EPALINGES, Switzerland — Oral bacteria could elevate the risk of heart disease, according to a recent study. Scientists suggest that prevalent bacteria, known to cause gum inflammation, oral cancers, and bad breath, might heighten the risk of heart attacks or strokes.
The study identified that individuals with antibodies combatting the oral bacterium, Fusobacterium nucleatum, presented a marginally increased risk for cardiovascular events. These antibodies indicate either past or present infections with this bacterium.
“F. nucleatum might contribute to cardiovascular risk through increased systemic inflammation due to bacterial presence in the mouth, or through direct colonization of the arterial walls or plaque lining the arterial walls,” says Flavia Hodel, the lead author from the School of Life Sciences at EPFL in Switzerland, in a media release.
Heart disease, attributed to a mix of genetic and environmental risk factors, is responsible for roughly one-third of global deaths. The most prevalent form, coronary heart disease, arises from plaque accumulation in the arteries supplying the heart. Symptoms, such as chest pain, breathlessness, and fatigue, can escalate to heart attacks.
“Although enormous progress has been made in understanding how coronary heart disease develops, our understanding of how infections, inflammation, and genetic risk factors contribute is still incomplete,” adds Hodel. “We wanted to help fill some of the gaps in our understanding of coronary heart disease by taking a more comprehensive look at the role of infections.”
The researchers assessed genetic data, health records, and blood samples from nearly 3,500 Swiss participants. Over a 12-year observation period, approximately 6% of these individuals experienced a heart attack or another significant cardiovascular event. Blood tests were conducted to identify antibodies targeting 15 distinct viruses, six bacteria types, and a parasite.
Notably, individuals with antibodies against Fusobacterium nucleatum displayed a slightly elevated cardiovascular event risk. As anticipated, those with high genetic predispositions for coronary heart disease exhibited higher chances of experiencing a cardiovascular event.
The findings suggest that addressing oral infections might diminish heart disease risks. If subsequent research verifies the connection between this bacterium and heart ailments, innovative strategies may emerge to pinpoint individuals at risk and forestall cardiovascular events.
“Our study adds to growing evidence that inflammation triggered by infections may contribute to the development of coronary heart disease and increase the risk of a heart attack,” says senior author, Professor Jacques Fellay. “Our results may lead to new ways of identifying high-risk individuals or lay the groundwork for studies of preventive interventions that treat F. nucleatum infections to protect the heart.”
The study is published in the journal eLife.
South West News Service writer Alice Clifford contributed to this report.