Although yogurt isn’t likely to replace statins as a front-line treatment for cholesterol, new research has found two daily doses of probiotics — live microbes that occur naturally in the gut and are contained in foods like yogurt — lowered levels of “bad” and total cholesterol in the blood.
The study, conducted by Montreal researchers and presented at a meeting of the American Heart Association this week, found 127 people with high cholesterol who took probiotics were able to lower their levels of LDL “bad” cholesterol by nearly 12 percent after nine weeks as well as other types of the fatty substances in blood, compared to individuals who were given inactive dummy placebo capsules.
Dr. Mitchell L. Jones, a research assistant in the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University in Montreal who led the study, noted probiotics are becoming an increasing focus of scientific research as experts are finding they can be used to supplement natural gut bacteria to promote health and reduce the risks from chronic diseases like heart disease.
Probiotics, in yogurt and some dietary supplements, are believed to have beneficial effects. Past studies have suggested a form of the bacteria — known as Lactobacillus reuteri NCIMB 30242 — may lower blood levels of LDL or "bad" cholesterol.
Jones’ researchers investigated the probiotic could lower LDL and reduce blood levels of cholesterol “esters” — molecules of cholesterol attached to fatty acids that account for most total blood cholesterol and tied to cardiovascular disease risk.
The results showed that L. reuteri not only lowered levels of “bad’ cholesterol in the 127 adult patients tested, but also reduced levels of cholesterol esters by 6.3 percent and cholesterol ester saturated fatty acids by 8.8 percent, compared with the placebo group.
The probiotic worked at doses of about 200 milligrams a day, far lower than those for soluble fiber or other natural products used to reduce cholesterol.
Because of the small number of patients involved in the study, researchers said they can’t say whether the impact of the probiotic differs between men and women or among ethnic groups.