Probiotics—the good bacteria that live in your gut and that are also found in yogurt and dietary supplements—have been shown in a variety of studies to improve digestion, but new research shows they can do much more.

A study published in January 2012 in the FASEB Journal found that boosting the good bacteria in your intestines can help reduce the risk of death from heart attacks. Researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin divided rats into three groups. The first group was fed a standard diet, and the second group was given the antibiotic vancomycin in its drinking water. The third group was fed a probiotic supplement that contained Lactobacillus plantarum—a bacteria that helps the body produce less leptin, which is a protein hormone that has a key role in regulating appetite and metabolism.

At the end of the study, compared to the standard-diet group, the antibiotic group had 38 percent less leptin in its blood, which resulted in a 27 percent reduction in the severity of heart attacks. Even more impressive, the probiotic group had 41 percent less leptin and a 29 percent reduction in heart attack severity.

“Our discovery is a revolutionary milestone in the prevention and treatment of heart attacks,” the study’s lead author John Baker, MD, said  “The biochemical link between intestinal bacteria, their metabolites and injury to the heart will reduce the risk of death from a heart attack and, coupled with the use of probiotics, will ultimately be able to improve the overall cardiovascular health of the human population.”

Added Gerald Weissman, MD, editor-in-chief of the FASEB Journal: “Just as physicians use cholesterol levels, blood pressure and overall body composition as measures of heart disease risk, we may soon evaluate our body’s susceptibility to disease by looking at the microbes that inhabit the gut.”

Read More of this Article