Image of a pair of hands holding a red heart

The Gut-Heart Axis: How Our Microbes Influence Our Heart Health

It’s pretty well established that the trillions of microbes in your gut play a key role in health, but did you know they also influence the health of our heart? We asked Gastroenterology Dietitian Dr Sammie Gill to dig into the science for us.

Although its early days in our understanding, it’s thought that one of the ways the gut and the heart communicate is through the molecules our microbes produce, for example, short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These SCFAs can enter the bloodstream or they can act on the autonomic nervous system (the network of nerves that control involuntary bodily functions).

In the gut, butyrate is a key SCFA that plays an important role in supporting barrier function and providing an energy source for cells that line the gut wall. Not only that (and this is where the gut-heart connection comes in), but there is research to suggest that SCFAs can regulate blood pressure.

What’s more, emerging research suggests that changes in the gut microbiome could be a driver of cardiovascular disease (CVD). For example, lower numbers of butyrate-producing microbes may increase risk.

What we eat plays a key role 

What we eat plays a key role in heart health (as well as gut health). From a diet perspective, there are certain foods which support heart health more than others.

For example, eating lots of plant-based foods help keep our microbes well fed. This in turn encourages SCFA production.

On the other hand, a high-salt diet can impact the gut microbiome which may hinder SCFA production. Eating high amounts of red and processed meat are linked with increases in a compound called trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO). TMAO can cause harm to our blood vessels and increase risk of CVD.

The good news is that CVD is largely preventable. One of those strategies involves prioritising your gut health.

7 easy things you can do today to help:

  • Focus on wholegrains, fruit, veg, nuts, seeds and legumes – these foods are packed with fibre, naturally occurring prebiotics and plant chemicals. Plant-based foods = protective effect.
  • Choose quality meat products, if you wish – e.g. chicken, turkey, oily fish
  • Be mindful of salt – refrain from adding extra salt to meals, look at food labels and choose less processed foods
  • Consider live microbes, such as probiotics
  • Think about including fermented foods in your diet
  • Ensure good quality and quantity of sleep
  • Keep up regular physical activity

 Read more of the science behind why supporting your gut microbiome is so important.