The link between dietary fibre and heart health
Gut health has claimed many headlines in recent years. The unique compilation of 100 trillion or so microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract is increasingly linked by research evidence as essential to human health. Its role in everything from the immune system and metabolic function to neurobehavioural traits is being pieced together by scientists around the globe.
But there is more – gut health might also be part of the answer to fighting heart disease.
Australia is lucky to have attracted Brazil’s Dr Francine Marques, now based in Melbourne and exploring important factors in the development of heart disease. As a Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellow, she is pioneering studies into the link between gut health and high blood pressure (also known as hypertension).
High blood pressure affects 1 in 3 people in Australia. It is a chronic disease where the blood inside the heart and blood vessels is pumped with more force than it should be. It dramatically increases the chance of heart attack or stroke. With age, it also contributes to the development of heart failure.
Because there are usually no symptoms, most do not even know they have high blood pressure until it’s too late. Even when diagnosed, two thirds of people either are not treated or their blood pressure is not able to be controlled with medication. Finding new ways to treat high blood pressure is critical in the fight against heart disease - Australia’s biggest killer.
Which brings us to healthy gut bacteria.
Gut microbes ferment fibre in our diet. In the process, molecules called short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) are released. In pre-clinical models, SCFAs have been found to decrease blood pressure.
Francine hopes her research will show exactly how these molecules act to lower blood pressure. Ideally, once the link is understood, the beneficial effects may be replicated through easy diet and lifestyle changes.
Francine’s laboratory-based studies so far have shown that consuming a preparation of water containing SCFAs – similar to kombucha – can reduce blood pressure even in a diet devoid of fibre.
The team is now conducting a trial in which participants consume foods containing fibre that has been modified to be rich in SCFAs and measuring the effect on blood pressure.
Interested in finding out more? If you are aged between 18-70 years, you may even be eligible to take part in the trial. Go to www.marqueslab.com/gut
The Heart Foundation is Australia’s biggest non-government funder of world-class heart health research, with every research dollar coming from philanthropy. Learn more about the Heart Foundation’s high impact research and how you can help bring us closer to an Australia free of heart disease: www.heartfoundation.org.au/research
This organisation is supported by trusts managed by Equity Trustees.