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The ScoopHow a healthy gut can be the key to a healthy heart

Part five of a seven-part series

A healthy heart is key to living a healthy life. Each day, your heart pumps about 2,000 gallons of blood to deliver essential nutrients and oxygen to the cells and organs throughout your body.

Eating right and exercising will keep your heart strong, and recent studies point to an additional way to keep your ticker in top shape: a healthy gut microbiome.

This article will cover some of the conditions that affect your heart and how a healthy balance of gut bacteria is directly involved.

SIBO: a contributing factor to heart health

Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is when you have too many “bad” bacteria in your small intestine. SIBO usually starts when food sits in your small intestine longer than it should. If the “good” bacteria can’t keep up with the harmful bacteria, the “bad” germs can multiply too fast. This leads to an imbalance that causes uncomfortable symptoms like belly pain, bloating, loss of appetite, and weakness. It can also inhibit the ability to digest and absorb nutrients from food.

Recent studies show a strong connection between SIBO and heart disease.

In a 2018 study published in the Journal of Digestive Disease and Sciences patients with SIBO had an 80 percent higher chance of having heart d isease. And this 2021 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association shows that proactive treatment for SIBO may provide extra benefits for heart-disease patients.

Scientists are only beginning to understand the exact relationship between SIBO and heart disease, but knowing that it’s a contributor to our heart health gives us another valuable tool for preventive cardiovascular care.

Atherosclerosis: how gut bacteria affect blood vessels

Atherosclerosis is the buildup of fats, cholesterol, and other substances on the artery walls. The buildup is known as plaque. Atherosclerosis can lead to heart disease because the plaque may cause arteries to narrow and block blood flow.

Mounting research shows that gut bacteria may be involved in atherosclerosis and plaque development.

When your gut doesn’t work the way it should, substances that shouldn’t leave your intestine (like chemicals produced by unhealthy gut bacteria) can enter your bloodstream. They travel through your blood vessels where they can cause harm. They may cause the vessels to weaken, lose their elasticity, and set the stage for plaque buildup.

More research is needed to strengthen this connection, but scientists are keeping their eyes on studies like this one published in the European Heart Journal which shows a significant correlation between a healthy diversity of microbes in the gut and the health of arteries.

Future implications of this research suggest that we may be able to strengthen our arterial health by altering our gut bacteria with changes to our diet.  

TMAO: a strong connection with your heart

During the digestive process in your gut, your liver can produce something called trimethylamine N-oxide, or TMAO. There is a strong connection between high levels of TMAO in your blood and plaque in your arteries.

In a review published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, 19 studies confirmed a link between elevated TMAO levels and increased risk of heart disease. People who had higher levels of TMAO were 62 percent more likely to have heart conditions.

In the future, we may be able to use TMAO as a predictive marker for heart disease and target it for preventive care.

Butyrate: good news for heart health

It’s not all about “bad” bacteria in our gut causing harm—the “good” bacteria in our gut can also help protect our hearts.

Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid produced as “good” bacteria in your gut help your body break down dietary fiber.

Studies like this one published in Nature Reviews Cardiology have found that butyrate is involved in blood pressure regulation and has other beneficial functions.

Researchers are looking at future treatments for cardiovascular disease through treating high blood pressure with modulation of the gut microbiome.

What’s good for the gut is good for the heart

Research continues, but we know that looking after your gut microbiome will help you lead a healthier life—and strengthen your heart health too.

A balanced diet is a great starting point for better gut health and better heart health. Start by limiting foods that are processed or high in sugar or fat, and opt for more plant-based, fiber-rich, and probiotic foods instead. Follow the good-gut-health tips in part one of this  series to work on improving your gut microbiome.

Along with many other health benefits, keeping your gut healthy can be a means to protect your heart—something we all need.

Gut health series:

Your gut is the gateway to good health (part 1) 

How does gut health affect your skin? (part 2)  

For a balanced immune system, look to your gut (part 3)  

Improve your mood by improving your gut health (part 4)