Mouth Bacteria and the Workout Surprise: Keeping Your Blood Pressure in Check

The biggest reason most of us exercise, beyond weight loss, is for the heart health benefits. Lowering blood pressure tops the list, and that alone is worth heading to the gym, sweating through a workout doing it all again a day (or two) later. But your mouth may be cutting those heart health benefits short…

According to a new study, whether or not you actually get the benefits from your workout that could help prevent a stroke or heart attack down the road, have just as much to do with what’s in your mouth as with what you do to stay active…

The second most complex microbiome in your body

You’ve probably read lots about your gut microbiome — the colony of bacteria that live in your gut.

Well, that’s not the only place crawling with bacteria. Thousands of millions of bacteria colonize your digestive tract, from your mouth to the intestines, known as microbiota

Although your gut microbiome is the one that’s the best known and most complex, the one in your mouth comes in a close second and plays an important role in the health of your whole body.

And there’s mounting scientific evidence that the benefits you get from exercise and all that bacteria go hand in hand…

In fact, researchers from the University of Plymouth in the U.K. and the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain have not only carried out firsthand research but also delved into all of the scientific evidence available linking the impact of physical exercise with the bacteria in your mouth.

And here’s what it all came down to:

#1 — Heart goes hand-in-hand with your microbiome

Research has concluded that if you inhibit the activity of bacteria in your mouth, the heart health benefits you get from exercise are dramatically reduced. This means that if you’ve been using an antibacterial mouthwash, like those containing chlorhexidine, the effect that exercise has to lower your blood pressure could be drastically reduced. Related: Why you should never use mouthwash after exercise

#2 — It’s about nitrates

The researchers say that the reason that the heart health benefits of exercise depend on your oral microbiome is all due to compounds called nitrates.

When ingested from eating plants that contain them, like spinach and beets, nitrates go through a conversion process that produces nitric oxide (NO) — a compound that acts as a natural vasodilator, helping to relax and dilate the blood vessels and arteries in your body. NO increases the flow of blood to your muscles and decreases blood pressure, so it’s obviously a great advantage to decrease your risk for heart attack and stroke.

But you need healthy oral bacteria for that conversion process. Otherwise, you lose much of the benefits that would normally come with exercise.

#3 — Keep your mouth healthy to keep your gut healthy

The researchers also point out that there is a close relationship between oral and intestinal microbiomes.

In fact, every one of us swallows over a quarter of a gallon of saliva every day. This washes the bacteria that live in your mouth into your gut, where they can colonize and reproduce.

If you want to keep your gut microbiome healthy, you also have to keep your oral microbiome healthy.

#4 — Chew, chew and chew again, especially the veggies

Finally, the researchers determined that the best way to keep your mouth’s microbiome in tip-top shape is to eat plenty of vegetables that are rich in nitrates, but also to chew more!

That’s because when you chew, your mouth produces more saliva which helps to regulate your oral pH and supports the health-promoting activity of the bacteria in your mouth.

Grab all of the benefits exercise has to offer

So don’t stop exercising! Just make sure that your oral microbiome is healthy by feeding it nitrates, chewing more and avoiding antibacterial mouthwashes, unless recommended by your doctor to grab all of the heart-health and blood pressure-lowering benefits staying active has to offer.


Alterations to oral microbiota reduce the cardiovascular benefits of sport — EurekAlert!