Trust your gut. Follow your heart. As it turns out, you can do both at once: The health of your cardiovascular and digestive systems appears to be linked.
Why? One hundred trillion bacteria inhabit your gastrointestinal tract. Many of these so-called microbes are good for you. They help you digest food, metabolize drugs, and protect you from infection.
When your balance of gut bugs goes awry, the damage isn’t limited to tummy troubles. Changes to what’s called your gut microbiome—the group of microbes in your GI tract—may also affect your heart.
The Impact of Imbalance
For years, experts have suspected a connection between gut health and heart health. Recent evidence found that changes in certain types of gut bacteria are associated with:
- High blood pressure
- Lower levels of HDL or “good” cholesterol
- Heart disease
- Events like heart attacks and strokes
- Heart failure
Right now, scientists believe one link has to do with the compounds gut bacteria produce when they break down certain foods. Having the wrong balance of bugs may mean more by-products that raise cholesterol levels and harm blood vessels.
Daily Steps to Maintain Gut Health
Health experts are still studying the details. They hope eventually they’ll be able to tinker with your microbiome to keep your heart ticking along smoothly. In the meantime:
- Approach antibiotics with caution. Medications that treat infections can also kill off healthy bugs. Take them only when needed and follow directions.
- Practice hand hygiene. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water. When you don’t have access to water, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Fill up on fiber. Boost your intake by eating the peels on pears and apples, adding beans to your diet, and swapping refined foods, like white rice, for whole grains, such as brown rice and oatmeal.
- Ponder probiotics. Foods like yogurt, miso, and sauerkraut contain more healthy microorganisms. There’s some evidence that eating them helps restore proper gut balance. However, ask your healthcare provider before taking probiotic supplements.
Help for Heart Health
Our Healthy Heart Program uses evidence-based, nationally accepted practices and a personalized approach to assist members living with high blood pressure.* QualChoice members age 18 or older may enroll free of charge. The program offers support for members to reach their healthcare goals and stick to the treatment plan established by their doctor. To enroll, contact a QCARE health coach at 501.228.7111 or 800.235.7111.
Programs may vary by group and benefit plan. Check with your benefits administrator.