There are plenty of medical practitioners who will repeat that eating “too much salt” will increase your likelihood of developing high blood pressure. There’s a lot of new information on that from a growing number of scientists, and it’s a salty debate; in fact, Dr. Sean C. Lucan of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine refuted the premise behind then-New York City health czar, Dr. Thomas Farley’s “war on salt” campaign as far back as 2010, calling it “misguided” and asserting:
“We do not know that reducing mean population sodium intake would decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease or save lives … For some high-risk heart patients, some studies show, a low-salt diet ‘actually leads to worse cardiovascular disease and early death.’”
So if the biggest culprit in high blood pressure isn’t eating too much salt, what can be done to lower your blood pressure? One solution resides with your gut bacteria, as regularly consuming probiotics could help relieve your symptoms. Scientists reviewed data from nine studies, all scrutinizing the associations between probiotics and blood pressure. All combined, 543 adults with either normal or high blood pressure levels participated. The researchers concluded:
“People who consumed probiotics had an average reduction in systolic blood pressure (the top number in a reading) of about 3.6 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and an average reduction in diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) of about 2.4 mm Hg, compared to those who did not consume probiotics.
Probiotics' benefits seemed greatest among people with elevated blood pressure (higher than 130/85), and probiotics with multiple types of bacteria lowered blood pressure more than those with a single type of bacteria.”
Regular Probiotic Intake is Key
The study, which was published in the journal Hypertension,3 also noted that the word “regularly” in regard to probiotic intake is key; those who consumed probiotics for less than two months didn’t show any positive impact in their blood pressure readings. Lead author Jing Sun, of Griffith University in Australia, noted that even from the relatively small collection of studies he and his colleagues reviewed, regular consumption can make or break the success of probiotics for easing hypertension.
It may not only help decrease your high blood pressure, but eating a diet rich in fermented foods may also help maintain healthy levels. Raw grass fed yogurt and other cultured dairy foods such as cheese and kefir, a fermented milk beverage, are examples.
Apparently, scientists at large believe more proof is needed, as the studies showed only an association between probiotic intake and decreased blood pressure readings, rather than actual “cause and effect,” and there were variables, such as the amount of probiotics consumed and other foods that may also have been beneficial, that denoted uneven results.
Still, Dr. Merle Myerson, of the Center for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention of Mount Sinai Roosevelt and St. Luke’s in New York City, conceded that “despite these limitations, the results are useful in suggesting where further research should be directed.”
Insulin Resistance: Key to a Healthy Heart
Dr. Bruce Rutkin, a cardiologist at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York, contends that probiotics may influence your blood pressure for the better through a number of different mechanisms after establishing a steady diet of them.4 One of the most important is their ability to reduce insulin resistance, which is well established as a key player in diabetes.
And that, Rutkin agrees, may be the most crucial key in the accompanying role of cardiovascular risk in regard to a person’s blood pressure readings. Diabetic Journals explains:
“Insulin resistance, … recognized as a strong predictor of disease in adults, has become the leading element of the metabolic syndrome and renewed as a focus of research. The condition exists when insulin levels are higher than expected relative to the level of glucose. Thus, insulin resistance is by definition tethered to hyperinsulinemia.”
The presence or absence of insulin sensitivity is important for heart health, because as your insulin levels rise, it causes your blood pressure to increase. High blood pressure is one of the side effects of insulin resistance that drives atherosclerosis by placing stress on your arteries.
Study: Good Gut Bacteria Can ‘Stop’ Blood Pressure From Rising
An exceptionally in-depth review on the subject of how probiotics can influence blood pressure was undertaken in view of the clinical indications that consuming too much salt “doubles” your risk of heart failure, and that even eating a little can increase your chances of developing heart disease or having a heart-related incident.
Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, joined researchers from several institutions in Germany to assess previous findings on the effects a high-salt diet can have on beneficial gut bacteria.
Their findings were published in the journal Nature.6 First author Nicola Wilck, of the Max-Delbruck Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin, worked with colleague Dominik Muller, and Ralf Linker, of Friedrich-Alexander University in Erlangen, Germany, jointly led the investigation. As Medical News Today reveals, the researchers found that adding high salt intakes created the same changes in humans as it did in mice:
“A moderate high-salt challenge in a pilot study in humans reduced intestinal survival of Lactobacillus spp., increased TH17 cells and increased blood pressure. Our results connect high salt intake to the gut–immune axis and highlight the gut microbiome as a potential therapeutic target to counteract salt-sensitive conditions.”
The upshot was that researchers found that in subjects who consumed probiotics for a week before starting a high-sodium diet, both their blood pressure and levels of beneficial Lactobacillus bacteria remained within normal limits. Study coauthor Eric Alm, director of MIT’s Center for Microbiome Informatics and Therapeutics, observed:
“We're learning that the immune system exerts a lot of control on the body, above and beyond what we generally think of as immunity. The mechanisms by which it exerts that control are still being unraveled … If you can find that smoking gun and uncover the complete molecular details of what's going on, you may make it more likely that people adhere to a healthy diet.”
Alm concluded that at least for his part, there may be some merit in developing probiotics targeted toward “fixing” some of the effects of a bad diet, adding that people shouldn’t use it as a cure-all — “Eat fast food and then pop a probiotic, and it will be canceled out.”