After years of increased focus on encouraging life style changes to increase exercise and improve diets, heart disease is still the #1 cause of death, not only in the United States, but also, in the world. Clearly, something else is behind this alarming death rate.
Scientists are discovering new things every day about how our gut affects the rest of our body. And, it all has to do with the microbiome, or the bacteria community, that lives in our gut.
Important functions of the microbiome
- Influences mental health (Gut-Brain Axis)
- Promotes skin health (Gut-Skin Axis)
- Helps digest food
- Protects against toxins
- Boosts the immune system (70-80% of immune system is in the gut)
3 ways gut and heart health are connected
- SIBO: small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or SIBO occurs when colon bacteria migrates to the small intestine where it doesn't belong. Approximately 1/4 of the American population suffers with this condition.
- Harmful bacteria byproducts: specific bacteria that is exposed to high protein, such as red meats and eggs, can produce harmful byproducts that have been associated with heart disease.
- Leaky Gut: bacteria and food particles leak through a compromised intestinal lining into the bloodstream where it does not belong. These bacteria, or bad microbes, can relocate in the walls of arteries causing inflammation and leading to heart or cardiovascular disease.
Inflamed artery walls impair the function of the inner lining of the blood vessels. This means they have to work harder. Working harder causes the arteries to become stiff, have increased plaque and hardening of the arteries. This will make the heart work harder which could have an affect on blood pressure.
A recent study linked certain gut microbes (good) to a lower risk of artery stiffening. This same microbe is connected to a lower risk of obesity. Do you see the connection?
The good news is that short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) can protect the heart. One in particular, butyrate, is almost exclusively made in the gut. It helps regulate blood pressure and has an anti-inflammatory affect in the gut. We can encourage the production of short-chain fatty acids like butyrate by increasing our fiber intake, particularly resistant-starch fiber. This type of fiber also feeds the good bacteria in the gut and lowers blood sugar levels and improves insulin sensitivity. You can find my favorite resistant-starch flours here.
5 ways to improve the health of your gut microbiome
- Avoid sugar: bad bacteria feeds on sugar and multiplies.
- Antibiotics: antibiotics kill both bad and good bacteria so best to use only as needed.
- NSAIDs: decrease use of Advil, aspirin, etc as they contribute to leaky gut
- Exercise: increasing exercise increases circulation and helps to move toxins through the body and out.
- Smoking: stop smoking.....your heart and lungs will love you.
- Fiber: increase fiber intake so the production of SCFAs, like butyrate, can be encouraged.
Perhaps it really is true that "the way to a man's heart is through his stomach"!!