The Gut Microbiome Contributes to a Substantial Proportion of the Variation in Blood Lipids

Circ Res. 2015 Oct 9;117(9):817-24. doi: 10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.115.306807. Epub 2015 Sep 10.


Rationale: Evidence suggests that the gut microbiome is involved in the development of cardiovascular disease, with the host-microbe interaction regulating immune and metabolic pathways. However, there was no firm evidence for associations between microbiota and metabolic risk factors for cardiovascular disease from large-scale studies in humans. In particular, there was no strong evidence for association between cardiovascular disease and aberrant blood lipid levels.

Objectives: To identify intestinal bacteria taxa, whose proportions correlate with body mass index and lipid levels, and to determine whether lipid variance can be explained by microbiota relative to age, sex, and host genetics.

Methods and results: We studied 893 subjects from the Life-Lines-DEEP population cohort. After correcting for age and sex, we identified 34 bacterial taxa associated with body mass index and blood lipids; most are novel associations. Cross-validation analysis revealed that microbiota explain 4.5% of the variance in body mass index, 6% in triglycerides, and 4% in high-density lipoproteins, independent of age, sex, and genetic risk factors. A novel risk model, including the gut microbiome explained ≤ 25.9% of high-density lipoprotein variance, significantly outperforming the risk model without microbiome. Strikingly, the microbiome had little effect on low-density lipoproteins or total cholesterol.

Conclusions: Our studies suggest that the gut microbiome may play an important role in the variation in body mass index and blood lipid levels, independent of age, sex, and host genetics. Our findings support the potential of therapies altering the gut microbiome to control body mass, triglycerides, and high-density lipoproteins.

Keywords: HDL; body mass index; cardiovascular diseases; lipids; lipoproteins; metabolism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Algorithms
  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / blood
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / genetics
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / microbiology
  • Cholesterol / blood
  • Cholesterol, HDL / blood
  • Cholesterol, LDL / blood
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / genetics
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / physiology*
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Humans
  • Lipids / blood*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide*
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Risk Assessment / methods
  • Risk Assessment / statistics & numerical data
  • Risk Factors
  • Triglycerides / blood
  • Young Adult


  • Cholesterol, HDL
  • Cholesterol, LDL
  • Lipids
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • Triglycerides
  • Cholesterol