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If there’s one organ in your body that’s surrounded by confusion and misinformation, then it’s your heart. And since you can’t exist without this hard-working organ, it pays to find out what you can do to help it thrive. This month, you’ll see red hearts everywhere, so it’s as good a time as any to celebrate heart health and give your heart some love.
One of the most important influences on your heart is the health of your gut. This is all down to the microbiome, the population of bacteria resident in your intestines. Every day, science is discovering links between the condition of the microbiome and the health of organs elsewhere in the body.
Your heart is no exception, with a new study 1 discovering people who have the wrong types of bacteria living in the upper part of their digestive tract, the small intestine, were significantly more likely to suffer from atherosclerosis. This develops when arteries are narrowed by deposits made up of cholesterol, minerals and fats, pushing up blood pressure and increasing the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke. Other studies have found the fewer overall species of bacteria living in the gut, the more likely arteries were to harden and stiffen with age 2.
You might wonder how a collection of bacteria could affect your heart in this way, and the answer lies in the chemicals they produce. Certain bacteria are beneficial to health and live alongside you in a symbiotic way. These microbes release anti-inflammatory chemicals, while other types of non-beneficial bacteria release chemicals increasing inflammation.
It might be useful to recap inflammation here. The type of inflammation following an injury such as a broken bone or a bruised thumb is useful and necessary for healing to occur. But when inflammation is allowed to rumble on unabated it causes damage to cells and tissues, encouraging oxidation and cellular ageing.
One of the most serious consequences of uncontrolled inflammation is damage to the inside of blood vessels. This lining should be nice and smooth, but if it’s damaged by inflammation the interior surface becomes rough. This provides an ideal medium for cholesterol, minerals and fats to latch on to, forming an atherosclerotic plaque.
Inflammation can also affect the functioning of your heart muscle and its valves, and make your blood more likely to clot. And although atherosclerosis is not simply caused by too much cholesterol, it’s worth remembering cholesterol can only able to latch on to blood vessels if they’ve been damaged by inflammation.
A healthy heart needs a healthy microbiome. The following measures will nurture your microbiome:
Other heart-healthy choices include:
Functional medicine doesn’t look at any of your organs and systems in isolation; instead, it considers your body as a whole, with every part connected to the others. A combination of in-depth health history, information about your eating habits and lifestyle, and functional tests will reveal if your microbiome is contributing to chronic inflammation and affecting your heart health. By delving into the causes of ill health, imbalances can be put right and optimal health restored.
Would you like natural support to improve your heart health? Then book a free 15-minute discovery call to see if Functional Medicine is for you.
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