Two Probiotics Found in Cheese and Yogurt May Help Lower Blood Pressure

A person holding dietary supplement pills and a glass of water.
A promising new study suggests that two strains of probiotics found in foods like yogurt and cheese may help reduce high blood pressure. Grace Cary/Getty Images
  • Nearly half of U.S. adults have hypertension, which carries health risks, including an increased likelihood of other cardiac issues.
  • A new study suggests two strains of probiotics may offer protective benefits against hypertension.
  • However, experts stress the research is in its infancy, and the study’s small sample size included only 29 mice.

About 120 million U.S. adults are living with hypertension, or high blood pressure, according to data by Million Hearts, a national initiative to reduce heart attacks and strokes.

Hypertension can have a cascading effect, putting individuals at an increased risk for other issues, including heart attacks, strokes, and kidney disease.

Lifestyle modifications and medications are traditionally recommended to treat or lower blood pressure.

A small study of 29 mice suggests two strains of probiotics may offer protective benefits: Bifidobacterium lactis and Lactobacillus rhamnosus, which can be found in some food products like yogurt and cheese.

The research, published this week in mSystems, adds to other research indicating that probiotics may have antihypertensive effects.

“Accumulated evidence supports an antihypertensive effect of probiotics and probiotic fermented foods in both in vitro and in vivo experiments,” said Jun Li, Ph.D., a computational biologist and researcher in a media release. “So, we believed that the dietary intake of probiotic foods would well supplement traditional hypertension treatment.” 

However, experts caution there are still questions about whether these probiotic strains benefit hypertension treatment and protection, particularly whether the research can be applied to humans. 

“This study was small and done in mice,” says Dr. Alexander Postalian, FSCAI, a cardiologist at the Texas Heart Institute. “It is too early to draw definitive conclusions in humans.”

Still, understanding the new research — and hypertension risks and treatments — can empower patients to take the reins of their healthcare.

Health experts explained what the latest research does (and doesn’t) tell us about probiotics and hypertension and shared tips for reducing your risk of adverse effects from the condition.

What past research suggests about the link between probiotics and hypertension

Research on probiotics and hypertension is in its infancy.

Still, some data have suggested a potential protective effect against hypertension, which the American Heart Associaiton (AHA) 2017 guidelines define as levels consistently greater than or equal to 130/80 mm Hg.

For instance, a 2013 meta-analysis of 14 randomized placebo-controlled trials that included 702 patients indicated that consuming fermented milk with inhibitory peptides could lower blood pressure may lower blood pressure.

“This stoked an interest in whether probiotics, which produce these peptides, may help lower blood pressure,” says Dr. Joseph A. Diamond, FACC, FASN, FASH, the director of nuclear cardiology at Northwell Health’s Long Island Jewish Medical Center. 

One year later, a meta-analysis of new human trials with more than 540 participants indicated probiotics might have a modest reduction in blood pressure in individuals.

More recently, a 2020 meta-analysis indicated a “modest but significant reduction” in blood pressure in patients with hypertension who took probiotic supplements, noting greater effects in individuals with diabetes.

Research from 2023 offered similar suggestions. 

How the new study was conducted and what it suggests

With emerging research in mind, the authors designed a 16-week study using 29 mice to try and determine whether Bifidobacterium lactis and Lactobacillus rhamnosus could reduce fructose-related elevations in blood pressure levels.

Researchers divided mice into four groups that consumed:

  1. Normal drinking water (the control group) 
  2. High-fructose water without probiotics (the fructose group)
  3. High-fructose water with Bifidobacterium lactis
  4. High-fructose water with Lactobacillus rhamnosus

Results indicated that fructose-fed mice who received either probiotic strain had significantly lower blood pressure than the group that didn’t receive probiotics.

Additionally, mice who received probiotics with fructose water did not have different blood pressure levels than the control group that only consumed water.

Researchers believe the study indicates that probiotic interventions for blood pressure might help maintain normal levels. 

Why?

Researchers attempted to deduce that.

“They analyzed DNA from the mouse microbiome and analyzed the metabolites of these microbes after introducing two specific probiotic species of microbe, Bifidobacterium lactis and Lactobacillus rhamnosus, in order to assess the biological effects on the microbiome and the effects on blood pressure,” Diamond says.

Mice fed a high-fructose diet had altered Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes bacteria ratios, but probiotic interventions put the ratio back on par with the control groups.

“In addition,” according to the media release, “the analysis identified new microbial signatures associated with blood pressure: Increased levels of Lawsonia and Pyrolobus bacteria, and reduced levels of Alistipesand Alloprevotella, were associated with lower blood pressure.”

“In doing so, this study begins to shed some light on how probiotics may help to lower blood pressure,” Diamond says.

However, Postalian says the question of how probiotic interventions might aid blood pressure reduction still lingers.

“While the study tries to answer this question, it remains incompletely understood,” Postalian says. “They show that the ‘good’ bacteria can have an effect on amino acid metabolism, steroid hormone synthesis, endothelial function, and metabolism of potential antioxidants — all of which may come together to achieve the observed effect on blood pressure.”

However, more research is needed before doctors feel confident drawing definitive conclusions and making recommendations.

Researchers are planning a larger clinical trial of humans to see if the protective benefits offered by probiotics in a small group of mice apply.

One cardiologist says that’s critical, particularly the human element.

“It is far too soon to know whether this data is more broadly applicable to people,” says Dr. Cheng-Han Chen, a board-certified interventional cardiologist and medical director of the Structural Heart Program at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center in California. “The next stage of this research will be to test and replicate these findings in humans. A significant focus will be to study the amount and duration of probiotic therapy that will demonstrate a therapeutic effect.”

High blood pressure can lead to other health issues

High blood pressure affects the arteries and is considered a heart-related condition. However, cardiologists stress that the heart doesn’t operate in a vacuum.

“You can think of elevated blood pressure as what high water pressure from the city pump could do to your home appliances: damage them.” Postalian says. “If you submit an organ, such as the eyes or kidneys, to extensive periods receiving the high impact of elevated blood pressure, the organ will slowly become damaged over time.”

To that end, Chen says that people with hypertension are at an increased risk for:

  • coronary artery disease
  • heart failure
  • stroke
  • kidney failure
  • vision loss
  • cognitive impairment/dementia 

CDC data indicates that hypertension was a primary or contributing cause of more than 691,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2021.

Ways to reduce your blood pressure

Chen says that controlling blood pressure is critical. However, less than one-quarter (22.5%) of adults have hypertension under control, per CDC data

Diamond says lifestyle modifications are also important, including:

  • Weight loss as needed
  • Smoking cessation, if needed
  • Exercise
  • Stress management
  • Reducing salt intake

Older research from 2017 suggests that weight loss is linked to better-controlled hypertension, while weight gain is associated with the opposite (uncontrolled high blood pressure).

A 2023 study of more than 5,000 people suggested that people who smoked heavy machine-rolled cigarettes had a higher risk of hypertension than non-smokers and that tobacco and alcohol consumption jointly elevated long-term chances of hypertension. 

New research from 2023 based on 270 randomized control trials with more than 15,000 participants indicated that isometric activities like squats might lower blood pressure.

Additionally, the AHA suggests getting at least 150 minutes of moderately intense or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise weekly. 

A 2019 study of Black individuals suggested that higher perceived stress over time was linked to a higher likelihood of developing high blood pressure. 

The AHA guidelines advise people to limit salt intake to 2,300 milligrams daily, ideally less than 1,500, particularly for someone with hypertension.

Research from 2019 indicates that high sodium levels increase water retention and change artery structure, contributing to increased blood pressure.

Should that diet include probiotic-rich foods or supplements to manage blood pressure? Again, experts say it’s too soon to say on the blood pressure front.

“As doctors, we like to see strong evidence in well-conducted human studies before subjecting our patients to new therapies,” Postalian says. “Having an honest conversation with your doctor about what you’d like to try is always a good idea.”

Takeaway

A small mice study indicated that a pair of probiotic strains, Bifidobacterium lactis and Lactobacillus rhamnosus, found in food like yogurt, may provide antihypertensive benefits.

However, researchers say it’s too soon to draw conclusions, noting the small sample size and the fact that experiments were performed on mice.

Hypertension is common among U.S. adults, with about half of the population having the condition that can increase a person’s risk for heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease.

Only about a quarter have blood pressure under control.

Cardiologists say maintaining a low-sodium diet, stress management, and monitoring blood pressure can help keep blood pressure at safe levels.

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