Can your digestion affect heart health?


Alison Cullen
Nutritional Practitioner, BA (Hons), DN, DNT (Distinction)
@AVogelUK
Ask Ali


14 May 2019

1. The proper breakdown and utilisation of fats

Interestingly, we often assume that fats are the enemy when it comes to the cardiovascular system; when, in fact, we actually need healthy fats to help support our heart health. However, further to this, including sufficient healthy fats such as olive oil, avocados, coconut oil, oily fish or nuts and seeds in our diets is only half the battle; being able to absorb them sufficiently is also a top priority, and this responsibility lies with your digestive system. 

See, we need to support the functions of both our liver and gallbladder, two key digestive organs in order to support the proper absorption, utilisation and balance of fats in our system. Contrary to popular belief up to 90% of our cholesterol levels are manufactured by our liver, so supporting this important organ is likely to be more important, rather than fussing over the small quantity of dietary cholesterol in good quality wholefoods such as eggs. 

Next, our liver is responsible for manufacturing bile, a substance which we need in order to emulsify and help absorb the fats from our meals. Equally importantly, our gallbladder is our storage unit for bile, so we rely on this to help keep bile moving and release sufficient quantities at the right moments. 

What can be done to help?

Supporting the proper functions of your liver and the proper movement of bile is key for ensuring the proper absorption of fats from your diet. In turn, healthy fats are essential for supporting a healthy heart and all the blood vessels that make up our cardiovascular system. 

Combining the herbs artichoke and dandelion in a remedy such as Digestisan, can help to ensure we make the most of the fats from our diet.

My Top Tip:


Take 15-20 drops of Digestisan in a little water 3 times daily. I recommend taking it before meals to help prep the digestive system and symptoms that might spring up as a result of weak digestive functions.   

"I suffer a lot from acid reflux and heartburn, this helped to make me feel better and calmed everything down. Would highly recommend."

 

Read what other people are saying about Digestisan.

2. Absorption of key nutrients 

Whilst absorbing fats from your diet is an important consideration when it comes to heart health, actually, even more crucial than that, is the absorption of key nutrients from your diet; and some of the most basic digestive principles can help to support this process. 

We need a range of minerals such as magnesium, vitamins such as vitamin K and antioxidants such as vitamin C and E, to help support optimal heart health.

What can be done to help?

Supporting the absorption of nutrients links back to diet in some respects in that, especially for our fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamin E or K, a good dose of healthy fats with each meal or snack will help support this. 

However, by practicing more mindful eating and having more of a focus on chewing, we can also help ensure we get the most from our food. Chewing properly gets us off to the best possible start, allowing us to hopefully extract more nutrients further along the digestive process. Efficient time spent in the initial stages in the mouth also helps prime the stomach sufficiently, allowing it to release our all-important digestive juices.

3. Leaky gut 

Beyond the stomach, the integrity of our digestive tract is also thought to have a significant impact on our cardiovascular health. Our small intestine is the main site for the absorption of the simplest macro and micronutrient units from the food we eat; however, the structure of the small intestine wall is also responsible for keeping pathogens out – it very much works as a barrier, controlling what passes through into our systemic circulation.

If this barrier becomes compromised, such as in a condition that we call leaky gut, we may absorb bigger molecules of foods, and/or pathogens which can alert the many immune cells that line the length of your gut. 

An immune system on high alert can then result in a higher amount of inflammatory cells being put out on patrol (often unnecessarily and on an on-going basis as with the scenario as mentioned above) and this creates what we call low-grade inflammation throughout your system. 

Unfortunately, we suspect that this inflammation can then translate into our cardiovascular system - this spells danger. Over time, it can affect the structure and function of our blood vessels which, in turn, can translate into a whole host of issues from high blood pressure, to atherosclerosis. 

What can be done to help?

If you’re worried about the knock on effect of a weakened digestive system, introducing more prebiotics into your system can be a good place to start. 

We know that by supporting the correct internal gut environment, we can help to restore the correct structure and function of the lining of the digestive tract. Molkosan acts in this way, as the high L+ lactic acid content means it works well as a prebiotic.

4. Good gut bacteria

Interestingly, part of ensuring we have a robust gut wall, is to ensure we have good levels of gut bacteria throughout our system. These little critters help ensure the barrier effect of our gut wall is working efficiently.

However, our gut bacteria also have a range of other important functions including making certain nutrients, breaking down toxins and communicating with our immune system. B vitamins, in particular are manufactured by our gut bacteria and are very important for controlling levels of a detrimental amino acid called homocysteine, which has been associated with greater rates of heart disease.

We’re still gradually learning more about exactly how the bacteria in our gut may exert a vast array of whole body effects, but we can all generally agree that a healthy balance in gut bacteria is key. In research, a greater diversity of gut bacteria has been linked to lower rates of both arterial stiffness1 and atherosclerosis.2

What can be done to help?

As above, including a prebiotic supplement in your regime such as Molkosan is often a useful first step for supporting your digestion, but for an extra boost, incorporating a good quality combination probiotic such as one from the Optibac range, may also prove useful. 

Once you’ve worked on correcting the internal environment, any additional bacteria that you put in in the form of probiotics are much more likely to survive and be able to exert their beneficial effects.

5. Manage your meat intake?

There has been lots of debate recently about the potentially adverse effects that meat may have on our digestive health and, in turn, our cardiovascular health. This is thought to be down to some of the metabolites that are produced as our gut bacteria breakdown the compounds found in meat. 

Trimethylamine n-oxide (TMAO) is one such compound made from l-carnitine, an amino acid which tends to be found in protein-heavy foods such as meat or dairy. In seems that, in excess, this compound could potentially contribute to an increase in some cardiovascular risk factors such as arterial stiffness.

What can be done to help?

Whilst some of the most recent headlines have been a little scaremongering, when we delve a little deeper into some of the recent research, it seems that more processed or a greater intake of red meat, could have the highest association with adverse health outcomes. 

My advice would be to consider the quality of meat you consume, and perhaps consider trying to incorporate more lean meat, fish or veggie/vegan-based options instead, to help ensure a greater variety of gut and heart-healthy foods in your diet.

6. Other dietary factors

 

Whilst there may be some dietary elements which don’t seem to be so favourable when it comes to digestive and, therefore, heart health, although the quality of the foods we eat seems to be an important consideration, balancing the intake of the odd treat with plenty or fresh, antioxidant-rich foods is also a useful tactic. 

It makes sense that someone who loads up on lots of meat may also have less room to eat a nice variety of fruit, vegetables or wholegrains, so this could also be having a significant impact on our health.

What can be done to help?

Eating plenty of fresh foods, and combining prebiotic-rich fruit and vegetables, means that we can help ensure a healthier spectrum of gut bacteria. Antioxidants in these foods, especially plentiful in brightly coloured fruits and veg, and healthy fats are also thought to exert additional benefits. 

A compound found in olive oil and red wine called DMB is thought to help block the production of TMAO3 and other ingredients such as omega-3 found in oily fish and nuts and seeds, are considered to be naturally anti-inflammatory. Therefore, once again, this helps support the idea that a balanced diet really is the key to good health.

 

1. https://academic.oup.com/eurheartj/article/39/25/2390/4993201

2. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-017-00900-1

3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4871610/

Digestisan - Oral drops for indigestion

To relieve indigestion and flatulence. Also available in 50ml size. Fresh herb tincture.
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According to naturopathic principles, when two or three meals are being eaten daily, the bowel should move at least once or twice a day.

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