Veronica Rouse MAN, RD, CDE is The Heart Dietitian who helps individuals with healthy eating in order to prevent and manage heart disease. View profile
Heart disease is often seen as a man’s health issue, but in fact, it’s the leading cause of death for women in North America. Heart disease is an illness that can sneak up on you. Women often experience little to no warning signs compared to men. Inflammation can effect heart disease. If you have heart disease in your family, are living with high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol or blood sugar, please be sure to start taking inflammation seriously and start managing your heart disease before it’s too late.
When we look to the science, it is very clear that nutrition can play a role in preventing and managing heart disease. Specifically, our goal in prevention and management of heart disease is to prevent our heart’s arteries from building up plaque and clogging, also known as atherosclerosis.
In the past, heart healthy nutrition management involved optimizing blood vessel health to vasodilate arteries for proper blood flow by lowering cholesterol and managing blood pressure. More recently, the gut has been researched for its role in heart disease management. Interestingly the gut has been identified not just as a vehicle for digestion and metabolism but for heart health, brain health and even mental health.
One of the proposed mechanisms of actions is through the gut production of trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO), derived from a dietary nutrient, carnitine. TMAO production is said to cause a faster progression of heart disease and poor outcomes in people with heart disease because it alters cholesterol metabolism, accelerates atherosclerosis formation and activates inflammatory pathways.
How is TMAO produced?
When you eat carnitine (found in meat, egg yolks and high fat dairy) it is digested by gut bacteria, which produces TMAO. The amount of TMAO produced depends on the health and type of bacteria found in your gut.
Research has suggested that in individuals who include more plants in their diet (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts/seeds), this impacts the metabolism of carnitine in a way that does not lead to TMAO production. This is how the bacteria in your intestine plays a large role in one’s risk of cardiovascular disease. The more plant based foods you eat, the healthier your gut bacteria and less TMAO production when carnitine is eaten.
What can we do to keep our gut bugs healthy?
– First we need to start by understanding where carnitine is found in our food supply. It’s located in animal products like meat, fish, poultry and milk. The redder the meat, the higher the carnitine content. So let’s start by decreasing our intake of animal products, especially red meat. Instead, try eating more protein from plants like legumes, tofu, nuts and whole grains.
– Another way we can create a healthy gut microbiome is by eating foods that promote good bacteria growth. Gut bugs thrive off eating fiber! Fiber is only found in plant products, so be sure to eat your recommended servings of vegetables & fruits, in addition to the plant based proteins.
– Probiotics can also support the development of healthy gut bugs. Try adding kimchi, miso or tempeh to your eating pattern.
– My final suggestion is to add more prebiotics to your plate, as these feed our gut bugs. Prebiotics are foods that are rich in fibers like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains like quinoa and barley.
What do all of these foods have in common?
They are mostly plant foods! Focusing on adding more plants into your eating pattern by ensuring there is color on your plate at each meal is a great place to start.
Healing starts from the inside. Including more plants in your eating pattern is a great first step to help heal your gut and grow a healthy microbiome. If you follow these tips you will be well on your way to manage inflammation to reduce atherosclerosis formation and stop further damage to your arteries.
Short Article Review
- Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in North America.
- More recently, the gut has been researched for its role in heart disease management.
- TMAO production can cause a faster progression of heart disease and poor outcomes in people with heart disease.
- The healthier your gut bacteria, the less TMAO production when carnitine is eaten which will lead to better heart health.
- There are several ways to keep your gut bacteria healthy; eat more protein from plants, eat more fiber, and add prebiotics and probiotics to your diet.
The information in this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your healthcare provider regarding any questions you may have about any medical condition.
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