Capital Cardiology Associates
Gut Bacteria and Your Heart Health
How trillions of bacteria in your gut impact your cardiovascular health
Inside your body right now are about 300 to 500 different types of gut bacteria. Most live in your intestines and colon, helping with your digestive functions. But there are a quite a few of these microbes that do much more than breakdown food. Gut bacteria plays a role in your immune function, weight gain, thyroid function, and brain health. An innovative study found a link between our heart health and the health of our gut, highlighting the importance of physical exercise, a heart healthy diet, and limiting antibiotics for keeping both at optimal levels. Researchers from the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio are focusing on one of the trillions of “good” bacteria called atrimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), which gut bacteria produce. Their goal: to better understand how these bacteria are helpful in our body. Previous studies on this gut bacteria chemical have been powerful indicators of a patient’s risk of future cardiovascular disease, heart attack, or stroke.
Think of your body as your own solar system with all of your major organs servings as planets. Your heart for example would be Earth, the sun your brain. If you looked at your blood stream as the night sky, the trillions of stars would be the nutrients, oxygen, and bacteria that travel in your blood. Your vascular system is what fuels and provides life to the rest of your body. “This is something that we have missed out on so many aspects of medical care, cardiology is one of them, your heart and your vascular system,” states Dr. Robert Benton, Director of Clinical Research at Capital Cardiology Associates. “There is so much evidence that the gut bacteria, the flora, that we live with, we think they are a pest in our stomach but we need that flora in our gut.”
There are around 40 trillion bacteria in your body, most of which are in your intestines. Collectively, they are known as your gut microbiota, and they are hugely important for your health. Dr. Benton expanded on their role, “gut bacteria helps process certain chemicals, just as they provide us with certain chemicals. Just like a tree that grows has bacteria in its roots, the bacteria will supply the tree with minerals and the tree supplies the bacteria with sugars, this same thing occurs in our gut.” Gut bacteria in your digestive system has the capability of affecting your body’s vitamin and mineral absorbency, hormone regulation, digestion, vitamin production, immune response, and ability to eliminate toxins, not to mention your overall mental health.
The research team at the Cleveland Clinic worked on a drug therapy that lowered clot formations following an arterial injury that did not kill gut bacteria. The science is difficult, targeting specific parts of the gut bacteria without damaging the “good” microbes. Dr. Benton commented on the importance of this research. “You’re going to find this to be a rage of important information over the next few years in so many specialties. You can find evidence that change in the gut flora can lead to depression because of the changing of the active chemicals that are processed by the gut bacteria. There are so many different places in and on your body where this is important.”
One concern from the onset with the research team was avoiding antibiotics that indiscriminately destroy potentially useful gut bacteria. “I think people are aware that these antibiotics don’t just go attack the bad bacteria that cause the problem, but they attack ALL of the bacteria in your body,” noted Dr. Benton. “We should not be just handing out antibiotics to the average person with a common cold or cough. We need to allow those healthier bodies time to mount an immune response to fight simple, bad bacteria infections on their own. Many illnesses are caused by viruses which antibiotics don’t act against anyway. Especially children. Parents want to bring their kids to the pediatrician and expect antibiotics all of the time. I think it’s not necessary, and I think you might be hurting yourself. You’re changing the entire flora that is affecting the herd of humans. We now have these very dangerous ‘superbugs’ in the hospital. They are resistant to multiple antibiotics. These superbugs act like the king of the hospital, in that, they do so much damage to hospitals but in reality they are really weaklings when you get them out in the community. If we get your flora up, your body can overwhelm these ‘superbugs’.”
A Healthy Diet Helps
The best way to maintain healthy gut bacteria is to eat a range of fresh, whole foods, mainly from plant sources like fruits, veggies, legumes, beans and whole grains. The problem is, the average American diet is loaded with processed sugars, fatty foods, and preservatives (chemicals) that all upset bacteria levels. “What I do tell patients is, and I think this is very important, is to eat foods that are as unprocessed as possible,” advises Dr. Benton. “When you get to the point of eating whole grain foods, ingredients that have not been through the chemical factory. I joke with patients that there are certain types of margarine where one molecule is from plastic. That can’t be good for you, right?”
Written by: Michael Arce, Media Specialist
Any medical information published on this website is not intended as a substitute for informed medical advice and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional.