Microbiota Effect on Trimethylamine N-Oxide Production: From Cancer to Fitness-A Practical Preventing Recommendation and Therapies

Nutrients. 2023 Jan 21;15(3):563. doi: 10.3390/nu15030563.


Trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) is a microbial metabolite derived from nutrients, such as choline, L-carnitine, ergothioneine and betaine. Recently, it has come under the spotlight for its close interactions with gut microbiota and implications for gastrointestinal cancers, cardiovascular disease, and systemic inflammation. The culprits in the origin of these pathologies may be food sources, in particular, high fat meat, offal, egg yolk, whole dairy products, and fatty fish, but intercalated between these food sources and the production of pro-inflammatory TMAO, the composition of gut microbiota plays an important role in modulating this process. The aim of this review is to explain how the gut microbiota interacts with the conversion of specific compounds into TMA and its oxidation to TMAO. We will first cover the correlation between TMAO and various pathologies such as dysbiosis, then focus on cardiovascular disease, with a particular emphasis on pro-atherogenic factors, and then on systemic inflammation and gastrointestinal cancers. Finally, we will discuss primary prevention and therapies that are or may become possible. Possible treatments include modulation of the gut microbiota species with diets, physical activity and supplements, and administration of drugs, such as metformin and aspirin.

Keywords: L-carnitine; choline; colorectal cancer; diet; gastrointestinal cancer; gut microbiota; trimethylamine (TMA); trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cardiovascular Diseases*
  • Choline / metabolism
  • Inflammation
  • Methylamines / metabolism
  • Microbiota*
  • Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms* / prevention & control


  • trimethyloxamine
  • Choline
  • Methylamines

Grants and funding

Ricerca Corrente Funds to Istituto Nazionale Tumori G. Pascale project Linea 3/12 to G.P.