Heart Health and the Gut: The Role of Functional Medicine

How improving your gut health can reduce cardiovascular risk

The human body is a complex ecosystem of interconnected systems, and research continues to show that the health of one system can profoundly impact the health of others. One area of study that has gained significant attention in recent years is the connection between the gut microbiome and heart health.

A large-scale study with 893 participants found that certain families of gastrointestinal bacteria can either positively or negatively affect cardiovascular health. Specifically, different compositions in the gut microbiome were correlated to both BMI and lipid levels, independent of genetics, age, and gender. Lower levels of certain bacterial families correlated with high BMI, and the researchers estimated that variations in the microbiome could explain BMI, triglyceride, and HDL variations, independent of other risk factors.

Further research has explored the potential of fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) to affect the course of some cardiometabolic diseases, including metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes (T2D). While study results on FMT in cardiometabolic diseases are varied, a recent study suggested that a single oral FMT administration, coupled with daily low-fermentable fiber supplementation, may improve insulin sensitivity and microbial diversity in people with severe obesity and metabolic syndrome.

One mechanism by which the microbiome affects the body is through the generation of metabolites that alter host physiology and influence metabolic inflammation. Recent research has found that gut microbiota is correlated with fasting serum levels in fatty acids, amino acids, lipids, and glucose, as well as with levels of trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), a metabolite associated with coronary artery disease and stroke. High circulating levels of TMAO have been associated with cardiometabolic disorders in adults, as well as major adverse cardiovascular events and all-cause mortality.

The gut microbiome is also known to affect metabolism and may contribute to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. For example, in individuals with metabolic syndrome, analysis of the microbiome accounted for a significant amount of the variation in arterial stiffness, with butyrate-producing Ruminococcaceae bacteria negatively correlated with arterial stiffness.

The exciting aspect of this research is that the microbiome changes rapidly in response to diet, making nutrition an important part of the microbiome-cardiometabolic equation. Diets naturally rich in polyphenols and/or long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids may significantly increase gut microbial diversity and bifidobacteria concentrations, impacting glucose and lipid metabolism. Bioactive compounds found in Mediterranean-style diets potentially adjust the ratio of Firmicutes/Bacteroidetes in the microbiome, improving the management and prevention of metabolic syndrome.

Treating the gut using diet, probiotics, prebiotic foods, and other therapies may reduce risks for many cardiometabolic patients. Functional medicine offers a personalized approach to optimizing health, and resources like the Cardiometabolic Food Plan can help support cardiac and metabolic health by effecting the microbiome.

In conclusion, the connection between the gut microbiome and heart health is an exciting area of study, and functional medicine offers a personalized approach to optimizing health by taking into account the interconnectedness of the body's systems. While research in this area is ongoing, there is growing evidence that interventions targeting the gut microbiome may be a promising avenue for reducing risks for cardiometabolic diseases.

There is so much you can do to optimise heart function and keep it in peak condition. Find out more about our cardioscopy service below.