Did you know the health of your gut and internal flora can affect how healthy your heart is? A broadening area of research into the microbiome is now looking at the relationship our trillions of gut microbes have to increased risk for heart disease.1
We already know there is a deep connection between the brain and gut (and all those trillions of microbes), but what do we know about how the gut affects other body systems (like the cardio vascular system)? We may not have nearly all the facts about the crosstalk between these important systems, but what we are beginning to understand is already changing the way we look at heart disease.
There are some risk factors for heart disease you can’t easily modify like genetics, family health history, age, and gender. But the good news is that other risk factors like cholesterol levels, inflammation, infections, obesity, toxins, insulin imbalances, and more, can be modified by things like diet, lifestyle and… more specifically, your gut microbes.
Let’s look more closely at a few of the most common risk factors for heart disease…
This important modified steroid has been the wrongly accused bad-guy of the heart disease world since the late 1990s. But cholesterol is one of the most vitally important substances inside of your body. Every cell of your body is made from it, and ALL of your steroid hormones are synthesized from cholesterol, including all of the sex and adrenal hormones.
What researchers are starting to gain a picture of is how your gut microbes can play an influential role in lipid metabolism.2 Lipids are fat-like substances found within your blood. There are several different types of lipids, but most people are familiar with cholesterol. You need lipids for building and keeping the integrity of cell walls and for storing fat. Your body needs a certain amount of them in order to function.
Infections & Viruses
Recent studies have suggested associations between coronary disease and pathogens such as Cytomegalovirus (CMV), Helicobactor, Chlamydia, or C pneumoniae.1
Your gut microbiota play a multi-faceted role both in and outside of the gut. They assist with metabolism, absorption and processing, functioning of hormones, detoxification, excretion, and more. This is why when you get an infection or ingest a toxin of some kind (even a food allergen), your microbes are part of the “elimination and rejuvenation” equation.
Bacteria (good and bad) live in your gut lining. If the bad bacteria is left unchecked, it can cause digestive issues and even intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and it can over stimulate the immune response causing debilitating pain and may even damage different parts of the heart.3
One of the most well known risk factors for heart disease is obesity. According to the American Heart Association, nearly 70% of American adults are either overweight or obese (> 20% or more above your ideal weight) and being obese puts you at a higher risk for health problems such as heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.4 Studies have shown that gut microbiota composition is altered in people who are obese and it can also respond to changes in body weight.
What you eat is important to shaping the gut microbiota AND your gut microbiota intern influences the metabolism of many dietary components. This means that your gut microbiota take the food you eat and produce or contribute to things your body needs for good healthy metabolism like fatty acids, hormones, enzymes, and vitamins. They can also influence things like extracting energy from your food, which is a contributing factor in obesity.
Carbohydrates are important sources of energy and certain microbes have been shown to promote more efficient carbohydrate fermentation that can lead to increased energy absorption from the gut.5 Your gut microbes also metabolize phenolic compounds (important in cancer prevention) that you get from a good healthy plant-based diet, which by the way tends to be better for the waistline.6
Not all sugar is bad for you, but too much of the wrong sugar can have a direct affect not only on your body’s metabolism, but on the health of the gut flora. High-sugar diets (in particular those containing refined and processed sugars) are one of the biggest microbiome disrupters.
New findings are showing that your gut microbiota may directly contribute to altered glucose metabolism.7 A Danish study of two groups of individuals differing by their gut bacterial richness, found that individuals with a low bacterial richness (23% of the population) were characterized by more marked overall insulin resistance.8
Another interesting finding in this area showed that levels of lipopolysaccharides (part of the cell wall of gram-negative bacteria) seem to rise with higher fat and sugar intake, which correlates gut microbiota to not only insulin resistance but intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and inflammation.
Unfortunately insulin and glucose imbalances often keep your body locked in a vicious metabolic cycle… the higher your glucose/insulin levels the more dysbiosis will be created in the gut causing the microbiota not to process the food efficiently, which leads to further insulin resistance, hormone imbalances, and leaky gut, and ultimately low energy, cravings, and a host of other metabolic issues.
Leaky Gut Could Be A Culprit in Heart Disease
Intestinal permeability or leaky gut is not so much a disease, but more a mechanism by which a number of different health conditions can take root in the body.
When you have a leaky gut, the protective web making up the lining in your small intestine has little tears in it, most likely from medications, toxins, bacteria overgrowth or undigested food. When these tears in the lining become large enough, things can pass through into the blood that usually can’t (and shouldn’t). If this happens your immune system gets into gear, which results in a host of activities including inflammation. If this condition persists in the gut for an extended period of time, it may lead to the development of health issues outside of the gut.
One issue with gut bacterial overgrowth and dysbiosis (bacteria imbalances) are Lipopolysaccharides (LPS), which can lead to an increase in intestinal permeability.9 LPS makeup part of the cell wall of gram-negative bacteria and when they are doing their job, they protect the cell membrane. But when you have die-off of these gram-negative bacteria in the gut, the LPS of these bacteria are released.
Once LPS are roaming free in the gut, they can irritate the gut lining and more importantly, activate the immune system, which can lead to an inflammatory cascade and even autoimmunity.
LPS is just one factor to be considered when determining whether you have leaky gut syndrome or not. You need to consider other factors like actomyosin and occludin/zonulin antibodies, which pertain to the health of your gut lining tissue and the little gatekeepers called “tight-junctions” that keep out the foreign invaders.
Root causes of leaky gut, high levels of LPS, and microbial imbalances in the gut, can usually be traced back to some usual suspects:
- Problematic foods such as gluten, other non-wheat grains, casein (dairy), GMO foods especially soy and corn, processed foods, and high amounts of sugar
- Medications like antibiotics, NSAIDs, aspirin, and anti-inflammatory drugs
- Pathogens including infections, virus, bacteria overgrowth like Candida, and molds
- Metabolic wastes and by-products including cellular chemicals and hormones
- Environmental pollutants such as pesticides, plastics like BPA, and petro chemicals
Here are some things that you can to improve the health of your gut microbiota and potentially reduce your risk for heart disease…
Eat a Wholesome Diet – A diet low in processed foods and sugars but rich in good healthy fats and oils, fresh fruits and vegetables, and lean meats is the best dietary foundation. Don’t forget to avoid pesticides and other toxins by eating organic foods when you can.
Kick the Sugar Habit – High-sugar diets (in particular those containing refined and processed sugars) are one of the biggest microbiome disrupters. When you eat a high-sugar diet, things like undesirable bacteria, yeast, and other by-products start to grow out of control, while your beneficial bacteria wither away.
Probiotics & Prebiotics – Eat a daily dose (about 2-5 Tbsp) of probiotic and prebiotic foods to promote a healthy internal terrain and gut flora including fermented foods like yoghurt, kraut, kombucha, kevita, and pickles along with resistant starches and fibers like asparagus, jicama, garlic, onions, leeks, dandelion root, and more.
Get The Right Tests & Health Data – Good functional gut testing that looks at gut lining integrity (leaky gut), bacterial overgrowth, infections, food allergens and other immune markers, can reveal hidden root causes of potential issues early-on, helping you avoid serious health conditions like heart disease down the line.
Just to Recap Microbiome & Heart Health…
- There is a connection between your heart and gut – what goes on with one affects the other
- Your gut microbiota play a role in producing fatty acids, hormones, enzymes, and vitamins and are key in extracting energy from the food you eat
- A good place to start with microbiome health is diet – eat the right balance of wholesome foods free of pesticides and toxins and get rid of the processed and high-sugar foods
- Add in a daily dose of both prebiotic and probiotic foods
- The key biomarkers for testing for leaky gut are: actomyosin, occludin/zonulin, and LPS antibodies.
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1 Wang Z, Klipfell E, Bennett BJ, et al. Gut flora metabolism of phosphatidylcholine promotes cardiovascular disease. Nature. 2011;472:57–63.
2 Ghazalpour A, Cespedes I, Bennett BJ, et al. Expanding role of gut microbiota in lipid metabolism. Curr Opin Lipidol. 2016 Apr; 27(2):147-7
3 Jamkhande P, Gattani S, Fahat S. Helicobacter pylori and cardiovascular complications: a mechanism based review on role of Helicobacter pylori in cardiovascular diseases. Integr Med Res. 2016 Dec; 5(4): 244–249.
4 American Heart Association. Sourced 2018 from: www.heart.org
5 Valentina Tremaroli V, Bäckhed F. Functional interactions between the gut microbiota and host metabolism. Nature. 2012 Sep; vol 489: 242-249.
6 Rabot S, Membrez, M, Bruneau, A, et al. Germ-free C57BL/6J mice are resistant to high-fat-diet-induced insulin resistance and have altered cholesterol metabolism. FASEB J. 2010; 24: 4948–4959.
7 Meyer KA, Bennett BJ. Diet and Gut Microbial Function in Metabolic and Cardiovascular Disease Risk. Curr Diab Rep. 2016 Oct; 16(10):93.
8 Chatelier E, Nielsen T. Richness of human gut microbiome correlates with metabolic markers. Nature. 2013 Aug; vol 500:541–546.
9 Guo S, Al-Sadi R, Said HM, et al. Lipopolysaccharide causes an increase in intestinal tight junction permeability in vitro and in vivo by inducing enterocyte membrane expression and localization of TLR-4 and CD14. Am J Pathol. 2013 Feb; 182(2):375-87.
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