Probiotics, like those in yogurt, can help lower blood pressure, based on a new meta-study. These "good bacteria" have been linked to health benefits in tradition for centuries, as well as modern research.

Normal blood pressure is 120 mm (1.7 inches) of Mercury (Hg) over 80 mm Hg. The first number is called the systolic reading, while the second is the diastolic. Most healthcare professionals consider any reading over 140/90 to be high. People experiencing high blood pressure suffer from a greater incidence of strokes, heart disease and kidney disease than those with lower readings.

Researchers found these microorganisms help control cholesterol, blood sugar and certain hormones.

"I do not think the general public understands how probiotics might be beneficial to health at this stage. The challenge to us is to convince patients and clinicians to accept the product in daily life," Jing Sun, from the Griffith University School of Medicine in Queensland, Australia, said.

Many people with mild cases of high blood pressure are advised to treat their condition with diet and exercise. For those with more severe cases, medicine is often prescribed. These drugs can often put a strain on personal and family budgets. Many patients also suffer from side effects from prescription medicines.

Researchers examined nine different studies involving people given probiotics, versus a control group who did not consume the microorganisms. Study included approximately 550 people between all of the investigations. Seven of the nine experiments involved in the meta-study were double-blind - none of the subjects or lab crew knew who was, or was not, consuming probiotics.

Reductions in blood pressure among those consuming probiotics averaged 3.56/2.38 mm Hg, lowering blood pressure around three percent.

The meta-analysis was unable to determine an ideal consumption rate. However, 100 billion units a day (about the amount in a typical container of yogurt) appeared to be enough to contribute to lower blood pressure.

Bacteria can cause disease, but other varieties are essential to human health. Amazingly, humans possess more bacterial cells than human cells. Because bacteria are so much smaller than human cells, however, the amount in a human body, put together, would only fill about 2 quarts. Bacteria inside intestines now appear to play a crucial role in the management of the human immune system.

"We believe probiotics might help lower blood pressure by having other positive effects on health, including improving total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, cholesterol; reducing blood glucose and insulin resistance; and by helping to regulate the hormone system that regulates blood pressure and fluid balance," Sun said.

The effect of probiotics on blood pressure was examined in the journal Hypertension.

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