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Probiotics and Blood Cholesterol Levels

Updated on January 15, 2009

Studies have evaluated how probiotics can modify blood cholesterol levels.  It turns out that the probiotic bacteria lactobacilli and bifidobacteria can break down bile salts.  Bile salts are manufactured in the liver from cholesterol and act as agents in the small intestines to help the absorption of the fat in our diet.


Normally, the bile salts that are excreted by the liver into the intestines during a meal are reabsorbed at the end of the small intestines and recirculate to the liver to be used again during the next meal.  In this way, the liver conserves on manufacturing new bile salts from cholesterol.


When the bile salts are broken down by the probiotics, they are not as well reabsorbed and are lost in the stool.  This causes the liver to use more of the cholesterol to make more bile salts and reduces the amount of cholesterol that can be released into the blood stream.


Some studies have found that the total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) can be lowered and the HDL (good cholesterol) can be increased by taking probiotics1,2.  Other studies have not found these positive benefits3.  These studies differed in the type and amount of probiotic bacteria which likely affected the outcome.  More studies are currently being done to better understand which probiotics can help improve cholesterol values.


Bottom line, if you have elevated cholesterol values, taking a probiotic may be beneficial. But, a probiotic should not be used as a substitute for other therapies prescribed by your physician.


References:  (1) J Dairy Sci.2003; 86:2452-2461  (2) Ann Nutr Metab 2006; 50:387-393  (3) Nutrition Reviews 2007; 65:316-328



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