A recent double blind placebo controlled study is pointing out new reasons to take probiotics. Besides supporting the health of your gut, immune system and skin, probiotics are now being implicated in the health of the cardiovascular system based on a study published in the Journal of Dairy Science.
Thirty two men and women with high cholesterol were supplemented with a specific strain of Lactobacillus acidophilus along with inulin (a plant based sugar that serves as food for the probitics and is often included in probioitc supplements).
At the end of the study, subjects in the probiotic group showed reductions in plasma total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Additionally, those supplemented with probiotics were found to have lower concentrations of triglycerides compared with controls.
Dr. Passero’s Point of View: The cholesterol lowering effect of probiotic supplementation has been known for many years and has been consistently demonstrated in animal models. In the past several years these studies have been validated in human models as well like in the above study.
How they work: The cholesterol lowering effects of probiotics have been linked in part to their ability to de-conjugate bile acids in the small intestines. Bile acids are synthesized from cholesterol and once used in digestion are re-absorbed by the intestines to be used again in a recycling-like loop. When bile acids are de-conjugated by probiotics they are not as easily absorbed back into the recycling loop by the intestines. As a result the body must use more endogenous cholesterol to produce the bile acids that it is loosing from the recycling loop resulting is less blood cholesterol.
Probiotics also have the ability to directly bind cholesterol in the gut and prevent it from being absorbed into circulation. Many different strains of probiotics have been demonstrated to have cholesterol lowering effects. The above study is nice because it suggests that the very commonly used strain of Lactobacillus acidophilis has these effects. This is a strain that is readily available and widely used in nutritional supplements and fermented foods.
Other Things to Consider: Some possible confusion related to this study is the inclusion of inulin in the study design. Both inulin and probitics when used independently show cholesterol lowering effects so it is unclear which one is responsible for the beneficial study outcomes. How inulin lowers cholesterol levels is not totally understood. One possibility is that it acts as a form of fiber that stays intact into the large intestine and then directly binds cholesterol in the gut. However, due to its characteristics of an ideal food source for beneficial intestinal bacteria it may also exert its cholesterol lowering effects by increasing gut populations of good bacteria and thus effecting the bile acid recycling loop described above.
The Take Home Message: Either way, we know how important probiotics are to overall health. They are one of the most positively and widely researched natural products with an unparalleled safety record. These new benefits related to cardiovascular health further emphasize the crucial role these bacteria have in the optimal expression of health. In my opinion, daily supplementation with probiotics is highly recommended for overall health. Another great option is to consume live fermented food every day. The best way to achieve this is to make your own fermented foods like yogurt, keifer and fermented vegetables like Kim chi and sauerkraut. Many store bought fermented foods have lost most of the live bacteria by the time you consume them so it is best to learn how to make your own.