The best way to someone's heart is through their stomach, or so the old adage goes. Believe it or not, there's more truth behind it than you may think. While the saying elicits images of cooking dinner for your sweetheart, it also holds true for your actual heart and digestive system — of which your stomach plays a central role.
The food, water, vitamins, and supplements you consume affect the health of your "internal garden" — the microorganisms that form an integral part of your digestive system.
Your gut contains trillions of microbes, collectively called the microbiome. This internal garden can flourish with healthy microbes — known as probiotics — or harmful ones that act like weeds, making you sick, fatigued, and unwell.
Eating probiotic-rich foods and taking probiotic supplements helps your microbiome grow strong with healthy microbes, which push out the "weeds." And having a healthy gut microflora will help your heart in several ways, which I'll talk about below.
What Are Probiotics?
The short answer is that probiotics are helpful microorganisms that have a symbiotic relationship with your body.
Some gut bacteria are more helpful than others, and that is why you will find specific strains in your yogurt or supplement, like Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium.
A healthy human GI tract has more than 500 microbial species living inside it, and several trillion individual microbes at any one time. The more diverse your gut flora, the better your gut health.
Consuming probiotics from supplements or fermented foods helps push out the bad bacteria — think of them like weeds that wreak havoc on your digestive system and its microflora garden.
How Are Probiotics Good for the Heart?
Probiotic microbes not only help you digest food, they also play a role in everything from mental wellness to skin health. Less well known is that probiotics also help your heart, veins, arteries, and the entire cardiovascular system in several ways. Below are the top ways that probiotics influence heart health.
Normalize Blood Pressure
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 75 million American adults have high blood pressure. Of that, only slightly more than 50 percent have their numbers under control. Probiotics can help normalize those blood pressure numbers, though.
In hundreds of people, taking probiotics balanced both the top (systolic) and bottom (diastolic) blood pressure numbers in multiple studies. It looks like probiotics can help keep your blood pressure where it needs to be.
What's more, the people who saw the best numbers were the ones who took the most probiotics. If you want to see the benefits, stick to a steady routine of supplements or probiotic-friendly foods for the long-haul. In the study, it took up to eight weeks to see results.
Balance Good & Bad Cholesterol
Some studies show that probiotics promote normal HDL (good cholesterol) and LDL (bad cholesterol), as well as total blood cholesterol levels.
Thirty-two different controlled trials dating between 2007 and 2017 showed that total cholesterol levels normalized in subjects taking probiotics for six weeks, compared to those in the control group, who saw no change.
The studies even showed that taking supplements in capsule form, rather than trying to get probiotics from food, may have had even more of an effect on cholesterol levels.
Encourage Normal Triglyceride Levels
Triglycerides are fatty compounds found in your body. Having too many triglycerides floating around in your blood increases your risk of stroke, heart attack, and other heart disorders. Luckily, probiotics can help mitigate that risk.
In studies on both rats and humans, taking probiotics encouraged normal triglyceride levels for every test subject over a period of six to 12 weeks.
It appears that taking a probiotic supplement causes an increase in special proteins in the blood, called apolipoproteins, that bind lipids (fats), including triglycerides.[4, 5]
Support Balanced Blood Glucose Levels
Early research has shown that when people take probiotic supplements or eat probiotic-rich foods regularly, it balances the sugar level in their blood.
Blood glucose, or sugar, can lead to a number of disorders, including diabetes, metabolic disorders, and obesity — which are closely linked to heart health.
Maintaining relatively steady blood glucose levels is important for healthy individuals to keep metabolic disorders at bay, and for people with them to better manage symptoms. Taking probiotics can help keep blood sugar numbers at healthy levels.
Help With Obesity & Boost Metabolism
As of 2013, about 67 percent of American adults and 30 percent of American children were either overweight or obese. Taking probiotics supplements could be part of an overall plan to help lower those numbers; maintaining a healthy weight is closely linked with a healthy heart.
Probiotics may be the boost your metabolism needs! It's been shown to reduce hunger and increase energy levels.
The microbiome in your stomach affects the metabolism of your entire body. Medical professionals and researchers are so confident in the role that our gut biome plays in metabolism and weight that they have started manipulating the species found in the gut in order to manage certain health conditions, including obesity.
Probiotics can reduce hunger, normalize systemic redness and swelling, support healthy energy levels, and boost metabolism.
Boost Vitamin D Absorption
Vitamin D, also known as the "sunshine vitamin," is essential for bone strength, immune system function, and heart disease prevention. People deficient in vitamin D have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Thanks to climates without many sunny days — not to mention the epidemic of low levels of vitamins in the modern food supply — deficiencies are pretty common.
Taking certain probiotic supplements may actually increase the body's ability to absorb vitamin D compared to those not getting regular probiotics.
So catch some rays when you can, or take a vitamin D supplement, but then take probiotics to help your body absorb as much of this heart-healthy vitamin as possible.
Aid Diabetes Management
Probiotics naturally help people with diabetes thanks to their part in promoting normal blood sugar levels.
In a review of research, experts concluded that probiotic supplements play a valuable role in immune health, reducing appetite, normalizing blood sugar, modulating the gut's permeability, and boosting the body's sensitivity to insulin. That's a lot of benefits from your gut microbes!
Probiotics not only reduce redness and swelling in the body, which is connected to a healthier immune system, but also act as antioxidants, counteracting so-called free radicals damage cells. Both of these factors provide important protection for people with metabolic conditions, like diabetes.
Best Natural Sources of Probiotics
Most people think of supplements when they hear the term probiotics, but you can also find beneficial bacteria and microbes in several foods. Here's an overview of the best sources.
Probiotics occur naturally in fermented foods, and you can also find them in yogurt, kefir, and other non-dairy probiotic foods. Try adding these foods to your healthy eating regimen.
- Nut-milk yogurt
- Nut-milk kefir
- Umeboshi plums
If you want foods that help probiotics flourish, known as "prebiotics," try dark chocolate and fiber-rich foods like chicory root, garlic, onions, sunchokes, and dandelion greens.
While in most cases, we recommend getting your nutrients from food, some studies indicate that for probiotics, supplements pack a stronger punch.
We've gathered our best advice for picking the right probiotic supplement for your heart — and the rest of your body as well. Harvard Medical School recommends taking a supplement that contains at least one to 10 billion colony-forming units (CFUs) to ensure you're getting the biggest benefit. We further recommend you choose a vegan-friendly supplement with multiple strains, plus prebiotics (fiber-rich food for probiotics).
Global Healing offers the vegan probiotic supplement Global Healing's Ultimate Probiotic which includes 25 probiotic strains, and 50 billion CFUs, and the prebiotic inulin (a polysaccharide from chicory root) to help the probiotics thrive once inside the gut.
Points to Remember
Probiotics and heart health go hand in hand. Taking supplements or eating probiotic-rich foods, like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and pickles, will not only help balance the bacteria levels in your GI tract but will also boost certain bodily functions that help keep your heart healthy.
Studies show that you receive the full benefits of probiotics after six to 12 weeks of regular supplement use.
Probiotics promote normal cholesterol, blood pressure, triglycerides, swelling, and glucose levels and can boost metabolism and lower appetite. Through these effects, the right strains of probiotics help heart health by encouraging a healthy body weight, normalizing metabolism, and giving the body a much-needed boost in its ability to absorb vitamin D — critical for heart health.
Be sure to continue to take your probiotics regularly, rather than intermittently. Studies showed benefits six to 12 weeks after starting a supplement regimen. Supplements themselves tend to have more of an effect than probiotic foods, but probiotic foods can provide you with added nutrition to your diet, as well as unique probiotic strains for your gut.
How to Choose the Right Probiotic
Length: 7 minutes
- High Blood Pressure. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US Department of Health & Human Services. Updated 14 Nov 2018. Accessed 27 Jan 2019.
- Khalesi S, et al. Effect of probiotics on blood pressure: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials. Hypertension. 2014 Oct;64(4):897–903.
- Wang L, et al. The effects of probiotics on total cholesterol: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Medicine (Baltimore). 2018 Feb;97(5):e9679.
- Choi ID, et al. Triglyceride-lowering effects of two probiotics, Lactobacillus plantarum KY1032 and Lactobacillus curvatus HY7601, in a rat model of high-fat diet-induced hypertriglyceridemia. J Microbiol Biotechnol. 2016 Mar;26(3):483–487.
- Ahn HY, et al. The triglyceride-lowering effect of supplementation with dual probiotic strains, Lactobacillus curvatus HY7601 and Lactobacillus plantarum KY1032: Reduction of fasting plasma lysophosphatidylcholines in nondiabetic and hypertriglyceridemic subjects. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2015 Aug;25(8):724–733.
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- Murray CJL, et al. The Vast Majority of American Adults are Overweight or Obese, and Weight is a Growing Problem Among US Children [news release]. Seattle, WA: Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Accessed 27 Jan 2019.
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- Jones ML, et al. Oral supplementation with probiotic L. reuteri NCIMB 30242 increases mean circulating 25-hydroxyvitamin D: a post hoc analysis of a randomized controlled trial. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2013 Jul;98(7):2944–2951.
- Rad AH, et al. The future of diabetes management by healthy probiotic microorganisms. Curr Diabetes Rev. 2017;13(6):582–589.
- Benefit of Probiotics: Should you take a daily dose of bacteria? Harvard Medical School, Harvard Health Publishing. Published May 2005. Accessed 31 Jan 2019.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.