How bowel problems put your heart at high risk

It’s no secret that chronic bowel issues can eventually cause other health complications…

Constipation puts you at risk for hemorrhoids. Diarrhea puts you at risk for malnutrition. And serious bowel issues like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis increase your risk for colon cancer.

These connections are well-known, well-supported and not all that surprising. But people with serious bowel problems face another health risk that comes totally out of left field…

They have an insanely high heart attack risk.

A new study shows that people with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs) like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis face a heart attack risk that’s up to nine times higher than people without these bowel issues.

If you’re baffled why two seemingly unrelated conditions — like bowel disease and heart attacks — are connected, I have one word for you…


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Inflammatory bowel disease means more heart attacks

Researchers from Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center recently found that people with inflammatory bowel diseases have a higher heart attack risk—even if they don’t have the usual heart attack risk factors.

After looking through medical records for more than 17.5 million people, researchers found that inflammatory bowel disease sufferers had a higher heart attack risk whether or not they smoked, had high blood pressure or had high cholesterol.

According to researchers, that means inflammatory bowel disease itself is a heart attack risk factor. And a pretty serious one…

They found that young people (between the ages of 18 and 24) with IBD had a jaw-dropping nine times higher risk of having a heart attack than people without IBD. People with IBD in general, no matter what age, had heart attacks roughly twice as often as people without IBD. After all the data was calculated, that panned out to a 23 percent higher heart attack risk.

Researchers also noticed that young women seemed to be affected by this bowel-heart connection more than young men. Women with IBD who were under 40 had a higher risk of heart attack than men in the same age group.

It seems strange that bowel issues — however serious — would impact your heart. But there’s something linking these two seemingly unrelated health problems… inflammation.

Inflammatory bowel disease is characterized (and caused) by inflammation… hence the name. And inflammation is one of the driving factors behind heart disease.

“Our study adds considerably to a growing set of literature highlighting the importance of chronic inflammation in IBD as having a role in the development of heart disease,” said the study’s lead author Muhammad S. Panhwar, MD.

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Fighting inflammation for better bowel and heart health

At this point, there’s no way to know for sure what will lower heart attack risk for people with IBD. But since both problems are linked to inflammation, that’s a good place to start.

The best way to fight chronic inflammation is through food. A 2016 study conducted at the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease identified five foods that were most effective at reducing inflammation: onions, turmeric, red grapes, green tea and acai berries.

But rather than focusing on a handful of foods, you’ll want to adopt a healthy, well-rounded anti-inflammatory diet. I suggest the Mediterranean diet, but any diet that includes lots of fresh produce and little sugar and processed food should do the trick. Inflammation-squelching spices like ginger and turmeric are a great addition to any anti-inflammation diet. And make sure to eat fish a few times per week. Omega 3-fatty acids are some of nature’s best inflammation-fighters.

You can also try safe and effective supplements, like aged garlic and alpha lipoic acid, to give you a leg up on inflammation. And whatever you do, don’t forget to exercise. Research shows that just 20 minutes of exercise per day can douse disease-causing inflammation.

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  1. Inflammatory bowel disease increases likelihood of a heart attack — MedicalXpress. Retrieved March 2, 2018.
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine,, and