The digestive system or the gut plays an important role in the breakdown of food and absorption of essential nutrients. It is the home to healthy gut bacteria which are important to human health.
Gut bacteria and chronic diseases
We often know that chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart diseases are mainly caused by unhealthy dietary patterns and sedentary lifestyles, but did you know that chronic diseases are linked to our gut bacteria as well? According to research, gut bacteria may play an important role in health and the risk of disease development. Various factors such as dietary intake, which is the food we take, affects the type of gut bacteria and the ratio of good to bad bacteria that grows in our digestive system. (1,2)
How do gut bacteria affect blood pressure?
Studies have shown that gut bacteria do play a role in blood pressure regulation. The gut bacteria feed on fiber or prebiotics and produce a type of byproduct called Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFA), which are beneficial to our body. (1,3,4) These SCFAs influence the blood pressure regulation process and thus may lower high blood pressure. (3,4)
Besides that, an imbalance ratio of good to bad bacteria also affects blood pressure. (2,5) According to studies that compare the gut bacteria of individuals with high blood pressure to that of healthy individuals, those with high blood pressure tend to have higher levels of certain bacteria species that do not produce SCFAs and may even be pathogenic in nature. (2,5)
Ways to improve our gut health
- Eat a healthy and balanced diet
Vary your food choices in your meals and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables for a healthy gut. Besides vitamins and minerals, fruits and vegetables are also rich in fiber, which promotes healthy gut bacteria growth, facilitates regular bowel movement, and relieves constipation. Limiting food high in fat, sugar, and highly processed food reduces the growth of bad bacteria and thus, improves gut health. (6)
- Eat on time
Eating on time is as important as eating healthy meals. Skipping meals or not eating on time causes gastric problems as your stomach continues to produce stomach acid even though there is no food. Besides that, skipping meals lead to overeating, causing digestion problems as the gut needs to work harder to digest the food. Thus, it is important to take a break from work and take your meals on time.
- Drink plenty of water every day
Drink 6 to 8 glasses of water daily. Staying hydrated is important as water helps transport nutrients and also helps soften the stools for better bowel movement. (7)
- Reduce stress
Stress can alter the gut bacteria, trigger digestive symptoms such as gastric pain and bloating, and thus, affect gut health. (8) Therefore, it is important to manage stress and reduce its impact. Go for activities that can relax your mind such as yoga or meditation. Take time off to rest when you are feeling overwhelmed or burned out.
Exercising at least 30 minutes daily helps to improve our health including the gut. (7) Studies have shown that physical activity balances the gut bacteria and reduces inflammation in the gut. (9)
- Hills R, Pontefract B, Mishcon H, Black C, Sutton S, Theberge C. Gut Microbiome: Profound Implications for Diet and Disease. Nutrients. 2019;11(7):1613.
- Palmu J, Salosensaari A, Havulinna A, Cheng S, Inouye M, Jain M et al. Association Between the Gut Microbiota and Blood Pressure in a Population Cohort of 6953 Individuals. Journal of the American Heart Association. 2020;9(15).
- Jose P, Raj D. Gut microbiota in hypertension. Current Opinion in Nephrology and Hypertension. 2015;24(5):403-409.
- Pluznick J. Microbial Short-Chain Fatty Acids and Blood Pressure Regulation. Current Hypertension Reports. 2017;19(4).
- Yan Q, Gu Y, Li X, Yang W, Jia L, Chen C et al. Alterations of the Gut Microbiome in Hypertension. Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology. 2017;7.
- Bolte L, Vich Vila A, Imhann F, Collij V, Gacesa R, Peters V et al. Long-term dietary patterns are associated with pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory features of the gut microbiome. Gut. 2021;70(7):1287-1298.
- Malaysian Dietary Guidelines 2020. Kuala Lumpur: Kementerian Kesihatan Malaysia; 2021.
- Stress effects on the body [Internet]. American Psychological Association. 2018 [cited 18 October 2021]. Available from: https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/body
- 9. Clauss M, Gérard P, Mosca A, Leclerc M. Interplay Between Exercise and Gut Microbiome in the Context of Human Health and Performance. Frontiers in Nutrition. 2021;8.