Expert Blogs | Heart Health
How to Keep Your Gut Microbiome Healthy
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You may be the only person around, but you’re never truly alone. Your body hosts trillions of microorganisms, most of them part of your gut microbiome. The microbiome isn’t connected to the body like your heart, brain, and kidneys, but it’s just as important to your health. 

Meet the microbes. Between 1% and 3% of your entire body mass is made up of microbes. Most of these tiny organisms are gut bacteria with health benefits. They exist alongside pathogens -- bacteria that can make you sick. In healthy people, beneficial gut microbes typically outnumber pathogens.

Gut microbes need you and you need them. You supply food and a place to live. Gut microbes repay you by fermenting, or breaking down, fiber that you can’t digest. This produces vitamins, prevents infection, reduces inflammation, and protects the lining of your gut, among other benefits.  

Diversity matters. There’s so much buzz about the gut microbiome it may seem that experts are sure about exactly what type and how many beneficial bacteria should live in it, but that’s not true. One thing is for certain: A diversity of beneficial intestinal microbes promotes health and helps prevents dysbiosis, an imbalance linked to health conditions including overweight, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

The gut and heart health. Research shows that gut bacteria play a role in regulating blood pressure. Some studies suggest that certain probiotic supplements, which are live, beneficial microbes, may lower blood pressure a little, especially in people with higher blood pressure to start. Gut microbes also help control blood sugar levels and inflammation, which are both linked to cardiovascular disease.

The care and feeding of gut microbes. Eating a variety of plant foods that provide fiber, also called fermentable carbohydrate, is the best way to support your gut microbiome. Research shows that more varied food choices within a plant-based plan, lead to a more varied gut bacteria. Aim for 28 grams of fiber daily as part of a 2,000-calorie eating plan.

Certain types of fiber called prebiotics are particularly helpful to gut microbes. You can find them in plant foods including almonds, peanuts, walnuts, artichokes, tomatoes, bananas, asparagus, berries, garlic, onion, chicory, legumes, oats, barley, soybeans, walnuts, and whole grains. They’re also added to packaged foods, including yogurt, beverages, and cereal bars, and are available as dietary supplements.

Foods rich in probiotics are also good for you gut. They supply live microbes (usually bacteria) that have health benefits -- provided you get enough of them. Yogurt, for example, with live active cultures is a probiotic food. Probiotics are also available as dietary supplements. Consume adequate amounts of probiotic foods or supplements on a regular basis for the best results.

While food is a major contributor to the makeup and function of your gut microbiome, certain medications, particularly antibiotics, play a role, too. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the medications you take and how they may affect your gut health.




Photo Credit: yulkapopkova / E+ via Getty Images

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Elizabeth Ward, MS, RDN

Elizabeth Ward, MS, RDN

Registered dietitian nutritionist

Elizabeth Ward, MS, RDN, is an award-winning nutrition communicator and dietitian based in Boston. She is the author of several books, including The Menopause Diet Plan, A Natural Guide to Hormones, Health, and Happiness (co-author), and Expect the Best, Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During, and After Pregnancy.

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