A simple way to help keep your blood pressure in check is to consume plenty of probiotic-rich foods like yogurt and kefir, suggest the findings of a new scientific review. While not necessarily a cure for people with heart issues, probiotics have been shown in a multitude of clinical studies to modestly lower blood pressure, as well as balance blood sugar, cholesterol and hormone levels.
This latest investigation into the science behind probiotics found that the combined results of nine randomized, placebo-controlled studies demonstrate heart benefits associated with probiotics. Among 550 participants who took a probiotic or ate a probiotic-rich food, average systolic blood pressure levels dropped by 3.56 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), while diastolic levels dropped by 2.38 mm Hg, on average.
This is significant, as many blood pressure drugs that perform similar functions come with nasty side effects, none of which are present when taking probiotics. The key, say researchers, is consuming at least 100 billion colony-forming units of probiotics daily, which is roughly the amount found in a small carton of high-quality, authentic yogurt.
"I do not think the general public understands how probiotics might be beneficial to health at this stage," said Jing Sun from the Griffith University School of Medicine and Griffith Heart Institute in Queensland, Australia, lead author of the study. "The challenge to us is to convince patients and clinicians to accept the product in daily life."
Based on the data, taking optimal or higher amounts of probiotics daily for at least two months can produce dramatic benefits, particularly when combined with other interventions like healthy eating and regular exercise. In other words, chowing down on yogurt can be helpful, but it is also important to combine this other healthy lifestyle habits.
Probiotics are a 'functional food' that can prevent chronic illness
Beyond their heart-health benefits, researchers have concluded that probiotics are a full-spectrum "functional food," meaning they offer health benefits beyond basic nutrition. According to Lori Hoolihan, a researcher at the Dairy Council of California in Irvine, probiotics work in many ways to optimize health and prevent chronic diseases.
"Randomized clinical trials are the gold standard in research and they had a strict criteria for choosing the studies and they actually looked at human trials which are stronger than animal trials," she is quoted as saying.
"Americans don't like to think about bacteria so it's hard for people to embrace it but there are good and bad bacteria and there is no avoiding them. Our gut is home to many bacteria and if bumping up the amount of good bacteria can optimize health and prevent chronic diseases then that's a good thing," Hoolihan added.
Other helpful ways to lower blood pressure naturally through diet include reducing carbohydrate and sugar intake, as both of these things contribute to insulin resistance and metabolic dysfunction. Increasing intake of beneficial minerals like potassium, magnesium and calcium, as well as consuming healthy saturated fats like grass-fed ghee, butter, palm oil and coconut oil, is also helpful.
It is also important to increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, both through fatty fish consumption and supplementation with omega-3-rich oils like flax, hemp, cod liver and skate liver. Omega-3s have been shown in multiple studies to reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, as well as reduce other risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease.
Concerning probiotics, Sun added:
"We believe probiotics might help lower blood pressure by having other positive effects on health, including improving total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, cholesterol; reducing blood glucose and insulin resistance; and by helping to regulate the hormone system that regulates blood pressure and fluid balance."