Can Your Gut Health Affect Your Heart?
By Troy Randle, DO, FACC, Cardiologist, Virtua Cardiology
Trust your gut. Follow your heart. As it turns out, you can do both at once: The health of your cardiovascular and digestive systems appears to be linked.
Why? One hundred trillion bacteria, from at least several hundred species, inhabit your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Many of these so-called microbes are good for you. They help you digest food, metabolize drugs, and protect you from infection.
There’s a complex interplay between the bacteria that live in our intestines, called the microbiome, and the systems in our body. The type of bacteria in our GI tracts, as well as the substances they produce, can influence our risk for serious illnesses, including cardiovascular disease.
The Impact of Imbalance
For years, we have suspected a connection between gut health and heart health. Recent research adds evidence, finding that changes in certain types of gut bacteria are associated with:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Heart failure
- Lower levels of HDL or “good” cholesterol
- Events like heart attacks and strokes
Recently, scientists identified a compound that gut bacteria produced when you eat animal foods like red meat and eggs. Having large amounts of this substance in our blood may increase inflammation and the buildup of plaque in our arteries, which can lead to atherosclerosis.
7 Daily Steps to Maintain Gut Health
The microbiome is one of the hottest trends in medical research. Scientists are studying microbe populations to improve your health. In the meantime:
- Approach antibiotics with caution. Medications that treat infections can also kill off healthy bugs and lead to serious intestinal problems, like inflammation of the colon and diarrhea. Take them only when needed and follow directions exactly. Never quit early, save them for later, or share with others.
- Take or eat probiotics. Yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and supplements can help increase the amount of good bacteria in your gut.
- Fill up on fiber. A diet rich in a wide range of nutritious foods keeps your microbes happy. Short-chain fatty acids—which are produced when gut bacteria digest fiber—may help reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other conditions. Fiber from plant foods is especially helpful. Boost your intake by adding beans to your diet and swapping refined foods like white rice for whole grains, such as brown rice and oatmeal.
- Drink plenty of water. Limit stimulants like alcohol and caffeine, which can disrupt the digestive process.
- Manage stress. Yoga, meditation, and taking breaks from work can reduce episodes of upset stomach and diarrhea, as well as lower your blood pressure.
- Exercise. Physical activity aids digestion and is good for your overall health.
- Practice hand hygiene. Washing your hands regularly with soap and water keeps harmful organisms away.
You really are what you eat. Make diet and digestive health part of your conversation with your health care provider.
Get Your Digestive System Back on Track
Virtua GI and Digestive Health’s more than 50 gastroenterologists provide comprehensive treatments for the issues affecting your gut. Click here to make an appointment.
Updated June 7, 2022