Impact of short-term flavanol supplementation on fasting plasma trimethylamine N-oxide concentrations in obese adults†
The gut microbiome metabolizes choline and carnitine to release trimethylamine (TMA), which subsequently undergoes hepatic conversion to trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO). Elevated TMAO levels are associated with cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality risk. Dietary flavanols modulate the composition and function of the gut microbiome. Therefore, the possibility exists that these compounds could reduce intestinal TMA production and lower circulating TMAO. However, this hypothesis has never been tested in humans. A secondary analysis was performed on blood samples from a clinical study in which obese subjects at risk for insulin resistance consumed tea or cocoa flavanols in a randomized crossover design while consuming a controlled diet. These subjects generally had elevated TMAO levels (∼5 μM) compared to levels previously measured in healthy subjects (∼1 μM). None of the interventions significantly altered TMAO levels. Individual variability for choline and carnitine was relatively low. However, TMAO exhibited somewhat greater inter-individual variability. No differences in mean TMAO concentrations observed across interventions were seen based on separating subjects by glycemic status, body mass index (BMI), race, age, or gender. However, subject minimum and maximum values observed across the interventions appeared to be more strongly associated with glycemic status and age than mean values across interventions, suggesting that average TMAO values over time may be less useful than maximum or minimum values as markers of disease risk. Traditional physiological characteristics do not appear to predict TMAO responsiveness to flavanol interventions. However, African-American subjects appeared less responsive compared to non-Hispanic white subjects for both green tea and high cocoa treatments, and female subjects appeared less responsive than males for the high cocoa treatment. The present results suggest that a short-term flavanol intervention does not generally reduce fasting TMAO levels in subjects with elevated circulating TMAO.