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The Gut, Heart and Brain Connection

The health of the gut, heart and brain are all intricately connected and it is important to have an understanding of this in order to fully support the health of the heart and brain through diet, lifestyle and natural supplements.

An overview of the connection of the gut, heart and brain:

  1. Medical research suggests that up to 90% of all illness and disease is stress-related. Chronic stress puts you at risk for cardiovascular disorders, metabolic disease (diabetes obesity, Alzheimer’s) and mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, learning disorders, and memory problems including dementias. Stress also contributes to imbalances in the gut microbiome.
  2. Gut microbe imbalance (dysbiosis) causes local and systemic inflammation – leading to inflammation in the brain and in the heart. We now know inflammation is the leading cause of heart disease and a main contributor to mental health disorders. Various factors interrupt the gut microbiome balance including: high sugar and refined carbs; antibiotics and antacids; chronic stress; environmental toxins; lack of pro- and prebiotics in the diet.
  3. Scientists suggest gut bacteria form part of a complex system that maintains the body’s blood pressure and clinical trials show that probiotics and probiotic fermented foods significantly reduced both blood pressure in hypertensive subjects.
  4. Uncontrolled high blood pressure damages the brain’s structure and function in individuals as young as 40. People with hypertension showed accelerated brain aging, decreased cognitive function, and increased risk for vascular dementia. It is shocking, but children and teens are the newest at-risk group for cardiovascular disease.

It is interesting to note that 50% of the people with heart attacks have normal cholesterol levels and 25% of people with premature heart attacks have no traditional risk factors at all. The gut heart interaction must be considered to prevent cardiovascular disease.

What can we do to support the heart and brain?

  • Support the stress adaptive organs in the body with an adrenal supplement.
  • Support the gut microbiome with prebiotic fibre and foods such as fermented products (kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut, yoghurts etc.)
  • Water is essential – prevents dehydration, increases blood circulation, aids in the removal of toxins. Even mild levels of dehydration can affect mental performance.
  • Mediterranean diet – prevents metabolic disorders, cardiovascular disease and dementia.
  • EXERCISE MATTERS – of all the risk factors for heart disease and stroke, physical inactivity is the most prevalent. Exercise not only prevents memory problems but can actually help turn back the clock on brain aging.
  • Avoid sugars and refined carbohydrates and bad fats; these foods contribute to inflammation and gut imbalances = compromises brain and heart health.

There are also many different natural supplements available at your local health food stores that can help support the health of the heart and brain. Some of these include:

  • Magnesium – 34% of Canadians are deficient. Can affect mental health disorders and heart electrical activity.
  • Omeag-3s can help prevent inflammation which affects the health of the brain and the heart.
  • Resveratrol, an antioxidant found in foods such as peanuts, pistachios, grapes, red wine, blueberries, cranberries, and cocoa has been found to help in the treatment of metabolic disorders, cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline.
  • Bacopa supports the body from the negative effects of mental and physical stress and has been shown to improve cognition, anxiety and depression.
  • Gingko Biloba helps to increase blood flow to the brain and enhance memory. It is contraindicated on those people on blood thinners.
  • PQQ (pyrroloquinoline quinone) is an extremely powerful antioxidant that helps protect the body from the ravaging effects of toxins. It has been shown to protect against cognitive decline.

The interaction of the gut, heart and brain must be considered fundamental components for healthy heart and brain function.

By Dr. Karen Jensen
References:
Thushara RM, Gangadaran S, Solati Z, et al. Cardiovascular benefits of probiotics: a review of experimental and clinical studies. Food Funct. 2016 Feb;7(2):632-42.
Fabio S Pimentaa FS, Luaces-Regueirab M, Tona AM, et al. Mechanisms of Action of Kefir in Chronic Cardiovascular and Metabolic Diseases. Cell Physiol Biochem 2018;48:1901-1914.
Jose PA, Raj D. Gut microbiota in hypertension. Curr Opin Nephrol Hypertens.  2015 Sep;24(5):403-9.
Upadrasta A, Madempudi RS.  Probiotics and blood pressure: current insights. Integr Blood Press Control. 2016 Feb 25;9:33-42. 2016
Eby GA, Eby KL. Rapid recovery from major depression using magnesium treatment. Med Hypotheses. 2006; 67(2):362-70.
Estruch R, Martínez-González MA, Corella D, et al. Effect of a high-fat Mediterranean diet on bodyweight and waist circumference: a prespecified secondary outcomes analysis of the PREDIMED randomised controlled trial. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. 2016.
Kempton MJ, Ettinger U, Foster R, et al. Dehydration affects brain structure and function in healthy adolescents. Hum Brain Mapp. 2011; 32(1):71-9.
Lewis MD, Hibbeln JR, Johnson JE, et al. Suicide deaths of active-duty US military and omega-3 fatty-acid status: a case-control comparison. J Clin Psychiatry. 2011; 72(12):1585-90.
Ma T, Tan MS, Yu JT, et al. Resveratrol as a therapeutic agent for Alzheimer’s disease. Biomed Res Int. 2014; 2014:350-516.

About the Author: Karen Jensen

Karen Jensen

Karen Jensen, ND received her degree from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in 1988. She is a well-known lecturer and has written extensively for health magazines in Canada and the US. She is author or co-author of 7 books, the most recent Women’s Health Matters: The Influence of Gender on Disease. Although she is currently retired after 25 years in clinical practice, she continues to write books and articles on the naturopathic approach to wellness.

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