When you have hypertension, the force of blood pushing against your artery walls is high enough to cause health problems. The American Heart Association considers normal blood pressure to be a systolic reading (the top number) of less than 120 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) over a diastolic reading (the bottom number)that’s under 80 mm Hg. High blood pressure starts at 140/90 mm Hg and increases your risks of heart disease, stroke, kidney disorders and other medical conditions.
A new study published in the American Heart Association’s Hypertension journal discovered that you can decrease your blood pressure with something that’s probably already in your refrigerator. Available in various dairy products, probiotics are live microorganisms that occur naturally in your gut. Research shows that they provide beneficial health effects.
Study Defines Effective Parameters
Regular consumption of probiotic products like yogurt, fermented and sour milk, cheese, fermented soy foods and supplements helps reduce high blood pressure and maintain healthy levels, according to new research. Investigators reviewed nine past high-quality studies of 543 adults over 18 years old. They found that good live bacteria helped regulate the hormone system that controls blood pressure and fluid balance.
Probiotic intake reduced systolic blood pressure by an average of 3.56 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and the diastolic reading by an average of 2.38 mm Hg, compared to placebos or no treatment. These positive diastolic effects were greatest in people whose elevated blood pressure was equal to or greater than 130/85.
For this study, ingesting at least 100 billion colony-forming units (CFU) of probiotics each day, the amount in a carton of some yogurts, was necessary to lower blood pressure. Probiotics with multiple bacteria were more effective than those containing a single bacterium. Intake duration was key. Only people who consumed probiotics for at least eight weeks saw blood pressure reading reductions. The scientists suggest that the benefit may be greater when people with elevated blood pressure consume multiple species or large quantities of bacteria or if they ingest probiotics for longer than two months.
Jing Sun, Ph.D., lead author and senior lecturer at the Griffith Health Institute and Griffith University School of Medicine in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia, said that past studies have shown probiotics can have a positive effect on cholesterol, blood sugar and certain hormones that can impact blood flow. With the addition of her review, she concluded that probiotics can be part of a healthy lifestyle to reduce elevated blood pressure. She hopes her research convinces patients and clinicians to accept probiotics as a routine part of a healthy diet.
Experts Support Research Teams’ Conclusions
Lori Hoolihan, a researcher at the Dairy Council of California in Irvine who wasn’t involved in the analysis, called probiotics a functional food. “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,” she said. Hoolihan noted that randomized clinical trials are the gold standard in research and that the investigators used strict criteria for choosing the studies for review. They used real foods with probiotics at realistic levels that are readily available in grocery stores.
Dr. Bruce Rutkin, a cardiologist at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., who didn’t take part in Sun’s analysis, noted that previous studies have demonstrated that probiotics may impact blood pressure favorably through various mechanisms. They include lowering bad low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and total cholesterol as well as reducing blood glucose and insulin resistance. Rutkin believes that probiotics may play a role in modifying cardiovascular risk in conjunction with a heart-healthy lifestyle.
Blood Pressure Medication Is Still Necessary
The new findings don’t mean that you should replace your blood pressure medications with probiotics. Talk to your doctor about using this resource as an adjunct to your traditional treatment. Blood pressure medications include Trandate (labetalol), an alpha and beta-blocker. By preventing natural chemicals like epinephrine from affecting your heart adversely, it helps decrease your heart attack, stroke and kidney problem risks.
Embrace the DASH Eating Plan
Multiple organizations including The American Heart Association recommend the DASH Diet. The U.S. National Institutes of Health sponsored the research that developed the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension healthy eating plan. Research shows that the DASH diet can lower blood pressure in as little as 14 days — without limiting salt intake. It also has improved patients’ responses to medications.
Numerous studies have shown that the DASH diet also reduces the risk of many diseases including stroke, heart disease, heart failure, diabetes, kidney stones and some cancers. It’s an effective way to lose weight and become healthier. And it’s full of delicious foods. All of these benefits led to DASH ranking as the US News & World Report top diet in 2011-2014.
This program helps reduce blood pressure by focusing on foods that are low in saturated fat, total fat and cholesterol. It’s also high in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy foods. The DASH eating plan includes whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts. It contains low amounts of red meats, sweets and sugary beverages. In addition, it provides high intakes of potassium, calcium and magnesium as well as protein and fiber. Eating foods that are lower in salt and sodium also can help reduce your blood pressure. Learn more about theDASH diet before discussing its benefits with your doctor.