Week 3: Movember – gut health and heart disease
This week for Movember, with a focus on nutrition for men, our Naturopath Amanda Harasym delves into gut and heart health, drawing the connection between the two not-so-unrelated organ systems. What does digestion have to do with your heart? How does gut health impact your cardiovascular disease risk? Read on to find out the answers!
What is cardiovascular disease?
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) involves all disease conditions involving the heart and blood vessels. Types of cardiovascular disease include coronary heart disease, stroke, and heart failure.
What are the stats of cardiovascular disease?
One in six Australians are affected by cardiovascular disease; on average, 119 Australians die from CVD each day. A higher burden of risk factors is associated with a higher risk of mortality from CVD. Risk factors include high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, smoking, overweight, obesity, and physical inactivity. Men aged 55 or older with at least 2 risk factors were six times as likely to die from CVD by age 80 compared to men with no or one CVD risk factor.
How is gut health and heart health connected?
What we eat plays a major role in the health of our gut, especially, our microbiome. The microbiome is a term used to describe our resident bacteria residing in our intestinal tract. These microbes help with digestion, make certain nutrients, and release substances that have health benefits, and other substances that have health-damaging effects.
One of the best known gut metabolites, trimethylamine (TMA) forms when microbes feed on choline, a nutrient found in red meat, poultry, fish, and eggs. TMA is converted to trimethylamine-N-oxide in the liver, a substance strongly associated with the formation of artery clogging plaque. People with the highest TMA levels were 62% more likely to experience serious CV problems compared to those with lower levels. It seems meat-free Mondays may be a serious boost to your health!
Gut metabolites are known to influence other factors tied to cardiovascular risk, for example, diabetes. A diet high in fibre causes microbes to produce short chain fatty acids; a gut that includes these substances seems to help people with diabetes better control their blood sugar levels.
Short chain fatty acids: the benefits
Short chain fatty acids seem to have a role in regulating blood pressure. Studies done on mice suggest they may be involved in constriction and vasodilation of the blood vessels. The entire field of SCFAs on blood pressure is still in the infancy stages, but results are promising.
Tips to improve gut health
Here are some practical tips to help improve the health of your gut, and your heart:
- Eat foods rich in prebiotics (foods that feed our gut bacteria). These foods include bananas, asparagus, sweet potato, leeks, onions, endive, and chicory.
- Include plenty of leafy greens in your diet.
- Go meat-free days 2-3 times per week (see recipes ideas HERE).
- Reduce consumption of red meat; when you consume red meat, ensure organic, biodynamic, and grass-fed.
- Reduce consumption of refined carbohydrates and sugar. Processed foods throw off our health balance of gut bacteria.
- Reduce alcohol consumption.
- Stop using aspartame and other artificial sweeteners.
- Eat more vegetables! Aim to have 7-8 servings of vegetables, per day.