Consuming garri, pap, kunnu, others benefit heart, blood vessel health

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BSade Oguntola

Regular consumption of fermented foods containing moderate and high levels of live microbes is correlated with a reduction in the risk of heart attack, stroke, or death from cardiovascular disease. Researchers at Shandong University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Jinan, China, said common fermented foods in Nigeria, like garri and fufu, maize products like pap, and millet products like kunnu, including African locust beans, could lower cardiovascular health risks. In addition, to live microbes increasing LE8 scores reducing the risk of cardiovascular health, the researchers also found a correlation between food intake and LE8 for those consuming foods high in live microbes.

The American Heart Association’s Life’s Essential 8 (LE8) is an updated construct of cardiovascular health (CVH), including blood pressure, lipids, glucose, body mass index, nicotine exposure, diet, physical activity, and sleep health.  In other words, AHA’s LE8 covers four health factors, including blood pressure (BP), body mass index (BMI), blood glucose, and blood lipids, as well as four health behaviours: sleep health, nicotine exposure, physical activity (PA), and diet.

The researchers, who had analysed data from The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES)  through the lens of the American Heart Association’s Life’s Essential 8, stated that “higher levels of LE8 are associated with reduced incidences of coronary heart disease, stroke, and CVD and are also independently related to lower risks of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality.”

The study considered data from more than 10,000 adult participants in NHANES surveys from 2005 to 2018 in the United States. The dietary intake of participants was recorded (LE8), and the quantity of live microbes was determined for more than 9,000 different foods. Each of these was categorised into low, medium, or high live microbe content groups, which allowed the researchers to then categorise the participants by low, medium, and high intake of dietary live microbes. Race and ethnicity, gender, age, education, marital status, socioeconomic status, health insurance, alcohol consumption, obesity status, daily nutrient intake and medical history were included as additional covariates.

After applying exclusion criteria, 10,531 people were included in the final analysis. Females accounted for slightly more than half of the study cohort, with an average age of about 48 years. Non-Hispanic whites were the predominant ethnicity. Most study participants had at least a college education and health insurance, drank alcohol, and reported being married or in cohabiting relationships. A majority of participants were considered obese, and an assessment of cardiovascular health showed 66.34% of participants were at a moderate level.

Both medium and high live microbe intake groups had significantly higher LE8 scores and a reduced risk of cardiovascular health risk when compared with the low intake group. For food intake, the low live microbe intake group had a linear negative correlation between food intake and LE8. In contrast, the high-intake group had a linear positive correlation. Interestingly, the medium intake group showed an inverted U shape for this outcome, implying that a moderate intake of foods with medium levels of live microbes might be more beneficial for CVH.

Writing in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, they declared that “taking into account a variety of potential confounders, moderate and high groups were still significantly associated with lower cardiovascular health risks.”

Taken together, these findings provide strong evidence supporting the consumption of more foods rich in live microorganisms to improve cardiovascular health outcomes.

Future studies are needed to identify individuals who may respond differently to microbial consumption based on gender and ethnicity. For example, non-Hispanic black individuals did not exhibit a significant association with live microbe consumption and CVH. Additional research is also needed to elucidate these associations’ mechanisms and include more diverse cohorts. These types of studies have the potential to overcome the limitations of a cross-sectional study based on dietary recall data to establish causality.

Many of the fermented products consumed by different ethnic groups have therapeutic values. Some of the most widely known are fermented milk like yoghurt and curds, which contain high concentrations of probiotic bacteria that can lower cholesterol levels, improve nutrient absorption and digestion, hinder constipation, abdominal cramps, asthma, allergies, lactose, and gluten intolerance.

The slurries of carbohydrate-based fermented Nigerian foods, such as Ogi, Fufu and Waran have been known to exhibit health-promoting properties such as control of diarrhoea, dysentery and common stomach upset in humans. Research in 2019 demonstrated that adding fermented foods to one’s diet can lower the health risks associated with diabetes mellitus. Evidence from past and present medical and nutritional research also suggests certain elements found in fermented foods could potentially reduce the risk of cancer. Generally, a diverse range of microorganisms are employed for fermented foods, including acetic acid bacteria (AAB), yeasts or fungi, and lactic acid bacteria (LAB). For example, lactic acid bacteria have extensively been employed for fermented dairy foods such as yoghurt and fermented milk, which have been solely credited with the health claim of alleviating lactose intolerance.

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