Protect your heart by taking care of your gums.

Protect your heart by taking care of your gums. Watch: Best Foods for a Brighter Smile

People with gum disease-which affects up to 50 percent of American adults-are twice as likely to suffer from heart problems.

As a result, doctors who treat gum disease and doctors who treat heart disease are teaming up with a message: dealing with one can help people avoid the other. Recently, a major heart journal and a major periodontal journal simultaneously published a consensus paper that outlines the link between the two diseases (inflammation) and urges both types of doctors to look at the body as a whole rather than a set of unrelated parts.

"The theory is if you have a certain amount of inflammation, something is going to break down somewhere [whether it's your heart, your gums or something else]," says David Cochran, D.D.S., past president of the American Academy of Periodontology and a professor at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in San Antonio.

Studies show that regular exercise and stress reduction can have anti-inflammatory effects. Besides exercising and, of course, getting regular dental checkups, choosing certain foods may also help you protect both your gums and your heart.

Find out the 3 foods you should try:

1. Raisins: You might think that because raisins are sweet and sticky, they're not good for your oral health. But research has shown that antioxidants in raisins fight the growth of a type of bacteria that can cause inflammation and gum disease.

2. Green tea: Scientists reported in 2009 that Japanese men who drank a daily cup of green tea significantly lowered their risk of developing gum disease-the more the tea, the lower the risk. The researchers believe antioxidants called catechins in green tea are the key. Catechins hamper the body's inflammatory response to the bacteria that cause gum disease.

3. Whole grains: A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that men who ate four or more servings of whole grains a day reduced their risk of periodontal disease by 23 percent. Compared to refined carbohydrates (white bread, white rice), whole grains (oatmeal, brown rice) are digested more slowly, causing a steadier rise in blood glucose, says study author Anwar Merchant, D.M.D., Sc.D., an epidemiologist at the University of South Carolina, Columbia. Avoiding spikes in blood sugar tempers the body's production of inflammatory proteins-and lowers the risk of both gum and heart disease.

January/February 2010