February is American Heart Month – and a good time to note a connection between your gut and heart health.
Healthy eating helps you maintain good gastrointestinal health. This same healthy diet can also keep your heart and cardiovascular system functioning properly. Additionally, it’s possible that the bacteria in your gut play a role in your cardiovascular health, too.
Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic are studying the possibility that altering the balance of bacteria in the gut may treat or prevent diet-induced heart disease.
What’s the Bacteria/Heart Connection?
The bacteria naturally found in your gut feed off of nutrients found in red meat, egg yolks and high-fat dairy products. As the bacteria feed, they produce a chemical called TMA (trimethyline), which the liver turns into TMAO (trimethyline-N-oxide).
TMAO in the bloodstream can cause cholesterol buildup and the condition called atherosclerosis. Chronically high TMAO levels can double the risk of heart attack or stroke. Identifying high TMAO levels can help predict the risk of heart disease.
What Does the Information Mean for You?
Researchers are at the beginning stages of examining natural substances that may lower TMAO levels, resulting in fewer clogged arteries. In the meantime, the tried and true approach is still the best course of action: A healthy diet that highlights fresh fruits and vegetables with moderate red meat consumption. Other dietary tips include:
- Eating more fish: It’s a great source of protein and contains omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Eating whole grains and beans.
- Avoiding trans fats: They raise your cholesterol levels.
- Limiting saturated fats intake.
- Reducing your salt intake.
All of the body’s systems, including the gastrointestinal and cardiovascular, are energized by the fuel you provide. Talk to your provider about how changes in your lifestyle habits can help your overall health.