If you’re familiar with my book The Omni Diet, you know I’m a huge fan of probiotics, supplements that give a boost to all the beneficial bacteria and other essential microorganisms dwelling in your digestive tract. (Don’t say ”ew” – our bodies harbor both good bugs and bad ones, and for the sake of our health, we have to make sure there are more good ones.) Probiotics are best known for dealing with chronic diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive disorders, but they also can help with some non-digestive problems such as eczema, other skin rashes, vaginal infections, immune disorders. They may even help relieve anxiety and quell panic attacks.
An interesting article on this subject comes from an Australian review of nine randomized clinical trials showing that probiotics can help lower blood pressure. The researchers found that taking probiotics lowered systolic blood pressure (the top number) by an average of 3.56 millimeters of mercury and diastolic pressure by 2.38.
True, those effects aren’t huge, but they are significant, according to the researchers who suggested that taking larger doses, probiotics with multiple species and large quantities of bacteria could pay off in bigger and better blood pressure reductions.
The review looked at studies that enrolled a total of 543 adults, some of who had high blood pressure and some who didn’t. The participants took a variety of probiotics in differing amounts of bacteria, but most were strains of Lactobacillus consumed in dairy products. (I ask you to forego dairy products on the Omni Diet, but eating a little goat’s milk yogurt is the one exception to this rule for people who know they aren’t sensitive to the milk proteins casein and whey.) Coconut milk yogurt is a great alternative to dairy. Fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchi can also add probiotics to your diet, but they can’t take the place of probiotic supplements, which contain far greater numbers of bacteria.
Beyond Blood Pressure
The review found that the benefits of probiotics were greatest in people whose blood pressure was equal to or greater than 130/85, which is considered elevated, according to the American Heart Association. The study leader, Jin Sung Ph.D. said in a press release that taking probiotics could help maintain healthy blood pressure levels as well as improving total cholesterol and LDL (”bad”) cholesterol levels; reducing blood glucose and insulin resistance; and by helping to regulate the hormone system that regulates blood pressure and fluid balance.
Wow! If I weren’t already convinced of the benefits of probiotics, that list of benefits would do it for me.
For the record, here are some things you should know about probiotic supplements from the study:
- If you’re hoping to lower your blood pressure, you need to take probiotics for more than eight weeks. The review found no benefits in those who took probiotics for less than eight weeks.
- To reduce blood pressure, you have to take probiotics with a daily bacteria volume of 109 – 1012 colony-forming units (CFU’s). (Less than that didn’t help.)
And here’s some additional advice from me:
- If a probiotic does nothing for you, switch to another blend. Gut flora varies by person, so the probiotics that help some people may not help others.
- One probiotic blend may become less effective over time, so feel free to try new blends after several weeks or months.
- When you start taking probiotics, you may experience some bloating, gas or diarrhea. It takes about a week for your body to adjust, so tough it out. You’ll be glad you did.
- You can take probiotics while you’re taking antibiotics, but for optimal effectiveness, take them several hours apart.
- Choose pharmaceutical-quality probiotics. (You can find information on this in The Omni Diet.)
- Generally, I recommend taking a dose of 25 to 50 billion CFUs daily.