When it comes to protecting your heart health, you’ve probably thought about the importance of eating balanced meals. But it turns out that what you eat — and how it affects your gut health — could have a more direct connection to your cardiovascular health than we thought. New research shows that eating meat and other animal products can negatively affect your gut, and in turn increase your risk of having a stroke.
In a the study published by Cleveland Clinic in Cell Host & Microbe, scientists wanted to see if a connection existed between the gut’s microbiome and cardiovascular disease. Researchers were especially curious about strokes, where blood flow to the brain stops and deprives the mind of oxygen and nutrients. They took a closer look at a compound called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), which is a byproduct created by gut bacteria when breaking down red meat and other animal-related foods like eggs. Then, they investigated the brain damage associated the levels of TMAO present before and after a stroke.
What they discovered is that the more TMAO present in the gut, the higher the risk of stroke — and the higher the severity of a stroke if one occurred. In other words, when you eat more meat and animal products, the waste they create in your gut increases the likelihood of a stroke. From there, the more serious a stroke is, the more likely it is that a person will have cognitive or motor impairments going forward, like paralysis, numbness, and memory loss. “Functionality after a stroke — which occurs when blood flow to the brain is blocked — is a major concern for patients,” explained study co-author Stanley Hazen, MD, PhD.
Overall, these findings are an important reminder than what we eat isn’t solely about avoiding stomach aches, gut inflammation, or other digestive problems; there’s a ripple effect that can impact other parts of our health, too. Eating a diet rich in fruits, veggies, whole grains, and healthy fats — while keeping an eye on animal product consumption — can make all the difference!