A Powerful Germ That’s GOOD for Your Health
From antibacterial soap to antibiotic medications, we’re used to doing everything we can to rid ourselves of germs.
But what if I told you that some bugs are healthy?
In fact, they’re so beneficial that people willingly take them in supplement form?
And these so-called friendly bacteria not only won’t make you sick, they can improve symptoms of diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, and other digestive woes.
This is one supplement where the research is solid – and suggests that filling your belly with bacteria could be a very good thing.
Germs That are Good Guys…
The idea of willingly eating germs might sound gross.
But, strange as it may seem, people have been consuming bacteria for millennia, in the form of fermented foods such as yogurt, miso, and tempeh.
In 1906, Nobel Prize winner Dr. Ilya Ilyich Metchnikoff attributed the long life span of the Balkan people to the ingestion of large quantities of these foods. But it wasn’t until the 1950s that researchers began investigating the potential benefits of lactobacilli and other “friendly” bacteria now known as probiotics.
Why are probiotics so good for you?
Well, they’ve been shown to help balance the pH of the body – in the digestive tract and vagina in particular – helping maintain proper acid concentration and inhibiting the growth of disease-causing bacteria.
Lactobacillus acidophilus (also simply called acidophilus) is one such probiotic. Found in yogurt and other fermented foods, it’s been shown in studies to help prevent and treat diarrhea, improve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and even protect against vaginal infections.
But you don’t have to eat a gallon of yogurt to see results. Research suggests that taking acidophilus supplements may have similar effects.
Fighting “Bac” Against Digestive Trouble…
Although probiotics could potentially offer a host of health benefits, improving symptoms of digestive distress is one area where these bugs really shine.
See, a number of studies demonstrate the digestive advantages of friendly bacteria like acidophilus.
For example, a 2010 study of 255 adults taking antibiotics found that those who also supplemented with a probiotic product that included acidophilus helped reduce the risk of diarrhea associated with the drugs.1
Another study, published in the March 2012 issue of the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, looked at 50 people with diarrhea-dominant IBS. The researchers found that taking a supplement containing acidophilus and other beneficial bacteria daily for 8 weeks was effective in providing adequate relief of overall IBS symptoms and helped improve stool consistency.2
Acidophilus might benefit kids, too. In one study of 111 children with acute diarrhea, taking an acidophilus-containing probiotic supplement appeared to clear up digestive symptoms one day earlier than a placebo. It even helped cut the use of prescription medications for diarrhea.3
The Supplement Women Need…
The evidence for acidophilus and digestive health is strong. So it’s no wonder that scientists would want to explore other areas for its use, too.
And there is some excitement around the use of acidophilus to help ward off everything from high cholesterol to eczema. But we’ll need more research before the probiotic can be recommended for those conditions.
One area where acidophilus does show promise? Women’s health.
A growing body of research suggests that these friendly bacteria could help protect against vaginal infections.
For instance, a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that consuming yogurt or liquid L. acidophilus on a regular basis might prevent colonization of harmful bacteria and reduce the risk of vaginal infection.4
Plus, in one 2010 study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, researchers gave 120 healthy women a probiotic capsule that contained acidophilus daily for 7-day increments. After 11 months, 15.8 percent of the women who had taken the supplement experienced bacterial vaginosis and just 3.5 experienced a related condition called Gardnerella vaginalis. That’s compared to 45 percent and 18.3 percent of women, respectively, who took a placebo.5
A Germ of Caution…
Acidophilus appears to be safe for most people, but not everyone should catch this bug.
For example, large quantities could cause diarrhea and other gastrointestinal complaints. It can also cause allergic reactions in patients who have a pre-existing allergy to these bacteria.
Because acidophilus is bacteria, you may want to avoid it if you have a weakened immune system due to lymphoma or HIV/AIDS, if you have intestinal damage, have an artificial heart valve, have taken steroid drugs for long periods of time, and if you take drugs that suppress the immune system.
Join the Culture Club…
Acidophilus is present in some foods, including yogurt and other fermented milk products, miso, and tempeh, and it wouldn’t hurt to add these to your meals. For regular therapeutic use, however, you might be better off taking a supplement that contains L. acidophilus bacteria.
Look for those from trusted brands that claim to contain live or freeze-dried cultures. You may need to refrigerate acidophilus supplements to keep them stable, although freeze-dried products are a good option if you’re traveling.
You want to choose acidophilus products that indicate the number of living organisms – that’s the bacteria – per capsule. To prevent and treat the conditions mentioned above, take between 2 and 10 billion colony-forming units, or CFUs, a day in divided doses.
If you’re also taking antibiotics, wait at least two hours before taking acidophilus, since taking the two together may weaken the effectiveness of the probiotic.
And remember, keep an open mind to new ideas, but ALWAYS do your own homework…and combine that with common sense to figure out what’s best for YOU.
1 Gao XW, Mubasher M, Fang CY, et al. Dose-response efficacy of a proprietary probiotic formula of Lactobacillus acidophilus CL1285 and Lactobacillus casei LBC80R for antibiotic-associated diarrhea and Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhea prophylaxis in adult patients. Am J Gastroenterol. 2010 Jul;105(7):1636-41.
2 Ringel-Kulka T, Palsson OS, Maier D, et al. Probiotic bacteria Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM and Bifidobacterium lactis Bi-07 versus placebo for the symptoms of bloating in patients with functional bowel disorders: a double-blind study. J Clin Gastroenterol. 2011 Jul;45(6):518-25.
3 Vandenplas Y, De Hert SG; PROBIOTICAL-study group. Randomised clinical trial: the synbiotic food supplement Probiotical vs. placebo for acute gastroenteritis in children. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2011 Oct;34(8):862-7.
4 Hilton E, Isenberg HD, Alperstein P, et al. Ingestion of yogurt containing Lactobacillus acidophilus as prophylaxis for candidal vaginitis. Ann Intern Med. 1992 Mar 1;116(5):353-7.
5 Ya W, Reifer C, Miller LE. Efficacy of vaginal probiotic capsules for recurrent bacterial vaginosis: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2010 Aug;203(2):120.e1-6.
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