Heart attacks have become extremely common. According to the World Health Organization, cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death across the globe, with nearly 18 million people dying from them in 2019. Out of these deaths, 85 percent of them were either due to heart attack or stroke. There are many causes of such diseases, but don’t ignore your gut health if you want your heart to be strong.
Health Shots connected with Dr Tilak Suvarna, Senior Interventional Cardiologist, Asian Heart Institute, Mumbai and Dr Amit Bhushan Sharma, Director and Unit Head, Cardiology, Paras Health, Gurugram, to find out the possible link between your gut and heart.
Link between gut and heart
Stomach problems can have an impact on your heart health, although the connection may not be direct, says Dr Sharma. Turns out, the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and the cardiovascular system are interconnected through physiological pathways. And disruptions in the GI tract can potentially affect heart health in several ways.
If you have inflammatory bowel disease and gastritis, it can cause inflammation in the GI tract. Chronic inflammation in the gut has been linked with increased systemic inflammation. It can contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease and increase the risk of heart problems like heart attack and stroke, says Dr Sharma.
2. Nutritional deficiencies
Digestive disorders such as malabsorption syndromes, celiac disease and Crohn’s disease can impair the absorption of important nutrients from the gut. Nutritional deficiencies, particularly of key nutrients like magnesium, potassium, and calcium, can disrupt normal heart function and increase the risk of heart issues.
3. Gut microbiota
The gut houses a complex ecosystem of trillions of microorganisms, which is known as the gut microbiota, and it plays a crucial role in digestive health. Imbalances in the gut microbiota, known as dysbiosis, can occur in conditions like irritable bowel syndrome and can potentially contribute to systemic inflammation, insulin resistance, and other factors that can impact heart health.
4. Lifestyle factors
Stomach problems can indirectly impact heart health through lifestyle factors. For instance, people with chronic digestive issues may experience reduced physical activity, poor sleep, increased stress, and unhealthy dietary habits, all of which can contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease. Dr Suvarna says that when we eat red meat or poultry, the bacteria present in our intestine, break it down to form a particular metabolite which promotes the formation of plaques which can clog our heart arteries.
Signs of a heart attack related to gut
There is a significant overlap between symptoms of angina or a heart attack and symptoms of an upset stomach. Dr Suvarna says that it is not uncommon for people to wrongly misinterpret heart attack symptoms as acidity or gas, leading to delay in seeking medical attention.
Here are some of the possible signs and symptoms of a heart attack that may be related to the gut.
1. Nausea and vomiting
Some people may experience feelings of nausea and may even vomit during a heart attack. This can be due to the close proximity of the heart and stomach, as well as the shared nerve pathways between the two organs.
2. Indigestion or discomfort in the upper abdomen
Heart attack-related discomfort or pain may sometimes be felt in the upper abdomen, which can be mistaken for indigestion or stomach discomfort. This may be accompanied by a feeling of fullness, bloating, or discomfort in the stomach area, says Dr Sharma.
3. Acid reflux or heartburn
In some cases, heart attack-related symptoms may be mistaken for reflux or heartburn. This can include a burning sensation in the chest, throat, or upper abdomen, which may be caused by acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease.
But these symptoms can also be caused by various other conditions unrelated to the heart, such as gastrointestinal issues. Not all heart attacks present with stomach-related symptoms.
Tips to keep your gut and heart healthy
Cutting out red meat and increasing the intake of fibre-rich diet like vegetables, salad, fruits and whole grains will keep your gut healthy which in turn may help in keeping your heart healthy too, says Dr Survarna. Here are other helpful tips!
1. Stay hydrated
Proper hydration is essential for maintaining healthy digestion and cardiovascular function. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to keep your gut and heart properly hydrated.
2. Exercise regularly
Regular physical activity is beneficial for both gut and heart health. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, cycling, or swimming, per week, suggests Dr Sharma. Exercise can help maintain a healthy weight, improve gut motility, lower inflammation, and promote cardiovascular fitness.
3. Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can both have negative effects on gut and heart health. Quit smoking if you are a smoker, and limit alcohol intake to moderate levels. You can have one drink per day or avoid it altogether.
Maintaining a healthy gut and heart is not a day’s work. It is a lifelong commitment that involves adopting a healthy lifestyle and also consulting with your doctor.