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How does dietary fiber improve cardiovascular health?

A recent study discovered how dietary fiber helps against the risks associated with high blood pressure.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. High blood pressure is the main risk factor associated with heart disease and because it often does not cause obvious symptoms, it gained the nickname of “silent killer”.

The causes of high blood pressure are multiple and probably not entirely known. Genetic and environmental factors, as well as certain pre-existing conditions, are among the known triggers of this condition.

Our immune system mediates a large portion of the negative effects of high blood pressure. Immune system cells such as T cells and macrophages will activate in response to the presence of certain hormones associated with high blood pressure. Upon stimulation, these cells will reach the heart and blood vessels, and cause damage.

High blood pressure is treatable, and diet is one factor we can work with to alleviate the burden of this condition. Our intestine is populated by the gut microbiota, which consists of bacteria that help us process the food we eat and produce important nutrients such as vitamins. Short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) are substances that bacteria in our intestine produce from dietary fiber.

Research work showed that SCFAs have health-promoting properties thanks to their effects on our immune system. Some studies have suggested that an appropriate fiber intake may help against high blood pressure. Despite these claims, how SCFAs specifically work to improve the outcome of high blood pressure is still unknown.

A derivative of dietary fiber helped reduce the consequences of high blood pressure

A recent German study looked at the potentially beneficial effects of SCFA propionate on cardiovascular health. The results are published in the journal Circulation. The scientists artificially induced high blood pressure in mice and treated them with propionate added to their water supply.

A similar experiment testing the efficacy of propionate involved mice with atherosclerosis, a disease that affects blood vessels. Treatment with this fatty acid proved successful as it reduced mortality rates in animals with both high blood pressure and atherosclerosis.

The researchers demonstrated that the positive results were due to the effects of propionate on T cells of the immune system. Mice treated with the fatty acid showed lower inflammation levels in response to high blood pressure, and the number of T cells reaching the heart and blood vessels was lower as well. In addition to the benefits of propionate in reducing inflammation, this substance also reduced the abnormal enlargement of the heart, another negative consequence of high blood pressure.

One limitation of the study is that while the scientists are confident that the effects of propionate are linked to its calming effect on the immune system, they cannot exclude other less obvious effects of this substance on our body.

Propionate: A future therapeutic option to reduce risks associated with high blood pressure

In summary, this study demonstrated how a derivate of dietary fiber such as propionate contributes to our health. The researchers unveiled how this substance reduced heart and blood vessel damage in mice with high blood pressure by calming specific cells of the immune system.

These experiments pave the way for evaluating the beneficial properties of propionate in humans, especially considering that some patients suffering from high blood pressure have a reduced presence of the bacteria that produce propionate. From a therapeutic standpoint, this SCFA might be a future option to reduce heart and blood vessel damage in patients with high blood pressure, especially in those with low levels of propionate.

Written by Raffaele Camasta, PhD


  1. Bartolomaeus, H., Balogh, A., Yakoub, M., Homann, S., Marko, L., Hoges, S., Tsvetkov, D., Krannich, A., Wundersitz, S., Avery, E. G., Haase, N., Kraker, K., Hering, L., Maase, M., Kusche-Vihrog, K., Grandoch, M., Fielitz, J., Kempa, S., Gollasch, M., Zhumadilov, Z., Kozhakhmetov, S., Kushugulova, A., Eckardt, K. U., Dechend, R., Rump, L. C., Forslund, S. K., Muller, D. N., Stegbauer, J., & Wilck, N. (2018). The Short-Chain Fatty Acid Propionate Protects from Hypertensive Cardiovascular Damage. Circulation.
  2. O’Shea, P. M., Griffin, T. P., & Fitzgibbon, M. (2017). Hypertension: The role of biochemistry in the diagnosis and management. Clinica Chimica Acta. 465, 131-143.
  3. Torres, N., Guevara-Cruz, M., Velázquez-Villegas, L. A., & Tovar, A. R. (2015, July). Nutrition and Atherosclerosis. Archives of Medical Research. 46(5), 408-426.
  4. Bartoloni, E., Alunno, A., Valentini, V., Luccioli, F., Valentini, E., La Paglia, G., Bistoni, O., & Gerli, R. (2017, December 9). Role of Inflammatory Diseases in Hypertension. High Blood Pressure and Cardiovascular Prevention. 24(4), 353-361.
  5. How dietary fiber and gut bacteria protect the cardiovascular system.


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