Why Your Gut Bacteria Matters for Heart Health

by Lisa Nelson, RD, LN Health Professional

Did you know that the bacteria in your gut, also known as gut flora or gut microbiota, affects the health of your heart? Your gut is full of bacteria that perform many different functions in your body. The good bacteria in your gut can help strengthen your immune system, neutralize toxins, stimulate digestion and absorption of nutrients, and discourage the growth of “bad” bacteria.

In fact, a study from the German Centre for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) discovered that in the guts of patients with heart failure, certain bacteria are found less frequently and the gut flora in general isn’t as diverse as it is in individuals without heart failure.

How diet affects gut bacteria

Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic found that it may be possible to prevent or treat heart disease resulting from diet by changing your gut flora.

The bacteria in your gut feed off different nutrients. Some feed off choline and carnitine, two nutrients found in high-fat dairy, eggs, and red meat. As the bacteria feed off of choline and carnitine, they release trimethylamine, a chemical known as TMA. The liver then takes that TMA and turns it into trimethylamine-N-oxide, or TMAO, in your blood.

TMAO has been linked to cholesterol buildup in the blood vessels, which is an indicator for higher risk of heart attack, stroke, and death.

How can you change your gut bacteria?

It’s not an exciting quick fix. But one thing you can do to stop your bacteria from making TMA is to begin eating DMB (3,3-dimethyl-1-butanol), a natural substance that lowers TMAO levels and creates fewer clogged arteries. DMB can be found in some vinegars and olive and grapeseed oils, and doesn’t kill the “good” bacteria you need since it’s not an antibiotic.

A Cleveland Clinic study suggested that one way to alter your gut flora and incorporate plenty of DMB into your diet is to follow the Mediterranean diet, a diet rich in olive oil, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and fish. The clinical trial linked eating a Mediterranean diet to a 30 percent lower rate of stroke, heart attack, and death from heart-related causes.

Moderation is the other key

Omnivores do typically have higher levels of TMAO than vegans and vegetarians, but not always. Cutting back on the amount of high-fat dairy products, red meat, and eggs in your diet can help reduce the TMA levels your bacteria release, creating less TMAO in your blood.

Many genetic studies performed have shown that hereditary factors only account for about 15 percent of risk for heart disease and heart failure. This means that environmental causes such as diet and lifestyle are responsible for the other 85 percent of your cardiovascular risk.

This means that you have a lot of power over your heart health! Start changing your gut bacteria now by incorporating more fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, and high-quality vinegars, olive oils, and grapeseed oils, and cut back on the amount of high-fat dairy products, red meat, and eggs in your diet.

Lisa Nelson, RD, LN
Meet Our Writer
Lisa Nelson, RD, LN

Lisa Nelson RD, a registered dietitian since 1999, provides step-by-step guidance to lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure, so you can live life and enjoy your family for years to come. Lisa's passion for health comes from her own family history of heart disease, so she doesn't dispense trendy treatments; Lisa practices what she teaches in her own daily life. Because her own health is the foundation of her expertise, you can trust that Lisa will make it truly possible for you to see dramatic changes in your health, without unrealistic fads or impossibly difficult techniques.