We've all known those people who eat unhealthy foods with abandon yet never suffer heart problems, and other "healthier" people who are struck by heart attacks seemingly out of nowhere—and we usually chock it up to the vague concept of "genetics."
But scientists are discovering that it's a whole lot more complicated than that, and that the bacteria that live in our guts play a big role. As I've written about before, the trillions of bacteria that live in our intestines can affect everything from our weight to whether we get sick, and researchers are learning more about this topic by the day.
The latest thing they've learned is that certain gut bacteria convert a lipid commonly found in our diets, called phosphatidyl choline (also called lecithin), into a substance that damages the arteries and lead to atherosclerosis.
This finding might help explain the unfairness of why some people get heart disease and other don't: Not everybody's intestines contain the same bacteria, but if yours contains large amounts of this particular one, then consuming lecithin and choline (a metabolite of lecithin that's commonly found in vitamin supplements) would result in plaque in your arteries, but if your belly doesn't host this bacteria then consuming these nutrients shouldn't pose a problem.
Since there's no way to know exactly which bugs are making themselves at home in your belly on any given day, it seems like a wise idea not to take vitamins containing lots of choline (many do). Science Daily quotes study author Stanly Hazen, MD, PhD, as saying:
Choline—a natural semi-essential vitamin—when taken in excess, promoted atherosclerotic heart disease. Over the past few years we have seen a huge increase in the addition of choline into multi-vitamins—even in those marketed to our children—yet it is this same substance that our study shows the gut flora can convert into something that has a direct, negative impact on heart disease risk by forming an atherosclerosis-causing by-product."
I just went over to my medicine cabinet to check the label on the multivitamins I take occasionally and, yep, choline is in there. As I've written about before, I'm beginning to think that multivitamins might be a bad idea . .