To lower and keep your blood pressure in check, you’re supposed to reduce sodium, eat fewer processed foods, drink less, and weigh less.
For those looking for more, it seems like taking more probiotics, the all-important beneficial bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract, can also help you lower hypertension.
A review published in Hypertension, the journal of the American Heart Association, finds that taking probiotics for an extended period may help to reduce blood pressure.
“Compared to participants given a placebo or nothing at all, those taking probiotics lowered systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure by meaningful amounts.”
The review analyzed the results of nine earlier studies, involving a total of 543 individuals, where probiotics were randomly assigned to some of the participants. Seven of the studies were double-blind, with neither the researchers nor the volunteers knowing who received probiotics and who received a placebo until the studies’ conclusion.
The different probiotic strains were given through products like yogurt, milk, sour milk, cheese, probiotic beverages, and supplements.
Upon evaluation, researchers found that compared to participants given a placebo or nothing at all, those taking probiotics lowered systolic blood pressure (the top number on a blood pressure reading) by 3.56mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number on a blood pressure reading) by 2.38mm Hg.
The drop in blood pressure was similar to that in another meta-analysis, where salt intake was reduced 2g per day, and another where participants were put on a resistance-training program.
For significant results, it appeared that participants needed to take at least 100 billion colony-forming units per day, and the probiotics needed to be taken for at least eight weeks to be effective. Probiotics with multiple strains of bacteria were more effective at lowering blood pressure than single-strain forms, and the results were greatest in those whose blood pressure was equal to or greater than 130/85.
Lead study author Jing Sun, senior lecturer at the Griffith Health Institute and School of Medicine at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, said, “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.”
The Bottom Line
High blood pressure is a serious health issue that affects more than 75 million Americans. It’s called the silent killer because symptoms are often not associated with hypertension, and left untreated, it can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, lead to kidney damage, and increase the risk of blindness and dementia.
Although the reduction in blood pressure experienced by participants of this study was modest, it is still meaningful. Findings from the Heart Outcome Prevention Evaluation (HOPE) study showed that a similarly small reduction in blood pressure (just 3.3 mmHg (systolic) and 1.4mmHg (diastolic) reduced the risk of death from heart disease, heart attack or stroke by 22%.
The first step in managing your blood pressure, is knowing your numbers. The American Heart Association defines normal blood pressure as less than 120mg/dL (systolic) and less than 80mg/DL (diastolic). If you have high blood pressure, then you must speak with your doctor about an action plan.
Your doctor may put you on a medication, but you can also improve your diet by reducing your sodium intake and eating heart-healthy foods. While medications are effective in reducing blood pressure, they don’t address the root cause of the problem, which is often related to high-sodium intake. Americans should be getting no more than 2,000 mg per day (and high-risk individuals should be getting 1,000 to 1,500mg per day) but the average intake is estimated at 3,500mg or more.
The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is an eating plan that features fruits and vegetables. It is high in fiber, low to moderate in fat and rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health have demonstrated that adhering to the DASH diet is an effective approach to lowering high blood pressure.
Remember, managing conditions like high blood pressure means modifying your lifestyle in a variety of ways to benefit your overall health and wellness. If this means watching what you eat, limiting your sodium intake, exercising more, and even colonizing your gut with good probiotic bacteria, then the benefits you’ll see will be more than worth it!
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.