Heal Your Heart Through Your Gut
Updated: Jan 31
Understanding the Gut-Heart Connection
It’s February and pretty hearts and messages of love surround us! But have you thought about your heart health? Studies show that gut health and heart health are intricately linked and the key to a healthy heart might lie within your gut.
Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States. You probably know someone who has been affected- I lost my father to a sudden cardiac arrest years ago. The effects of heart disease are devastating and can take families by surprise. For many years, we’ve been told to eat healthy and exercise for heart health- but still, the instances of heart disease keep climbing.
Is eating 'healthy' and exercising really enough to prevent heart disease?
Scientists have been looking for the missing piece to heart health and growing research is pointing to the gut microbiome. The gut-heart connection is so substantial that soon cardiologists will likely be sending their patients to see a gastroenterologist and vice versa.
So, how does the gut potentially contribute to heart disease?
Almost half (47 percent) of all Americans have at least one of the primary risk factors for heart disease – high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or smoking. However, in a 2018 study published in the journal Digestive Disease and Sciences, patients with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) had an 80 percent higher chance of having heart disease.
Bacterial metabolites that harm
When bacteria from the colon migrates to the small intestine it changes the balance of your gut microbiome. And when your gut microbiome is unbalanced, metabolites produced have been associated with an increased risk for developing and having heart disease. These metabolites include lipopolysaccharide (LPS), an endotoxin which can cause inflammatory responses throughout the body.
Second, when specific bacteria are exposed to a high protein diet, it can lead to the production of trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), which has been linked to plaque formation in arteries (atherosclerosis).
And third, when an imbalanced microbiome results in the gut lining to weaken, it becomes leaky. A leaky gut allows particles such as food and bacteria to move into the bloodstream and cause whole body inflammation. A leaky gut lining can increase the risk of LPS entering into circulation which can lead to metabolic issues and contribute to the likelihood of cardiovascular disease.
Bacterial metabolites that heal
It's not all bad news when it comes to the gut-heart connection. The good news is there are healthy compounds your gut microbiota produce called short-chain fatty acids that protect the heart. These beneficial short-chain fatty acids are almost exclusively made via the healthy gut microbiome. Studies have found that these microbial metabolites are involved in healthy blood pressure regulation.
Heal the heart by healing the gut
Here are 5 ways you can begin improving the health of your gut microbiome immediately:
Ditch the Western diet, with excessive amounts of processed foods, animal protein, and sugar, and instead focus on a plant-based, minimally processed, high-fiber diet that maximizes a diversity of plants. Harmful bacteria and fungi love sugar, and ‘good’ bacteria need the prebiotic fiber found in vegetables.
Use antibiotics only when absolutely necessary – Antibiotics cause widespread alterations of the gut microbiome because they don't discriminate between good and opportunistic bacteria.
Reduce your NSAID use – Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil and aspirin alter the composition of the gut microbiome and can decrease the integrity of your gut lining, potentially contributing to leaky gut.
Consider a daily probiotic or prebiotic supplement for additional gut support.
Stay active – Exercise isn't just good for your heart, it's for your gut too! Exercise has been shown to enrich microbial diversity and increase beneficial bacteria.
Want to learn more? Contact Robin HERE
Robin Thomas worked for 25 years in Medical Research at UNC studying inflammation in chronic and autoimmune diseases. She left UNC to start her own Wellness Business in 2004 and founded Living Well Connections, a community for people whose passion is healthy living, in 2015.