We all know that a diet high in fats and cholesterol is bad for our hearts, but did you know your gut bacteria could also be playing a role?
Researchers have found that certain molecules, naturally found in high-fat, high-cholesterol diets, can worsen heart issues by interacting with gut bacteria and our immune system.
This research helps us understand more about heart disease, and may offer new ways to fight it.
The Importance of Our Gut in Overall Health
“The gut is the dietary window to the body,” says Srinivasa Reddy, a professor at UCLA and one of the researchers on this study. Our intestines take in the food we eat and help the body use or get rid of it.
But it turns out, when we eat a high-fat, high-cholesterol diet, some things go wrong in our gut that could make heart disease worse.
Atherosclerosis, commonly known as “hardening of the arteries,” is when gunk made up of cholesterol, fats, and other stuff builds up in our blood vessels.
This buildup can narrow the vessels, making it harder for blood to get through, and increasing the risk of heart attacks or strokes.
Your Gut’s Reaction to Bad Diet Choices
According to Alan Fogelman, another professor at UCLA involved in this study, the molecules in our diet that can be turned into problem-causers are called phospholipids.
These are naturally found in many foods and help mix water and fat together. But when we eat too many bad fats and cholesterol, these phospholipids change into molecules that cause inflammation.
The researchers found that a bad diet weakens the protective lining of our gut. This makes it easier for gut bacteria to interact with cells in the intestines.
The result? More harmful substances, known as endotoxins, get into our blood, causing even more inflammation and making atherosclerosis worse.
“People who are obese or eat lots of fats and cholesterol have more of these endotoxins in their blood,” says Fogelman. “This ramps up inflammation and makes heart issues more likely.”
Hope for the Future: Can Tomatoes Help?
The research team isn’t stopping at just identifying the problem. They are also working on ways to fix it.
One exciting approach is using something similar to “good cholesterol” to lower the levels of these harmful molecules in the blood. They’ve even created special tomatoes in the lab that mimic the effects of good cholesterol.
“Adding these tomatoes to a bad diet can lower harmful cholesterol and fats in the blood, and also reduce the bad molecules that come from phospholipids,” says Arnab Chattopadhyay, who led the research.
The team believes that these findings could be a game-changer, not just for heart disease but for other conditions tied to inflammation, like arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
In a nutshell, while we wait for these new solutions to be tested further, it may be a good idea to think twice before indulging in fatty, high-cholesterol foods—not just for your heart, but for your gut health too.
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