm businesses.

Read More