Medical specialists, by definition, tend to focus on one aspect of the human body, according to their particular training. The heart and the gut, for example, are the province of cardiologists and gastroenterologists, and they are generally thought to have little relationship to each other. Now one prominent cardiologist, Dr. Joel Kahn, is taking a new approach. He says,
For most of my years of practice, the gut and the heart seemed remote. However, the view that systems of the body don’t function alone, but interact in a complex, interconnected web — the foundation of functional medicine — has gained favor. In the last few years I’ve recommended foods and supplements containing probiotics to my heart patients, and the science is demonstrating important benefits to support this.
He’s right about the science. In fact, we have recently learned a lot about the value of bacteria. Human beings have about 100 trillion bacteria living in our bodies, or 10 times the number of cells we have (our bacteria weigh about five pounds). The Human Microbiome Project is researching and analyzing every bacteria in its test subjects, and we expect to learn much more. Nevertheless, we already know enough to integrate the information into the way we manage our health.
Dr. Kahn says the use of probiotics may help improve seven conditions related to the heart:
1. Congestive Heart Failure
A new study followed 20 patients with congestive heart failure as they were treated with S. boulardii-containing supplements or placebo. The group treated with probiotics showed reduced cholesterol and inflammatory markers, and improved heart function.
2. High Cholesterol Levels
Several studies show a healthier gastrointestinal tract correlates to lower blood cholesterol.
3. Low Vitamin D Levels
Healthy vitamin D levels are essential to heart function, and a healthier gut correlates to increased levels of vitamin D in the body.
4. Blood Pressure
When nine studies of probiotics were analyzed, researchers found subjects receiving the probiotics had a reduction in blood pressure over those receive the placebo. The results were marked with more potent preparations administered over eight weeks.
5. Diabetes Mellitus
When patients receive probiotics, practitioners see improved glucose levels and less inflammation. In light of these results, more clinical studies are likely.
Anxiety is a side effect of heart disease, and Dr. Kahn recommends adaptogens and other neutraceuticals. He says data is showing the relationship of the gut in neural pathways to the brain that impact mood and psychological states. Early studies show mood improvements when subjects receive probiotics.
Obesity correlates closely to hypertension, diabetes, and ultimately, heart disease. Kahn says early research suggests probiotics support weight loss.
Medical experts are beginning to understand that heart health does not exist in a vacuum. It is closely tied to optimal gastrointestinal health. Avoiding unnecessary antibiotics, too much alcohol, sugar, trans fats, and possibly genetically modified foods, supports not just a healthy gut, but also a healthy heart. Key to that is supplementing with probiotics.