For a healthy heart, take care… of your gut! Although it may seem like a strange association, in reality the health of the heart strictly depends on the health of the gut and the bacteria that populate it, which influence the deposition of atherosclerotic plaques. This emerges from a very recent scientific research that appeared in the journal Circulation and published by a Swedish team (Sayols Baixeras et al, Circulation, Jul 2023).
Healthy microbiota, benefits even for distant organs
The intestinal microbiota is one of the topics most studied by science in recent years. This is because it is increasingly clear to scientists that what happens in our gut does not stop there but affects the health and functioning of other organs, even very distant ones. For example, there is scientific evidence of a connection between the gut and lungs, but also between the gut and the liver and between the gut and the brain. This is because our gut is populated by bacteria, which are called the intestinal microbiota. When the microbiota is healthy, the so-called good bacteria prevail, which produce anti-inflammatory substances, which in turn, entering the bloodstream, benefit the other organs, counteracting, for example, conditions such as fatty liver or neuroinflammation. On the other hand, however, when the microbiota is unbalanced and bad and pro-inflammatory bacteria prevail, these can breach the intestinal walls, weakened by inflammation, enter the blood and bring inflammation to the various organs, thus increasing the long-term risk of liver disease, but also pneumonia and neurodegeneration. Not only that, from today we know that the microbiota also influences heart health, but let's try to understand better.
How the microbiota can help keep arteries clean, the study
Scientists recruited 8973 volunteers, all adults between 50 and 65 years without previous heart disease. This last information was important in order to exclude, in reading the results, any drug interactions and lifestyle changes. The volunteers underwent medical examinations and laboratory tests to evaluate the health of the intestinal microbiota, the heart and the blood vessels that supply the heart. Well, what has emerged is that a greater presence in the intestinal microbiota of some types of pro-inflammatory bacteria of the Streptococcus type is connected to an increase in atherosclerotic plaques in the coronary arteries, with a consequent increase in the risk of heart attack and stroke. It is noteworthy that these heart-damaging bacteria have also been observed in the mouth as a cause of dental disease. This association has not yet been fully understood and will be the subject of subsequent studies conducted by the same research group. The explanation for what has been observed is that Streptococcus-type bacteria are able to overcome the intestinal barrier and reach the coronary arteries, where they inflame the blood vessel walls, which lose their elasticity. Hence the accumulation of plaques which in turn increases inflammation, damages the endothelium, which is the inner lining of blood vessels, and increases the risk of occlusion of the coronary arteries and heart attack.
From today we have one more reason to take care of our intestinal microbiota. In fact, the bacteria in our gut, if unbalanced, can also negatively affect the health of the heart and coronary arteries. Hence the importance of taking probiotics, in the form of specific supplements or drinks, and prebiotics, which are the nourishment of good bacteria, such as leeks, asparagus, chicory, Jerusalem artichokes, onion, garlic, oats, bananas and soy. Not only that, anti-inflammatory drinks, such as black tea, oolong tea and green tea, help promote the growth of good bacteria.