If you're trying to keep your blood pressure under control, having a daily carton of yogurt or other foods filled with probiotics could help, a new study finds.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria in fermented foods, like yogurt and some cheeses, that research has shown can improve digestive health, help the body fight off some infections, maybe even boost brain health. Studies have also indicated that these helpful microbes seem to lower blood pressure.
Australian researchers, who looked at nine of these previous studies involving about 550 people, found that people with elevated blood pressure got the most benefit from probiotics when they consumed them for at least two months. This didn't mean that probiotics could replace medication, but that adding probiotic-rich foods to the diet could provide an additional modest reduction.
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In the study published July 21 in the American Heart Association's journal Hypertension, researchers found that after eight weeks, probiotic consumption lowered systolic blood pressure (the top number) by 3.56 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) by 2.38 mm Hg compared to a control group. Those who consumed probiotics for fewer than eight weeks saw no significant reduction in blood pressure.
Researchers also said subjects who ate at least 100 billion colony-forming units of probiotics each day - about the amount in a carton of some yogurts - had the most blood pressure improvements.
Why do probiotics seem to have this effect on blood pressure? Study author Jing Sun of Griffith University School of Medicine in Queensland, Australia, said it may be because probiotics have other positive effects on the body's health, including lowering cholesterol, reducing insulin resistance, and regulating the hormonal balance that affects blood pressure, Sun told Forbes.
Although the reduction in blood pressure in the study was a relatively small one, researchers noted that previous research has shown that even a small drop can help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Here are some foods naturally rich in probiotics to add to your diet:
Yogurt: To get the most probiotics, avoid yogurts high in sugar and added ingredients. Make sure the label says "live and active cultures" for maximum benefits. Try adding a carton a day to your diet.
Soft cheeses: Not all cheese contains probiotics that can survive the trip through the intestinal tract, but some soft fermented cheeses, like cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan and especially gouda, do.
Kefir: A fermented milk drink that's tangy like yogurt and full of probiotics. Like yogurt, it comes sweetened and unsweetened.
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Miso soup: This popular, nourishing (but salty) Japanese soup is made from fermented soybean paste and reportedly contains more than 160 beneficial bacteria strains. Look for it in the international aisle of your supermarket, or at Asian markets.
Buttermilk: It's not really made from butter, but it does contain healthful lactic acid bacteria that give it its tangy flavor. Those bacteria won't survive cooking, however, so either drink your buttermilk straight or use it in cold soups or smoothies.
A few others: You can also get probiotics from unpasteurized, fresh sauerkraut, spicy Korean kimchi (like sauerkraut, made from fermented cabbage), and sour pickles made without vinegar, but all of these are quite high in sodium - not exactly something people with high blood pressure should be eating frequently.
Photo: Amphotora images/iStock
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