Every 33 seconds, someone in the United States dies from heart disease. That’s roughly the equivalent of a Sept. 11–like tragedy repeating itself every 24 hours, 365 days a year.
Now, researchers are learning more about what puts you at risk.
"If it's not your genes, it's your environment and our biggest environment exposure is what we eat," Hazen, cardiologist and vice chairman of research, Cleveland Clinic's Lerner Research Institute.
In a clinical study, Hazen and his team discovered that people who have more of a compound called TMAO in their blood are two-and-a-half times more likely to experience heart attack, stroke or death.
"TMAO just stuck out like sore thumb as being highly correlated with future event risk," Hazen said.
TMAO is produced when intestinal bacteria digest nutrients found in certain foods like meat. Hazen believes avoiding those foods and upping fiber intake can offset this link over time.
Hazen also found HDL cholesterol – often referred to as the “good cholesterol” – may not be so good after all.
"Simply measuring how much cholesterol is in the HDL particle does not give us a good reflection of its role in protecting from heart disease," Hazen explained.
The study showed dysfunctional HDL cholesterol in the artery wall actually contributed to heart disease.
"It's the function of the particle that seems to be more important," Hazen said.
Two new insights that could help researchers develop treatments for the number one killer in our country.
Hazen said there will likely be a TMAO blood test available in clinics around the country this year. He said identifying this compound is the first step. The next is to develop therapies to stop it, which may stop heart disease from forming.