When lecithin and choline were fed to mice, the substances were converted to a heart disease-forming product by the intestinal microbes. In humans, higher blood levels of choline and the heart disease forming microorganism products are strongly associated with increased cardiovascular disease risk.
According to Science Daily:
“... [D]ifferences in gut flora metabolism of the diet from one person to another appear to have a big effect on whether one develops heart disease.”
All the new studies are leading many experts to come to the conclusion that probiotics as a supplement are probably more important to take than a multivitamin. With time we should see a shift in people's understanding of this and as a result shift their supplement choices.
Many people are not aware that the micro-organisms living in their digestive tracts form a very important "inner ecosystem" that influences countless aspects of health. More specifically, the type and quantity of organisms in your gut interact with your body in ways that can either prevent or encourage the development of many diseases, and the latest chronic ailment to join the already long roster is heart disease.
What Does Your Gut Have to do With Your Heart?
The impact of diet on heart disease has long been understood (albeit with some very flawed nutritional dogmas) but what is less clear is why two people eating the very same diet can end up with two very different levels of heart health.
Without a doubt, some of this variance has to do with nutritional type, and whether your diet is in agreement with yours, along with epigenetic malleability, which is influenced by your lifestyle choices.
But the latest research is pointing to another theory for this phenomenon, and that is the makeup of your gut flora. According to data from nearly 2,000 people, when the bacteria in your gut break down lecithin, a fat found in meat, eggs, dairy and other animal foods along with baked goods and dietary supplements, ands its metabolite choline, it leads to the creation of a by-product called trimethylamine N-oxide or TMAO.
TMAO encourages fatty plaque deposits to form within arteries (atherosclerosis), and the more TMAO you have in your blood the greater your risk of heart disease becomes.
It's not clear which types of gut bacteria lead to the formation of TMAO, but it's suggested that probiotics may help to buffer the effect and thereby help prevent heart disease. Probiotics have already been found to prompt changes in your body that lead to lower blood pressure, as well as influence the activity of hundreds of your genes, helping them to express in a positive, disease-fighting manner.
So it makes sense that your gut bacteria and diet would interact in ways that influence your health. After all, as the study's senior author, Stanley Hazen, M.D., Ph.D., told Science Daily:
"Gut flora is a filter for our largest environmental exposure -- what we eat."
What Else Does Your Gut Bacteria Impact?
When you consider that your gut is quite literally your second brain as well as the home to 80 percent of your immune system, it doesn't take a large stretch of the imagination to see that its influence can easily encompass your heart as well. But the impact of your gut bacteria doesn't end there …
Your body contains about 100 trillion bacteria -- more than 10 TIMES the number of cells you have in your entire body. Ideally, the ratio between the bacteria in your gut is 85 percent "good" and 15 percent "bad." This healthy ratio of good to bad gut bacteria is essential for:
- Protection against over-growth of other microorganisms that could cause disease
- Digestion of food and absorption of nutrients and certain carbohydrates
- Producing vitamins, absorbing minerals and eliminating toxins
- Preventing allergies
- Maintaining natural defenses
Numerous studies have also shown that your gut flora plays a role in:
- Mood, psychological health, and behavior
- Celiac disease
- Weight gain and obesity
- Metabolic syndrome
The Best Way to Optimize Your Gut Flora and Prevent Heart Disease
Your gut bacteria are vulnerable to your lifestyle. If you eat a lot of sugar, refined grains and processed foods, for instance, your gut bacteria are going to be compromised because processed foods in general will destroy healthy microflora and feed bad bacteria and yeast.
Your gut bacteria are also very sensitive to:
- Chlorinated water
- Antibacterial soap
- Agricultural chemicals
Because of this, you need to avoid processed, refined foods in your diet (this is essential for heart disease prevention, too) and regularly reseed your gut with good bacteria to keep your microflora healthy. To do this, I recommend:
- Fermented foods are still the best route to optimal microflora health, as long as you eat the traditionally made, unpasteurized versions. Healthy choices include lassi (an Indian yogurt drink, traditionally enjoyed before dinner), fermented raw milk such as kefir, various pickled fermentations of cabbage, turnips, eggplant, cucumbers, onions, squash and carrots, and natto (fermented soy).
If you regularly eat fermented foods such as these that, again, have not been pasteurized (pasteurization kills the naturally occurring probiotics), your healthy gut bacteria will thrive.
One of the benefits of optimizing your gut flora with fermented foods is that some of them are also excellent sources of vitamin K2, which is important for preventing arterial plaque buildup and heart disease.
For vitamin K2, cheese and especially cheese curd is an excellent source. The starter ferment for both regular cheese and curd cheese contains bacteria—lactococci and proprionic acids bacteria—which both produce K2.
You can also obtain all the K2 you'll need (about 200 micrograms) by eating 15 grams of natto daily, which is half an ounce. But most people find the texture and taste non-appealing and prefer the convenience of a probiotic supplement.
- Probiotic supplement. Although I'm not a major proponent of taking many supplements (as I believe the majority of your nutrients need to come from food), probiotics are definitely an exception.
I have used many different brands over the past 15 years and there are many good ones out there. I also spent a long time researching and developing my own, called Complete Probiotics, in which I incorporated everything I have learned about this important tool over the years.
If you do not eat fermented foods, taking a high-quality probiotic supplement is definitely recommended.
The wide-reaching impact of healthy gut bacteria renders them useful and beneficial for a number of health concerns, some of which are still being uncovered. And because adding probiotics to your diet is so easy, by way of cultured foods and/or supplements, it's one step I highly encourage you to take on your journey to optimal heart and overall health.
For more tips on preventing heart disease naturally, including how to reduce your risk of sudden death, which is the most common "symptom" of heart disease, read this important past article.