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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.
- What if I have low blood pressure?
- Adequate blood pressure is necessary to push blood carrying oxygen and nutrients into your tissues. Chronically low blood pressure can result in reduced brain function and neurodegeneration as Alzheimers, dementia, Parkinsons, and tremors.
- Low blood pressure is also often a sign of chronic stress, adrenal fatigue, autoimmunity, or chronic infection. Check out my conditions page in the link below.
- If you have low blood pressure you need to get it up as close as you can to 120/80.
- Salt can help raise blood pressure. While a high-salt diet is not recommended for most of the population, people with chronically low blood pressure may need to consume more than the recommended daily amount of salt. It's a matter of experimentation to see what level of salt intake is appropriate for you without raising symptoms of inflammation.
- Glycyrrhiza. Extracted from licorice root, this natural compound increases the hormone aldosterone, helping to retain sodium and raise low blood pressure. You can use a liposomal cream version or an oral licorice root extract.
- When you work with salt and glycyrrhiza to raise your blood pressure, you will need to purchase a good home-use blood pressure cuff. Measure your blood pressure throughout the day and experiment with
If you salt your foods, take your probiotics.
I'm Dr. Craig Mortensen
Be healthy, be happy!
As we continue to learn how important healthy gut bacteria is for the brain and immune system, interest in cultivating a rich and diverse “gut microbiome” grows.
One important tool in this quest are spore-based probiotic supplements. “Spore” is derived from the word “seed,” and spore-based probiotics are a hardy delivery system that germinate in the small intestine and help you colonize your gut with more healthy bacteria.
Modern humans face many challenges to developing and maintaining healthy gut bacteria. In fact, studies of primitive people who live much like our hunter gatherer ancestors did show their guts have about 50 percent more diversity in gut bacteria than the average American. Its not just how much good bacteria you have, it’s how many different types.
Researchers are finding this lack of microbiome diversity plays a role in many chronic health and brain disorders, including depression and autoimmunity.
This is often one of the reasons I recommend periodically switching probiotic brands and strains. Diversity.
Low-fiber, junk food diets, antibiotic overuse, chlorinated water, heavy environmental toxin and pollution loads, chronic stress, alcohol, and various medications all play a role in reducing the diversity and amount of beneficial gut bacteria.
As a result, opportunistic and infectious “bad” gut bacteria are able to more easily conquer the gut. This weakens the gut lining, increases inflammation, and promotes brain and mood disorders.
There are many ways we can build a healthy and diverse population of gut bacteria. The most important is to eat a whole foods diet that is predominantly vegetables and fruits. It’s important to vary the kind of produce you eat regularly. It’s also helpful to include cultured and fermented foods and take probiotics. Also, avoid drugs such as antibiotics, NSAIDs, and heartburn medication as much as possible, which can also contribute to the development of leaky gut, among other things.
Given the challenges the modern gut faces, it’s not a bad idea to make probiotics a part of your routine. This is where spore-based probiotics come in. What makes spore-based probiotics special?
- The survive the acidic environment of the stomach on their way to the intestines.
- They resist breakdown by digestive enzymes.
- They are heat stable and don’t need to be stored in the refrigerator.
- Some spores are antibiotic-resistant, which means you can take while taking antibiotics.
Once in the small intestine, spore-based probiotics can germinate,
if you provide the right environment with plenty of plant fiber.
Spore probiotics and healthy gut bacteria in general can help improve your health in several ways. They improve the health and integrity of the lining of the small intestine. This lining contains not only bacteria but also plenty of immune cells to defend the bloodstream from bad bacteria, yeast, toxins, undigested foods, and other pathogens that can trigger inflammation if they make their way through the gut lining into the bloodstream. This is called leaky gut.
For instance, one strain of spore-based probiotic, bacillus coagulans, has been well studied for its beneficial effect on irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s disease.
Bacillus coagulans produces lactic acid, which has been shown to help protect the gut and boost immune resistance to viruses. It has also been shown to lower cholesterol and reduce pain and stiffness associated with arthritis.
Ask my office for more information on how to support healthy gut bacteria and help eradicate bad bacteria to improve immune health.
Now go eat something new, go eat some dirt, get exposed to some new healthy bacteria.
I’m Dr. Craig Mortensen
Be healthy, he happy!
You can eat fermented foods every day and take all the probiotic supplements you want, but if you aren’t also feeding those intestinal bacteria what they want, you could be throwing your money away. That’s because to thrive and multiply, healthy gut bacteria need to eat. And what your gut bacteria like best is fiber.
Recently published research done at the University of Oveido in Spain found that obese people with low levels of a group of intestinal bacteria — Bacteroides, Prevotella, and Porphyromonas — also had a lower intake of fruit.
Fruit is a good source of pectin, which is metabolized in the colon by bacteria, such as Bacteroides, producing small chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs are known to keep the immune system in check and turn down inflammation, known to be implicated in obesity, among a long list of other issues inflammation contributes to.
The researchers concluded in the journal Nutrients, “These results could be useful for designing strategies targeted to obesity prevention.”
Why Feed Your Microbiome Prebiotics
Researchers have yet to agree on a precise definition of prebiotics, the substances that intestinal bacteria feed on, but generally the scientists agree that these are “undigested dietary carbohydrates that are fermented by colonic bacteria yielding short chain fatty acids.”
Say what?! It’s basically the bacteria digests what we aren’t able to digest and the SCFA’s are their waste product.
Different prebiotics may nourish different types of bacteria, and researchers have not yet pinned down the specifics of exactly what prebiotic nourishes which bacteria. But you can’t go wrong covering your bases by eating with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. The keyword being wide. Variety it the key here.
A high fiber diet has often been recommended for people who need to lose weight, but now we know the point of eating more fiber is not only to make you feel full, but also because of its integral role insustaining a healthy diversity of gut bacteria. Meanwhile, the opposite — an unhealthy microbiota — is being increasingly associated with inflammation and obesity.
Supporting gut bacteria with probiotics
In addition to a diet of ample and diverse produce that is rich in prebiotic fiber, you can also support your microbiota with probiotics. Probiotics work best when you are already fostering your gut environment with healthy prebiotic fiber. Another common prebiotic that can be useful is FOS (Fructo-Oligosaccharide)
Look for probiotics that will survive the acidic environment of the environment. Many different strains exist and researchers are increasingly finding different strains support different aspects of health. Research which ones may be best for you and switch them up on occasion.
Fermented foods such as kimchee, sauerkraut, kefir, and kombucha contain live microbes that can help improve the health of your gut bacteria. Make sure you get truly live products and not pasteurized. They will usually be in the refrigerated section at the store.
SIDE NOTE: IF you have dysbiosis (unbalance gut bacterial levels, SIBO, or some other digestive issue, I highly recommend you do not willy nilly take a bunch of prebiotics and/or probiotics. You can actually make things worse. See my previous post “Are probiotics doing more harm than good”
Ask my office for more advice on building good gut health.
I’m Dr. Craig Mortensen
Be healthy, be happy!