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A high-salt diet has long been connected with cardiovascular disease. I should say a high salt, processed food diet has been linked with cardiovascular disease.
Too much sodium in the bloodstream causes fluid retention, which makes the heart work harder to move the extra volume of blood. This can stiffen blood vessels and lead to high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, and kidney disease.
However, a recent study shows a high-salt diet also raises blood pressure by damaging healthy gut bacteria. This destruction increases the inflammation that contributes to high blood pressure and the development of autoimmune disease — when the immune system attacks tissue in the body. Common autoimmune diseases include Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, and many many others.
You may be asking, why does salt do this? Here is a very simple visualization.
Did you ever pour salt on a snail or slug when you were a kid? Yeah, not very nice, but you remember what happened to the snail right?
Mice. The study shows that mice fed a high-salt diet killed off beneficial Lactobacillus murinus bacteria in the gut. It also raised blood pressure and activated pro-inflammatory immune cells.
The mice also showed signs of encephalomyelitis, an autoimmune condition similar to multiple sclerosis in humans.
When the mice were given supplementary Lactobacillus, their blood pressure and inflammation came down.
Humans. The humans in the study experienced similar results. Consuming a high-salt diet for two weeks killed off their Lactobacillus bacteria and increased inflammation.
However, if they took probiotics for a week before starting a high-salt diet, their Lactobacillus levels and blood pressure remained normal. That is some pretty cool stuff!
Can gut microbes protect against a high-salt diet?
While the study showed probiotics can protect against a high-salt diet, the researchers cautioned that taking probiotics cannot protect you from the damages of a high-salt, fast-food diet.
Manage your salt intake with good daily habits
While the average American consumes a whopping 3400 milligrams of sodium a day, the USDA recommends no more than 2300mg of sodium a day — about a teaspoon of table salt. That is still a lot of salt.
However, some people are more sensitive to the effects of salt than others, so it's recommended that middle-aged and older adults should limit intake to 1500 mg of sodium a day.
Adopt these habits to lower your salt intake:
- Read food labels.
- Choose foods low in sodium.
- Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Consume foods that are rich in potassium, such as leafy green vegetables and fruits from vines. Potassium can help blunt the effects of sodium on blood pressure. The recommended intake of potassium for adolescents and adults is 4700 mg/day. And most of us get nowhere near that amount. And if you are on certain medications then you may need even more.
- Flavor food with pepper, herbs, and spices instead of salt.
- Choose unsalted snacks with savory flavors.
Build good gut bacteria to protect your health
The digestive tract is home to roughly four pounds of bacteria — your gut microbiome. Some strains are helpful, some are harmful. Both have roles to play, but it's important to support your "good" bacteria for healthy immune function, brain function, and mood, and to avoid leaky gut, SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth), and systemic inflammation that leads to autoimmunity and other chronic health conditions.
And Remember, when taking probiotics that is not just how many probiotics you have that is important. It's also how many different types you have that is equally important. I recommend patients switch every 2-3 months to get more biodiversity.
It's easy to support a healthy gut with these simple habits:
- Eat plentiful and varied produce; this is the best way to support a healthy gut environment.
- Supplement with probiotics; There are lot of different ones, including spore based. Check out my links. They work best in a gut environment that’s already being supported with plenty of fiber from fruits and veggies.
- Avoid excess sugar.
- Get regular exercise.
- Drink plenty of filtered water.
If you salt your foods, take your probiotics.
I'm Dr. Craig Mortensen
Be healthy, be happy!
We’re learning what a vital role good gut bacteria play in immune health, brain health, mood, and, of course, gut health.
One of the best health quotes of all time is… “Health comes from above, down, inside, out”
We also know that the best way to beef up your good gut bacteria is through eating lots of different kinds of vegetables and fruits every day.
But researchers have discovered yet another way to promote healthy gut bacteria: Regular exercise.
Our digestive tract is home to trillions of gut bacteria that weigh about three to four pounds all together, and are made up of over a 1,000 different species and 5,000 strains. This is the very definition of a symbiotic relationship. Our body depends on these gut bacteria to:
- Metabolize nutrients
- Protect the intestinal wall
- Produce vitamin K and short chain fatty acids (SCFA), which are important for immune health
- Maintain health of the digestive tract
- Regulate immunity
- Prevent inflammation
- Promote good brain health and function - infant many studies are even finding that Parkinsons may actually start in the gut and work its way up the vagus nerve into the brain. But that is another post for another blog. Very interesting stuff though.
As our understanding of healthy gut bacteria evolves, so does the information on how to cultivate your own “microbiome” while inhibiting overgrowth of “bad” bacteria that are infectious and inflammatory.
This imbalance of good and bad bacteria is often what is referred as dysbiosis - Too many bad bacteria and not enough good bacteria.
Initially, fermented foods and probiotics were thought to be the main recourse for improving gut health, and they do go a long ways. But, they are not the only way.
Then we learned eating a diet comprised primarily of vegetables and fruits and continually changing up the produce you eat is a great way to develop a rich and diverse gut bacteria population.
Now, scientists have used both a mouse study and a human study to show regular exercise, independent of diet or other factors, also promotes healthy gut bacteria. Meaning that if you do nothing other than exercise you can beneficially change your gut bacteria.
In the first study, researchers transplanted fecal material from both exercised and sedentary mice into mice with sterile guts. The activity level of the mice receiving the transplants clearly mirrored that of their donors, showing that the kind of gut bacteria we have plays a role in how inclined we are to be sedentary or active.
The exercised mice recipients also showed more bacteria that produce butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) that promotes healthy intestinal cells, reduces inflammation, and increases energy. They also were more resistant to ulcerative colitis. N-butyrate is THE most important short chain fatty acid.
In the second study, researchers tracked the composition of gut bacteria in 18 lean and 14 obese adults as they transitioned from a sedentary lifestyle, to an active one, and then back to a sedentary one. Their exercise routine consisted of 30 to 60 minutes of cardiovascular exercise three times a week for six weeks.
Their diets remained the same.
They found that exercise raised levels of SCFAs and then declined again as the subjects became sedentary. A rise in SCFAs means concentrations of good gut bacteria increased. The lean participants showed more dramatic increases of SCFAs than obese ones, and more diverse ratios of bacteria, suggesting obese people respond differently to exercise. Nevertheless, increases happened in both populations.
The break down and take away from all of this is as follow. The gut bacteria influences how active we are and how active we are influences our gut bacteria. As is often the case in health, the answer is YES. What came first? The chicken or the egg? Yes. It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy no matter which way you look at it and you have to make a conscious effort to change your thoughts and your biology.
As our knowledge of gut bacteria, functional medicine, and the human body continues to evolve, it nevertheless circles back to some age-old pearls of wisdom: Eat your vegetables and exercise, it can go a long way to better health. If that doesn’t do the trick, come and see me.
I’m Dr. Craig Mortensen
Be healthy, be happy!