Last Updated: September 20, 2019
Historically speaking, most heart health research has looked at various lifestyle factors (e.g. diet, exercise patterns, and sleep) and their effects on heart disease. Although researchers have found links, they have also found that these lifestyle factors are not the only things to impact the health of your heart and cardiovascular system.
Interestingly, recent evidence suggests that the state of your gut bacteria may also have an extremely large impact on your heart health.
The good bacteria in your gut can greatly influence the health of your heart through four primary means:
- lowering your blood pressure
- lowering the levels of cholesterol in your blood
- reducing the amount of inflammation in your body
- limiting the amount of trimethylamine (TMA) entering your body
Through these mechanisms, the good bacteria in your gut play an extremely important role in maintaining optimal heart health. Let’s check out how each of them works in more detail!
Disclosure – This post contains affiliate links. Click here for details.
Healthy Gut Bacteria and Cholesterol
Cholesterol is an important molecule. It plays a role in the production of new cells, nerve insulation, and hormones. Although your body can make cholesterol, it is also found in animal-based foods many people consume daily.
Unfortunately, if you consume excess amounts of cholesterol from foods, it can accumulate in your blood. Once in your blood, this cholesterol can slowly build up in the walls of your arteries (a process known as “atherosclerosis”).
As a result, your arteries become narrowed and blood flow to your heart becomes restricted. This can lead to heart dysfunction, including an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
Interestingly, healthy gut bacteria produce an enzyme called “bile salt hydrolase”. This enzyme interacts with cholesterol molecules found in your digestive system, making it much more difficult for you to absorb from the food you eat. This results in a substantial drop in blood cholesterol levels and the maintenance of a healthier heart.
Healthy Gut Bacteria and Systemic Inflammation
Inflammation is a natural process in response to physical or emotional stress.
Unfortunately, while inflammation is essential to recovery in the short-term, when left unattended, it can damage your body’s healthy cells. This includes the cells of your heart, potentially harming your heart health.
Healthy gut flora may be able to combat damage caused by inflammation by inhibiting the secretion of a group of inflammatory compounds called “cytokines”.
When you eat fiber, your healthy gut bacteria ferment it into anti-inflammatory molecules called “short chain fatty acids” (or SCFAs). These molecules interact with certain receptors in your body (known as “G protein-coupled receptors”) and tell your body to rein in its inflammation.
This reduction in inflammation protects your cardiovascular system and leads to improved heart health.
Healthy Gut Bacteria and Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is one of the largest risk factors for heart disease.
High blood pressure stems from the narrowing and stiffening of your arteries and veins. This forces your heart to squeeze harder to pump blood around your body at a normal rate, putting it under extreme stress.
Fortunately, the same SCFAs I discussed above have been shown to stimulate receptors on the walls of the veins and arteries, causing them to relax and widen. This reduces your blood pressure and eases the stress on your heart.
Healthy Gut Bacteria and Trimethylamine
Some of the bad gut bacteria found in an unhealthy gut feed on choline and carnitine — compounds found in eggs, red meat, and high-fat dairy.
When these bad bacteria break down choline and carnitine, they produce a compound called “trimethylamine” (TMA) as a byproduct. TMA is converted in your liver to a toxic compound called “trimethylamine -N-oxide” (TMAO).
TMAO interacts with the walls of your blood vessels, physically damaging them, causing them to narrow, and making them store extra cholesterol. All of this is bad news for your blood pressure and heart health.
In contrast to bad bacteria, good bacteria can lower the levels of TMA and TMAO in your body. They do this by reducing the amount of choline and carnitine available to bad bacteria, reducing the production of TMA. And less TMA means a healthier heart!
Take Home Message
Having healthy gut bacteria in your digestive system is essential to promoting heart health. Good gut bacteria improve blood cholesterol levels, reduce systemic inflammation, lower blood pressure, and reduce the production of TMAO.