Eating probiotics regularly could help lower blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
The live micro-organisms naturally occur in the gut but are also commonly found in yoghurt and dietary supplements.
Researchers at the Griffith Health Institute and School of Medicine in Australia examined data from nine trials involving more than 540 participants.
They found consuming the live bacteria lowered people’s blood pressure levels – particularly in those with higher readings.
Probiotics with multiple species of bacteria also worked better than those containing a single type of bacterium.
Lead author Dr Jing Sun, said: ‘The small collection of studies we looked at suggest regular consumption of probiotics can be part of a healthy lifestyle to help reduce high blood pressure, as well as maintain healthy blood pressure levels.
‘This includes probiotics in yoghurt, fermented and sour milk and cheese, and probiotic supplements.’
Despite the benefits identified in consuming probiotics, the study found taking the supplements for less than eight weeks did not affect blood pressure.
Dr Sun added: ‘We believe probiotics might help lower blood pressure by having other positive effects on health, including improving cholesterol, reducing blood glucose and insulin resistance; and by helping to regulate the hormone system that regulates blood pressure and fluid balance.
‘The studies looking at probiotics and blood pressure tend to be small.
‘Moreover, two studies had a short duration of three to four weeks of probiotic consumption, which might have affected the overall results of the analysis.’
She said additional studies are needed before doctors can confidently recommend probiotics for high blood pressure control and prevention.
The study was published in the journal Hypertension.
Commenting on the research, Victoria Taylor, Senior Dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘Having high blood pressure puts you at greater risk of cardiovascular disease including heart attack and stroke, so it’s vital we do all we can to keep our levels in check.
‘While this is an interesting review of the research in this area, it’s too soon to start recommending probiotics for lowering blood pressure.
‘With only a handful of studies involving a limited number of participants and conducted for only short periods, we need more research to confirm the findings seen here.
‘In the meantime, there are a number of well-established lifestyle changes that we can make to keep our blood pressure healthy.
‘Eating less salt, more fruit and vegetables and being physically active and maintaining a healthy body weight are all tried and tested ways to do this.’