We all know that a healthy diet can lead to a healthy heart, but can probiotics take a leading role in combating heart disease? They just actually might.
Everyone’s looking to have a healthier heart. After all, a healthy heart is essential to a healthy life. Given that heart disease is the most common cause of death worldwide, it’s pretty unsurprising that many people are concerned. What may be more surprising is that one of the hottest trends in heart health research relates to the power of the microbiome.
When we talk about the microbiome we’re referring to the trillions of microbes that live in the human body; the vast majority of which live deep within our intestines. The reason they are relevant to heart health is that these microbes can help with digestion, make nutrients, and release substances that have wide-ranging health effects — many of which can tie into a healthier heart.
At the forefront of the research on the microbiome and heart health are probiotics. In this piece we’ll take a closer look at what exactly we mean when we talk about probiotics and why exactly experts believe probiotics can be tied to heart health.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live microbes that can provide certain health benefits when eaten. The probiotics people usually talk about are bacteria like Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria, but not all probiotics are the same. In fact, probiotics can sometimes have a negative reaction with your existing gut bacteria, so you should always be careful and consult a doctor before taking them.
If you do choose to increase your probiotic intake, some of the healthiest probiotic foods to consider adding to your diet are yogurt, kefir, tempeh, kimchi, miso, kombucha, and pickles.
How Can Probiotics Help with Heart Health?
There’s no guarantee that probiotics can help with heart health — and certainly no assurance that they will help everyone — but research from a variety of studies has shown that probiotics can have a positive effect on heart health. Probiotics have been shown to potentially lower:
Cholesterol: There is good evidence that probiotics (especially Lactobacilli) can help reduce cholesterol. Some probiotic strains simply take up cholesterol from their surroundings. Others have a sticky surface that cholesterol attaches to so it doesn’t get absorbed into the gut, while there are also those that keep it from being absorbed by converting the cholesterol into a different compound called coprostanol that can’t be absorbed in the intestines. Probiotics also produce bile, which can reduce the levels of circulating cholesterol in your body. Even better, some strains can reduce the production of cholesterol in the liver in the first place.
Blood Pressure: Research shows that certain probiotics can seriously reduce blood pressure, particularly in people with high blood pressure to begin with. This is an important finding given that high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease. As with all of these effects, you won’t see an instant reduction in blood pressure, but studies show that probiotics can have an effect when taken consistently over many weeks.
Inflammation: Long-term inflammation of the blood vessel wall can contribute to heart disease. Unfortunately, the standard Western diet is high in foods that can lower the diversity of the gut microbiome and encourage the growth of bacteria that’s associated with inflammation. Taking probiotics can help bring that gut microbiome back into balance to reduce the production of pro-inflammatory chemical messengers in your body.
Triglycerides: There is less evidence for the effects of probiotics on triglycerides than cholesterol, but some individual studies do show a beneficial effect. Blood triglycerides are types of blood fat that can contribute to heart disease when their levels are too high. Smaller studies focusing on people with high blood triglycerides found that taking probiotics lowered them over time, but larger studies combining the results from other research show that there may not be a significant effect. More studies are needed to draw full conclusions, but there’s no indication that probiotics have any actively damaging effects on triglyceride levels.
Embracing Probiotics for a Healthier Heart
While researchers continue to study the microbiome and the effects of probiotics on heart health, it’s clear that there is a relationship between the two. If nothing else, probiotics can contribute to an overall healthier diet, which translates into a healthier heart.
As with any other major diet changes, it’s important to speak to a doctor before you begin taking any probiotics. At Tri-City Cardiology we can help you understand the ways that probiotics may help your heart health and give you guidance on how best to add them to your diet. Contact us today to learn more about probiotics and heart health!