Let’s talk about the best gut-healing foods to clean out your arteries; that is, to reduce atherosclerotic plaque.
These foods improve your gut microbiome—the population of bacteria and other microorganisms that live in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
So, why are we talking about the gut when our goal is to prevent artery blockages that can lead to heart attack and stroke?
This is because recent human studies have shown that the wrong balance of gut bacteria is linked to increased amounts of plaque and hardening of the coronary arteries.
Now, the imbalance of gut bacteria, called dysbiosis, can be caused by a lack of diversity of beneficial bacteria, or an increase in harmful bacteria, or both.
In a new study published in July of 2023 in the journal Circulation, Swedish scientists studied the link between gut bacteria and atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries of 8,973 participants aged between 50 and 65.
They found that Streptococcus and other bacteria commonly found in the oral cavity contribute to increased inflammation and plaque buildup in the coronary arteries.
Another study, published in the European Heart Journal in 2018, found for the first time a link between our gut microbiome and the hardening of arteries.
After studying 617 middle-aged twins, scientists found that those with a less diverse mix of good bacteria in their gut also had stiffer arteries.
These studies, and more, show that there is a link between gut health and heart health; and the key to a healthy heart may lie within your gut. This is called the gut-heart connection.
Next, it’s important to understand how an unhealthy gut can affect your heart.
The negative effects of gut bacteria imbalance occur largely through inflammation–your immune system’s reaction to an injury or a foreign substance.
Now, 70% of your body’s inflammatory or immune cells are located in your gut, so it is hardly surprising that inflammation in your gut can spread throughout your body.
There are 4 ways an unhealthy gut can cause inflammation in the arteries and, ultimately, lead to atherosclerosis.
The first way is “Dysbiosis.”
Studies show that patients suffering from chronic heart failure have reduced diversity in their gut bacteria. Also, they have lower levels of microbial by-products called short-chain fatty acids, such as butyrate, which are beneficial for the heart.
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Second, we have, “Leaky Gut and LPS.”
A primary route by which bacteria can enter the bloodstream and stick to artery walls, causing inflammation, is through a damaged gut barrier, also known as leaky gut.
Leaky gut becomes problematic when large molecules called lipopolysaccharides (LPS), or bacterial toxins, get into your bloodstream and induce inflammation.
This is because inflammation makes the plaque in the arteries unstable and more likely to rupture, which can lead to blood clots, blocking blood flow, and potentially causing a heart attack.
Researchers have found LPS derived from Escherichia coli circulating in the blood of people with heart attacks; these people have leaky guts.
The third way is, “SIBO”, Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth.
Up to 80% of people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) have SIBO. In SIBO, the bacteria in your small intestine become unbalanced and overgrow. Most of your gut bacteria are meant to be in the large intestine and colon.
Symptoms of SIBO include bloating, abdominal pain, reflux, diarrhea, or constipation, or both.
One study found that people with SIBO had stiffer arteries and lower activity of the protein MGP, which prevents the calcification of arteries.
This is because SIBO reduces the absorption of Vitamin K2 from food and its production by gut bacteria. Also, SIBO can cause widespread inflammation in the body, which increases the risk of clogged arteries.
And the fourth way is, “Bacterial Infection.”
Studies show that people with massive quantities of pathogenic bacteria such as Chlamydia pneumoniae and Helicobacter pylori, have higher rates of atherosclerosis. Researchers have been able to identify bacterial DNA in more than 50% of all plaques.
Now, let’s get into the foods that improve your gut microbiome and reduce inflammation in your arteries.
We begin with Number 5. “Fermented Foods & Probiotics.”
You may not know this, but fermented foods, such as kimchi and sauerkraut, are good for your heart. They contain beneficial microbes from the fermentation process that offer many health benefits when consumed; these benefits include reduced blood sugar levels, decreased insulin resistance, reduced inflammation, and the production of B vitamins.
Simply put, fermented foods increase the diversity of good gut bacteria, which helps reduce cardiovascular risk factors, such as obesity and high blood pressure.
These good gut bacteria are called probiotics. Other fermented foods that contain probiotics include unsweetened yogurt and kefir, tempeh, miso, natto, and kombucha.
A detailed study showed that probiotic supplements can reduce high blood pressure. The most effective results were seen when people with high blood pressure took several species of probiotics for at least eight weeks or consumed more than 100 billion CFUs of probiotics daily.
Other studies show that a multi-strain probiotic supplement may help relieve leaky gut symptoms, such as IBS, bloating, and Crohn’s, as well as improve markers of intestinal permeability.
To treat SIBO with probiotics, only use soil-based probiotics (usually Bacillus strains), as they do not contain lactobacillus or bifidobacterium. These two probiotic strains are already overgrown in your small intestine, and adding more will worsen your SIBO symptoms.
Moving on, we have Number 4. “Prebiotic Fiber.”
Simply put, prebiotics are food that your good bacteria, such as lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, can eat, so they can grow stronger.
Prebiotics are found in many fiber-rich foods like green bananas, garlic, onion, and Jerusalem artichoke, and so are often referred to as prebiotic fiber.
Not all fibers are prebiotics. To be classified as a prebiotic, the fiber must pass through the GI tract undigested and stimulate the growth and activity of good bacteria in the large intestine. Prebiotics also reduce harmful bacteria.
Other foods that are naturally high in prebiotics, which you can eat raw or lightly cooked, include asparagus, chicory root, leek, oats, rye, soybeans, green peas, apple, and grapefruit.
If you have SIBO, you will want to restrict fiber, especially fermentable fibers, until your gut microbiome improves. Seek a nutritionist or gastroenterologist who can help you figure out the root cause of your SIBO or IBS, and eliminate it. In the meantime, intermittent fasting, as well as antimicrobial herbs, such as oil of oregano, neem, berberine, and allicin, can help with SIBO.
Many studies have found that a diet high in prebiotics can lower the risk of heart disease.
This is because prebiotics reduce inflammation and are fermented into heart-protective, short-chain fatty acids (butyrate) in the colon.
Butyrate gives energy to your gut cells, helping them strengthen the gut lining and prevent leaky gut.
Coming in at Number 3, we have, “Foods that Heal Your Gut Lining.”
To heal your gut barrier, drink one cup of bone broth on an empty stomach every morning. Bone broth is full of collagen, gelatin, glycine, and glutamine—four nutrients that heal your GI tract by reducing inflammation and forming new connective tissue.
This tissue gradually seals the tiny holes in your gut, ensuring that you can properly digest food and get all the necessary nutrients and minerals from it.
You can also repair your mucus barrier using herbs such as marshmallow root, slippery elm, and aloe vera.
Next, at Number 2, we have, “Foods that Increase Bile Flow.”
If your liver does not properly secrete bile, large fat particles that are not broken down can damage the mucosal barrier of your small intestine and cause leaky gut.
Also, when there is decreased bile flow, less cholesterol is excreted. And microbes can build up in the small intestine, leading to SIBO.
Bitter foods are excellent for stimulating bile production. You can choose from dark leafy vegetables, beetroot, artichokes, radishes, and dandelion root.
Other bile-producing foods are lemons, ginger, and turmeric.
And at Number 1, we have, “Vitamin K2 Foods.”
Vitamin K2 helps to prevent calcification of the coronary arteries by activating the protein, MGP. It moves calcium away from the blood vessels and kidneys, to the bones and teeth where it is needed.
Now, you may be wondering, “How is vitamin K2 connected to gut health?”
First, good bacteria in your gut can convert K1 from leafy green vegetables into K2, although this is a small amount.
Next, studies show that vitamin K2 improves your microbiome by increasing the number of beneficial bacteria, such as lactobacilli, and reducing the number of harmful bacteria, such as Escherichia coli.
Vitamin K2 may also reduce LPS and inflammation in the gut, thus helping to prevent leaky gut.
So, how can we obtain vitamin K2?
Vitamin K2 is synthesized by bacteria both in animals and through fermentation processes.
So, we need to get Vitamin K2 from two sources: one, fermented plant sources, such as natto, kimchi, and sauerkraut; and two, grass-fed, pastured animal sources, such as kefir, cheese, egg yolks, fatty pork and beef, and organ meats.
If you plan to supplement, go for the MK-7 form of K2, as it stays in your bloodstream longer. The recommended dosage is 100 to 200 mcg per day. MK-7 is often combined with vitamin D3 in one supplement, so this is a good option to choose; vitamin D3 helps your bones absorb calcium.
Next, here are two things you can do to immediately improve your gut microbiome.
Avoid sugar, refined carbs, alcohol, and other high-carb foods and drinks.
And use medications like antibiotics and acid-blocking drugs only when absolutely necessary.
For more ways to support your gut, watch our video: “Top 8 Ways to Improve Your Gut Microbiome“.
As always, this video is educational and does not constitute medical advice. Always consult with a healthcare provider about any changes to your health regimen.
To reduce inflammation in your gut and arteries, get our free anti-inflammatory diet plan. Click the link below.