Right gut bacteria could stop atherosclerosis

“Are my gut bacteria the reason why I’m fat?” was the title of a talk held by Frida Fåk, and it is also one of her research topics: the link between the bacterial flora in the intestines and a person’s weight and health. In her spare time, she likes to draw and paint, and would like to see that hobby become her job.

Frida Fak

Frida Fåk – researcher and artist.

Frida Fåk is a biologist and works on the boundary between biology, medicine and food technology. Her research primarily focuses on atherosclerosis and how to prevent plaques (accumulations of cholesterol in the blood vessels) from coming loose and causing blood clots.

“Most elderly people have plaques, but what makes plaques remain firmly in one place and never do any harm in some people, whereas in others they come loose and produce blood clots?” she wonders.

She believes that it partly depends on the gut bacteria. Studies have shown that atherosclerosis patients have a different gut flora from healthy individuals. In this case, it may be possible to prevent atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) using fibre products that favour good gut bacteria and to treat existing atherosclerosis by replacing harmful bacteria with better gut flora.

One of Frida Fåk’s aims is to develop a food product that is both tasty and full of bacteria that stop atherosclerosis. If she is successful, she will be one of the first consumers.

“Definitely. There is a history of atherosclerosis in my family and I want to do what I can to prevent the disease!”

For those who already have changes in their arteries, she hopes that the addition of new gut bacteria could be effective. The idea is to put together a ‘cocktail’ of 15–20 different friendly bacteria that can establish themselves in the gut and ensure that the harmful bacteria do not get a chance to spread.

Bacteria are in fact much smaller than Frida Fåk’s original favourite creatures, which are on a rather larger scale. She started out as a ‘green biologist’, studying animals in their natural ecosystems and not in a lab. She has retained her interest in drawing animals from that time. So far, drawing is mostly a hobby, but she has taken courses in research communication through illustration and has started a small business in the field.

To return to the opening question, “Are my gut bacteria the reason why I’m fat?”, Frida Fåk’s answer is yes – at least as far as rats are concerned. If a fat rat is given gut bacteria from a rat that has been given the same diet but stayed thin, it loses weight until both rats are soon the same size.

Text: Ingela Björck

Photo: Gunnar Menander