10/15/2011 02:27 pm ET Updated Dec 15, 2011

Effectiveness Of Statins Could Be Determined By Our Gut Bugs, Study Finds

The bacteria that live in our gut -- a natural part of our stomach flora that aid in our digestion -- could help (or hinder) the effectiveness of cholesterol-lowering medication, a new study suggests.

Research from Duke University identifies three bile acids produced by our gut bacteria that are present in people who see good results after taking the cholesterol-lowering drug simvastatin (known by its brand name as Zocor).

"We found that the benefit of statins could be partly related to the type of bacteria that lives in our guts. The reason we respond differently is not only our genetic makeup, but also our gut microbiome," study researcher Rima Kaddurah-Daouk, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of psychiatry at Duke, said in a statement.

To come to this conclusion, researchers looked at the gut flora of 100 people whose levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol were successfully lowered after taking simvastatin, 24 people who had a modest but positive response to simvastatin, and 24 people who didn't really benefit at all from simvastatin.

Researchers found that three bile acids seemed to be associated with the people who had a great response to the drug. And for people who didn't seem to respond to the drug, researchers found that five other bile acids seemed to be present.

But why? TIME explains:

The researchers believe that the five compounds made by the poor responders mimic statins, and therefore compete with the drug in binding to the appropriate cells. So, having too many of these bile acids means that statin molecules can't get to the liver cells where they would regulate production of cholesterol.

In the future, the researchers said they hope to come up with a blood test that could screen for the bile acids, in order to determine early on whether the statin medication will work.

Recently, European researchers found that humans have three kinds of gut bacteria (similar to how we can be divided up by blood type), the New York Times reported.

For tips on how to maintain a healthy gut flora, check out HuffPost blogger Stephen Barrie's tips here.