It's a well known fact that heart disease is one of the biggest global health issues we face, accounting for the most deaths in almost every country on the planet year after year. To prevent heart disease we know that a healthy diet; low in saturated fat, salt and processed sugars, as well as regular exercise can help lower our risk. However, scientists are starting to understand how our gut microbiota may also play a significant role in helping to prevent heart disease. Previously published clinical trials and studies have shown the potential of probiotics to help lower cholesterol levels, and now a new peer-reviewed paper, published in the journal Hypertension, documents probiotics helping to lower blood pressure.

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The new study reviewed previous findings from nine clinical trials which observed the effects of probiotics on heart disease risk factors. The scientists found that probiotic supplementation may cut the risks of developing heart disease by 20%, an effect comparable to those who reduce salt intake from six grams per day to four grams, which the authors comment, also cuts heart disease risks by 20%.

Lead author of the new meta-analysis, Dr. Jing Sun of the Griffith Health Institute and School of Medicine, in Queensland, Australia commented on his team’s findings; “The small collection of studies we looked at suggest regular consumption of probiotics can be part of a healthy lifestyle to help reduce high blood pressure, as well as maintain healthy blood pressure levels. This includes probiotics in yoghurt, fermented and sour milk and cheese, and probiotic supplements.”

According to British Heart Foundation statistics, 75% of over 45 year olds have high cholesterol in the UK, and prevalence is growing each year. Heart and circulatory disease is the number one cause of death in the UK, and in 2011 accounted for over a quarter of all deaths. Experts cite unhealthy diet, high alcohol consumption, smoking and a lack of exercise as having an irrefutable correlation to high blood pressure.

Data from the new meta-analysis revealed that adults supplemented with probiotics for more than eight weeks exhibited significantly lower blood pressure levels compared to placebo-control groups. The research team commented, “The reduction reported by the current meta-analysis is modest; however, even a small reduction of blood pressure may have important public health benefits and cardiovascular consequences.”

"The findings from the Heart Outcome Prevention Evaluation study showed that a modest reduction of systolic blood pressure by 3.3mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure by 1.4mm Hg was associated with a 22 per cent reduction in relative risk of cardiovascular mortality, heart attack or stroke."

Dr Sun concluded on her team’s findings by adding, “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.”

More research is needed to further understand how probiotics could help to lower heart disease risks and to understand which specific strains are most effective. However, initial findings are promising and many people will be interested to see how this progresses as an alternative option, in-light of the controversial new plans to widen statins prescriptions.

Certain strains in particular have been shown to help with cholesterol management, read more about probiotics for cholesterolhere.

Reference: Sun, J. et al (2014) Effect of Probiotics on Blood Pressure: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized, Controlled Trials. Published online ahead of print: hyper.ahajournals.org

Image: mnn.com


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