Sodium complicit in undermining gut bacteria – collusion

We’ve all heard it so many times: the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Considering both mounting scientific research and gender equality, it really should now be changed to a person‘s heart. It seems the gut, whether you’re a male or female, with its diverse collection of bacteria (a.k.a. the microbiome) plays a major role in keeping our arteries healthy.

There are many factors affecting cardiovascular health, with one being blood pressure regulation. High blood pressure is not only a risk factor for heart disease and stroke but also for kidney disease.

While we’ve been hearing for many years that consuming too much sodium is linked to high blood pressure, scientists have now identified one of the ways that sodium may affect blood pressure: the microbiome. New research from German scientists at Experimental and Clinical Research Center and Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin suggests that excess sodium may be fatal to certain beneficial gut bacteria, and that this could contribute to high blood pressure in addition to diseases affecting the immune system. This includes possibly speeding up the progression of auto-immune diseases like multiple sclerosis.

Much attention is being given to the area of probiotics (consuming healthy bacteria) and prebiotics (indigestible carbohydrates that stimulate and promote the growth of these beneficial bacteria) but we don’t pay enough attention to what might kill them off. While there’s more awareness of the impact of antibiotics on maintaining a healthy gut full of these trillions of bacteria, we need to look at other harmful factors as well.

That’s where sodium enters the picture.

In both animal research and a small study involving humans, consuming excessive amounts of sodium resulted in the killing off of Lactobacillus, a beneficial type of bacteria found in the gut. At the same time, blood pressure readings and levels of inflammatory compounds also increased. After the subjects were given probiotics containing the Lactobacillus, both blood pressure levels and the amount of inflammatory compounds decreased.

Now if you’re thinking you can eat a glut of salt and simply take a probiotic, forget about it. There are so many reasons that this thinking is flawed. For one, with the state of our current natural health product regulation, who knows how effective various probiotic supplements are.

As well, consider that most of the sodium we consume is found in processed foods. It’s certainly not coming from the salt shaker used in home cooking. Those same processed foods are not promoting the growth of other beneficial bacteria.

It seems the answer here is not unlike the solution for preventing other common ills – filling our plates with homemade eats that consist of mainly plant-based foods such as pulses, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and nuts along with moderate amounts of various animal foods such as fish, dairy products and meat or poultry, if desired.

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Categories: Nutrition News

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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