Healthy hearts happy people

Heart, meet gut

by Dr. Mercola

It’s becoming relatively common knowledge that your health is not just about your body, but rather the result of its symbiotic relationship with 100 trillion bacteria and other microorganisms. Your microbiome is unique to you, like a fingerprint, and represents a combination of lifestyle factors, genetics, environment and more.

Your gut microbiome influences your immune responses and nervous system functioning and plays a role in the development of a number of diseases, including obesity, cancer and heart disease. In the latter case, research has emerged that bacteria in your gut may play an integral role in the formation of fatty deposits on your arteries, leading to atherosclerosis (hardening of your arteries).

Perhaps even more remarkable, now researchers have also figured out a way to stop the process


Targeting gut microbes to prevent heart disease

Research by physician Stanley Hazen of the Cleveland Clinic and colleagues has shown that certain bacteria in your gut can transform choline (found in meat and eggs) and other dietary nutrients into trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), which slows the breakdown of cholesterol.

The higher your TMAO levels become, the more fatty plaques may collect in your arteries, which may promote atherosclerosis and other heart problems.

As The Atlantic recently reported, Dr. Hazen’s colleague Zeneng Wang discovered that the chemical 3,3-dimethyl-1-butanol (DMB) prevents gut microbes from turning choline into trimethylamine (TMA), thereby lowering the risk of heart problems. DMB is a choline-like compound that works by “gumming up” the enzymes required by the bacteria to digest choline, which stops TMA production. According to The Atlantic, “It takes two to TMAO: Bacteria first transform choline into TMA, before an enzyme from the host animal changes TMA into TMAO.

At first, Hazen’s team tried to prevent the second part of this chain by blocking the animal enzyme. They succeeded, lowering TMAO levels in mice and making them resistant to atherosclerosis. But there was just one problem: disabling the enzyme leads to a build-up of TMA, which doesn’t harm the heart but does smell of rotting fish.”

By targeting gut microbes with DMB, the mice, which were bred to be vulnerable to atherosclerosis, produced less TMAO even when fed a choline-rich diet. They also had fewer signs of the condition.

Your gut microbes might be one reason why eating red meat is linked to heart disease.

Your gut bacteria can also metabolize L-carnitine – a substance found in red meat, eggs and other foods – and in so doing produce TMAO. Interestingly, people with diets high in L-carnitine, i.e. meat eaters, had a gut microbe composition that was more prone to forming TMAO, while vegetarians and vegans did not.

Even after consuming large amounts of L-carnitine in a steak or supplement, the vegetarians and vegans in the study did not produce significant amounts of TMAO. Does this mean you should avoid meat and L-carnitine? I believe the answer is a resounding no. The science is very clear that L-carnitine is required to shuttle fatty acids into the mitochondria to burn them as fuel. It is an important mitochondrial nutrient and I personally take a supplement because I don’t eat much red meat.

However, I believe healthy, non-CAFO [confined animal feeding operations] red meat can be an important part of a healthy diet. One just does not want to consume it in excess… Anything over three to four ounces and two ounces for people under140 pounds is far too much protein and will raise mTOR levels [mtor is a serine/threonine protein kinase].

If you are a vegetarian or someone that has a mitochondrial dysfunction disease then I strongly believe you should be on a supplement of L-carnitine, not acetylcarnitine – simple, plain L-carnitine. However, Dr. Hazen and colleagues believe that eating red meat alters your gut flora in a way that predisposes your body toward TMAO production and subsequently heart disease. I suspect this research is flawed as they never really carefully examined the quantity or quality of meat being consumed. CAFO meat should be avoided for reasons previously discussed and excessive meat consumption.

In my view, excessive meat, especially CAFO meat, will not only contribute to heart disease, but cancer, obesity, diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases.


Healthy habits, healthy hearts, happy people

positive attitudeBeing able to manifest positive emotions and happiness is perhaps one of the greatest gifts you have been given as a human being. But to some extent, being happy is a choice you need to make, much like choosing to exercise or eat right. Happiness comes from within – it’s not meted out by circumstance alone. This is why, if you truly want to be happy, you need to work on yourself first. And the health benefits mentioned above, like a significantly reduced risk of heart attack and other cardiac events, should provide ample motivation for doing so.

Interestingly, self-acceptance appears to be one of the most important factors that can produce a more consistent sense of happiness. In a survey of 5,000 people by the charity Action for Happiness, people were asked to rate themselves between 1 and 10 on 10 habits that are scientifically linked to happiness. While all 10 habits were strongly linked to overall life satisfaction, acceptance was the strongest predictor. In all, the survey resulted in the following 10 Keys to Happier Living, which together spell out the acronym GREAT DREAM:

  • Giving: do things for others
  • Relating: connect with people
  • Exercising: take care of your body
  • Appreciating: notice the world around you
  • Trying out: keep learning new things
  • Direction: have goals to look forward to
  • Resilience: find ways to bounce back
  • Emotion: take a positive approach
  • Acceptance: be comfortable with who you are
  • Meaning: be part of something bigger

Another way to think about happiness is to define it as “whatever gets you excited.” Once you’ve identified that activity, whatever it is, you can start focusing your mind around that so you can integrate more of it into your day-to-day life.

© Dr. Mercola.

photo © Gajus

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