Probiotics are live microbes, such as yeast and bacteria, that can be consumed and have been shown to promote health. Because of their health benefits, the microbes contained in probiotic products are sometimes referred to as “good” microbes. Probiotics can be found in foods such as:
- other fermented foods
Additionally, there are many supplements available in health food stores that contain probiotics.
There are many strains of microbes included in probiotic products; however, the most commonly included microbes are those from the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria species.
There have been several studies that have examined the impact of taking probiotics on health. In studies conducted so far, probiotics have been shown to have many health benefits, including modestly lowering blood pressure, alleviating diarrhea caused by certain infections, improving immune health, and reducing symptoms associated with inflammatory bowel diseases. Studies have also suggested that taking probiotics regularly may help keep your lipid levels healthy.
Can Taking Probiotics Improve Your Lipid Profile?
In human studies, probiotics have been taken in a variety of forms—from yogurts to supplements in varying amounts and consisting of different strains—for a period of anywhere between two weeks and six months.
From these studies, it was noted that probiotics were able to decrease LDL by anywhere between 5 and 35 percent.
In most studies, HDL and triglyceride levels did not appear to be significantly affected. However, in a couple of studies, triglycerides were decreased by at most 11 percent. In studies conducted so far, probiotics appeared to improve lipid levels in individuals who had mildly high cholesterol levels at the beginning of the study and those who took the probiotics for a longer period of time (greater than four weeks).
Additionally, Lactobacillus acidophilus, a probiotic commonly found in many fermented foods and supplements, appeared to be more effective in studies.
It’s not completely known how probiotics may lower lipid levels, although there are several theories surrounding this. One thought is that probiotics cause bile, which contains cholesterol, to not be absorbed by the intestinal tract and subsequently eliminated in the feces. This causes cholesterol to be converted into new bile acids, thus lowering cholesterol levels in the blood. It is also thought that probiotics can directly bind to cholesterol in the small intestine. A couple of studies have revealed that probiotics incorporate cholesterol from the intestinal tract where they reside into their own cell membranes or convert cholesterol to other chemicals.
The Bottom Line
There are currently no recommendations to include probiotic-containing products in your lipid-lowering diet—including amount and type of probiotic culture to take, since studies so far have widely varied.
Although probiotics show promise, more research is needed before manufacturers can claim that probiotics lower lipids.
Because of the possible health benefits and some of the other nutrients these foods may contain, they are a possible food to include in your healthy meal plans. However, before including these foods in your diet, you should discuss this with your healthcare provider. Although there do not appear to be many side effects associated with taking probiotics for now, these products have not been extensively studied long-term.
If you decide to include probiotics in your healthy diet, you should check your food labels. Although touted as “healthy” by advertisers, these foods may still contain high amounts of fat and refined sugars to improve their taste—both of which can add calories to your meal. Probiotic-containing foods and supplements are regulated as “foods” by the Food and Drug Administration. This means that the FDA will ensure that the products are made per good manufacturing practices, but any health claims have not been thoroughly investigated.