Researchers have known for some time that gut bacteria are responsible for a wide range of beneficial substances utilized throughout the body. This includes a number of vitamins, proteins, and metabolites. We also know that the ability of gut bacteria to produce these substances is largely dependent on what they consume, which is dependent on what we consume. In other words, our diet has a large impact on the capabilities of our microbiome.
One such beneficial substance that gut bacteria can produce is called propionate. This short-chain fatty acid is created using natural dietary fibers. Previous studies have shown that . A more recent study conducted by a Berlin research team from the Experimental and Clinical Research Center (ECRC) has demonstrated that . In this study, researchers fed propionate to mice with elevated blood pressure. Mice that consumed propionate had less pronounced damage to the heart, less vascular damage, fewer instances of atherosclerosis, and fewer instances of abnormal enlargement of the heart. All of this made the mice less susceptible to cardiac arrhythmia. The researchers discovered that propionate grants these benefits by calming T helper cells, which enhance inflammatory processes and often contribute to high blood pressure.
The results of this study are important for a couple reasons. First, the discoveries around propionate could open up new avenues in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases. “It might make sense to administer propionate or a chemical precursor directly as a drug,” said Dr. Nicola Wilck from the ECRC. Researchers were already aware that certain fatty acids could have positive effects on cardiovascular health, but this research helped to pinpoint an exact chain.
One other benefit of this study is that it helps to explain why diets rich in natural fiber help to prevent cardiovascular diseases. Natural dietary fibers are found in all kinds of heart-healthy foods, such as inulin found in onions and beets, lignin found in rye, or cellulose found in whole grains. Nutritional organizations have been stressing the importance of high fiber diets for many years, but the exact mechanisms behind the benefits of high fiber diets were not clear. Now we know. These fibers act as fuel for gut bacteria to produce propionate. This calms helper T cells, lowers blood pressure, and increases cardiovascular health all around.
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