Haims: Gut bacteria affects your health more than you’d think (column)
When we think of bacteria, often we associate it with as being bad. However, most bacteria are remarkably good and are essential to our survival.
Our bodies are home to trillions of “good” bacteria, the largest populations reside in our gut. While a small percent of bacteria play a part in disease and infection, most help our immune and our digestive systems. Without bacteria, our digestive system would not function properly.
When we are ill, bacteria are not always the cause. Too often we think our medical providers can make us better by prescribing an antibiotic. But not all illnesses are cured by antibiotics.
Antibiotics treat bacterial infections. They don’t treat viral infections like the common cold, flu and respiratory infections because they can’t kill viruses. Unfortunately, even when used properly they non-specifically kill all types of gut bacteria and thus can lead to adverse side effects and resistance.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Antibiotic resistance is one of the most urgent threats to the public’s health. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them. Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people get infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and at least 23,000 people die as a result.”
Much of our overall heath is connected to maintaining a balance of bacteria in our body. Recently, scientists have learned that our gut bacteria may have a profound connection to heart disease.
At the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Stanley Hazen specializes in cardiovascular medicine. Hazen and his research team have developed a potential new class of drugs that may reduce cardiovascular risk by targeting specific gut bacteria and a byproduct called TMAO.
TMAO is naturally produced in the liver and assists the body in breaking down food, alters the way cholesterol is metabolized and effects oxidative stress. Unfortunately, recent research has led scientists to believe that elevated levels may feed certain gut bacteria that in turn make blood sticky and prone to form clots causing heart attacks and strokes.
Hazen’s team believes that the excessive levels of TMAO may be promoting heart disease as it promotes the formation of arterial plaque.
What can we eat?
All this information can be quite confounding. A lot depends on the makeup of bacteria in your gut and what you eat.
As gut bacteria are directly related to the foods we eat, we can increase the amounts of good versus bad bacteria by diversifying our diet.
For the most part, scientists and health experts agree that diets which are more plant based promote good bacteria and acids that do not lead to the formation of TMAO. Interestingly, studies also found that vegetarians and vegans lacked the gut bacteria needed to produce TMAO.
Hazen and his researchers believe that they are close to developing an inhibitor that could block the development of TMAO while not effecting bacteria that may be beneficial to our overall health. Should they succeed, countless people may be saved from coronary heart disease.
When you visit your medial provider next, ask if they believe testing your TMAO levels may be beneficial.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. Contact him at 970-328-5526 or visit http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns.