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Exploring the Gut-Heart Link



While the gut-brain connection has garnered considerable attention in the health, wellness, and scientific communities, far fewer people know about the gut's profound effect on other systems within the body. Emerging research has helped us better understand the connection between the gut microbiome and the heart. It suggests that maintaining a healthy gut can not only promote digestive health but may also help reduce cardiovascular disease risk.

 

What is the gut microbiome?

The gut microbiome is a dynamic ecosystem of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbes unique to each individual that reside primarily in the large intestine. Diet and environmental factors can positively and negatively influence the types and quantities of microbes residing in the gut. Research has shown that the balance of these microbiota can influence the function of systems throughout the body, including the nervous, endocrine, and cardiovascular systems.

 

How is the gut microbiome linked to heart health?

The gut has been shown to significantly impact cardiovascular health through the composition of microbiota and the substances these microbiota produce, which have wide-ranging effects throughout the body.

 

Gut Dysbiosis and Inflammation

A review of several studies looking at the connection between the gut and cardiac health found that an imbalance in gut bacteria, known as dysbiosis, is linked to an elevated immune response, which promotes inflammation. While short-term inflammation is a beneficial part of the body's healing process, chronic inflammation can promote damage to blood vessels and contribute to plaque build-up in the arteries. This plaque build-up and associated stiffening of the arteries, known as atherosclerosis, is a leading cause of cardiovascular diseases, including heart attack and stroke.

 

Metabolites and Cardiovascular Health

The impact of the gut on heart health is not only due to the balance of beneficial and harmful bacteria but also to the substances these microbiota produce. As the microbiota in the gut help break down food during the digestive process, they generate substances called metabolites. One metabolite, trimethylamine (TMA), is formed when the microbiota consumes choline, a nutrient found in red meat, fish, poultry, and eggs. This TMA is then converted in the liver to form trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO). Research has shown that elevated levels of TMAO are associated with a higher risk of heart attack or stroke due to an increase in plaque formation in the arteries.

 

However, not all metabolites are harmful. A short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) called butyrate, produced as the gut bacteria break down dietary fiber, is known to decrease the risk of atherosclerosis and reduce inflammation. Short-chain fatty acids also promote cardiovascular health via their role in lipid metabolism and blood pressure regulation.

 

Diet Recommendations for Gut and Heart Health

Luckily, many of the foods that are already known as being heart-healthy promote gut health too.

 

Limiting red meat can help reduce TMAO production and avoid excess saturated fats. Additionally, a diet consisting of fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help foster a healthy, diverse microbiome and encourage the production of beneficial SCFAs, all while providing essential vitamins and minerals. By prioritizing a diet rich in whole foods, we can foster a healthy gut and support a healthy heart for years to come.

 

 

Cleveland Clinic. (2023, August, 18). Gut Microbiome.

 

Solan, M. (2023, February, 1). Healthy gut, healthy heart. Harvard Health Publishing.

 

Akshay A, Gasim R, Ali TE, Kumar YS, Hassan A. (2023, December, 24). Unlocking the Gut-Cardiac Axis: A Paradigm Shift in Cardiovascular Health. Cureus.

 


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