A team of researchers has discovered that individuals who have a more diverse microbiome had a lower risk of developing atherosclerosis, or the hardening of the arteries.
Atherosclerosis is often linked to fatal health problems such as heart attacks and strokes.
The study, which was published in the European Heart Journal, is the first of its kind. It identified a “direct connection between the gut microbiome and cardiovascular health.” However, while the study findings revealed a link between the two, it didn’t prove cause and effect.
The gut microbiome is the term for the environment in an individual’s digestive tract that is home to different types of bacteria, viruses, yeast, and other types of microorganisms. (Related: Gut microbes can fight parasites: Probiotics may reduce infections, and severity of infections, in developing countries.)
Ana Valdes, senior study author and an associate professor of medicine and health sciences at the University of Nottingham School of Medicine, said that earlier studies have determined that a lack of diversity in “good” gut microbes may be connected to the development of different health problems.
Valdes added that different diseases, especially those that involve inflammation, are also linked to low microbiome diversity. She commented that while this connection to “gut diseases, such as the inflammatory bowel disease, are quite obvious,” a low microbiome diversity is also associated with health problems like allergies, arthritis, eczema, and psoriasis.
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Valdes also said that even type 2 diabetes, obesity, and weight gain could be connected to a lack of diversity in gut microbes.
The microbiome and arterial hardening
Since type 2 diabetes, obesity, and weight gain are risk factors for heart disease, Valdes, and her team set out to confirm if low microbiome diversity was directly connected to poor heart health, or if it was associated with these conditions closely related to poor heart health.
To confirm a connection between the conditions, researchers acquired blood and stool samples from 600 female twins. The volunteers, who were all middle-aged, were from the TwinsUK registry.
The researchers also measured the blood vessel stiffness of the volunteers to determine the degree of atherosclerosis. Valdes noted that since the study only involved British women and no representatives from other countries, it’s uncertain if the results also apply to other groups.
With the stool and blood samples from the participants, the researchers were able to glean data concerning their microbiome diversity. The results were also compared with the blood-vessel-stiffness measurements.
Valdes explained that arterial hardening can be related to diabetes and that it can also be linked to low gut microbiome diversity. However, based on the data from the study, blood vessel stiffness didn’t occur because of diabetes or obesity.
It was instead linked to the gut microbiome. The researchers discovered that Ruminococcaceae, a certain family of microbes, was connected to blood-vessel stiffness. The less diversity in the types of microbes from this group, the higher the level of blood-vessel stiffness was. Valdes posited that this connection between blood-vessel stiffness and low gut microbiome diversity could be brought about by inflammation.
Valdes shared, “It’s known from other research studies that people who have more inflammation — for example, people who have an inflammatory form of arthritis — when you give them specific drugs that reduce inflammation.”
Val Edward-Jones, a member of the Society for Applied Microbiology, said that the findings of the study could be used to develop new treatments of atherosclerosis based on dietary approaches.
Edward-Jones, who was not involved with the study, added that the study produced some noteworthy data concerning the gut microbiome and blood-vessel stiffness. Confirming whether certain microorganisms are linked to arterial hardening can help individuals diversify their gut bacteria by making changes to their diet.
Valdes concluded that to improve gut microbiome diversity, individuals can consume more foods that contain fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and probiotics.
Foods that can improve gut microbiome diversity
To boost the variety of microbes in your gut, add the following foods to your diet:
- Bananas – Bananas can help restore the health of the bacterial community. They are also rich in potassium and magnesium, reducing inflammation.
- Beans – Legumes can help release short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) that strengthen the intestine cells. Beans can also boost the absorption of micronutrients.
- Fermented plant-based foods (e.g., tempeh and miso) – Fermented foods help inoculate the gut with healthy live micro-organisms that can eliminate “bad” bacteria. They can also boost the absorption of minerals and improve overall health.
- Jerusalem artichokes – Jerusalem artichokes are rich in inulin, which has strong prebiotic potential. Inulin can ferment into healthy microflora once it reaches the colon.
- Polenta – Polenta is a high-fiber food. This corn-based complex carbohydrate also contains a fermentable component.
Learn more about other findings on microbes and gut health at Research.news.