Probiotics, the "good" bacteria in yogurt, milk and cheese, are increasingly being viewed in a positive light as studies frequently suggest their benefits to our health.

We know the bacteria may be helpful to our digestive health and our immune system, but a recent study indicates that it also might help lower blood pressure.

The study specifically showed that consuming a certain amount of probiotics over the course of two months could slightly reduce blood pressure.

While the researchers do not believe probiotics should be taken instead of blood pressure medications, they do hope to convince people to start incorporating the product in their daily lives.

Other studies have shown the positive effects of probiotics on such things as blood sugar, cholesterol and hormones and, as these are all aspects that influence blood flow, the idea that probiotics also lower blood pressure is not implausible.

High blood pressure, usually 140/90 mm Hg and over, increases the risk of heart disease, kidney disorders and stroke. Many people with high blood pressure rely on costly medications with side effects. Any positive effect, even moderate, that probiotic products can offer those with the condition could be hugely beneficial.

The challenge is persuading people to take probiotics. "Americans don't like to think about bacteria so it's hard for people to embrace it but there are good and bad bacteria and there is no avoiding them. Our gut is home to many bacteria and if bumping up the amount of good bacteria can optimize health and prevent chronic diseases then that's a good thing," said Lori Hoolihan, a researcher at the Dairy Council of California.

The study looked at 550 people and found that, on average, taking probiotics lowered systolic blood pressure by 3.56 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure by 2.38 mm Hg. No change was seen in the study's subjects that took probiotics for less than eight weeks, so time was a large factor in the study, as was original blood pressure. The subjects who already exhibited high blood pressure saw the greatest effect of the probiotic products.

One issue with the study, which was published in the journal Hypertension, is the kinds of probiotics used. Different probiotics and different combinations of products were used for the study, so health care providers do not know exactly which products would yield the same results.

"We know no two probiotics act alike," says Dr. Shira Doron, who studied probiotics at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. "One simply cannot extrapolate from a study of one probiotic that another strain or even another dose or another source-dairy product, capsule, sachet, etc.-will work."

On the other hand, there are no studies that show any harm coming from taking probiotics, so while it may not be the miracle drug just yet, it could at least have a place in your fridge. 

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