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Acidophilus

What Is It?
Health Benefits
Forms
Dosage Information
Guidelines for Use
General Interaction
Possible Side Effects
Cautions

What Is It?

Many of us automatically think "bad" when we think "bacteria." After all, some bacteria can cause infections. But that notion may not always be true for your digestive tract, which contains a vast number of bacteria and has evolved to use "good" bacteria for several of its important functions.

Your digestive tract is host to about 400 different kinds of bacteria and yeasts. Among these, Lactobacillus acidophilus and other members of the Lactobacillus family are especially important to your health. Acidophilus is considered a "probiotic" bacteria because it helps to maintain intestinal health, and serves as a natural antibiotic against potentially harmful organisms. Taking acidophilus as a nutritional supplement will help maintain the normal balance of beneficial bacteria in the intestines and vagina.

Yet despite scientific evidence of the benefits of probiotics and their successful medicinal use elsewhere in the world, acceptance among conventional North American physicians has come slowly. A 2002 article in the journal Microbes and Infection, for instance, notes that our concern for "clean" has not only spawned multiple brands of antibacterial soaps and detergents, but may also explain a lack of widespread appreciation that bacteria can be good for health.

An excellent food source of acidophilus is yogurt, long valued for its therapeutic and nutritional benefits. However, there are wide variations in the quantities of acidophilus found in yogurt, and some brands contain none at all, making it difficult to get reliable amounts. To ensure quality, some commercial manufacturers add the active cultures after pasteurization, a heating process that can destroy both unwanted and beneficial organisms.

Acidophilus supplements are an effective alternative. These are sold in health-food stores, often in combination with Bifidobacteria, another group of organisms that function as probiotics. Many probiotic supplements are frequently combined with FOS (fructo-oligosaccharides), simple carbohydrates that stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria as they make their way through the digestive tract. FOS is actually a type of "prebiotic," indigestible food ingredients that stimulate the growth of probiotic bacteria already in the colon. Both probiotics and prebiotics can change the composition of intestinal bacteria in beneficial ways.

Health Benefits

Many people take acidophilus to treat and prevent digestive disorders, vaginal infections, and other illnesses. As it boosts benign and suppresses destructive bacteria, acidophilus allows the body to maintain a healthy bacterial balance. Acidophilus is often recommended as a safeguard during antibiotic therapy, which can suppress beneficial bacteria and trigger the growth of yeast infections.

Acidophilus may offer general health protection, as well. Several studies suggest that it functions as an immunity enhancer, and may suppress the toxic effects of carcinogens (cancer-causing agents).

Specifically, acidophilus is most commonly used to:

 

  • Ease irritable bowel syndrome. Acidophilus may bring relief to many people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a constellation of gastrointestinal symptoms that include abdominal bloating, cramping, and diarrhea. A recent study in the American Journal of Gastroenterology found that acidophilus showed a significant benefit in 50% of patients with the primary symptoms of IBS.
  • Control diarrhea. If your diarrhea is due to antibiotic use, acidophilus will help to correct the bacterial imbalances caused by the drug. In fact, if you are prone to antibiotic-associated diarrhea, it's probably a good idea to start both the acidophilus and medication at the same time. It may be wise to take acidophilus along on your next trip to the tropics, as well. Some strains of traveler's diarrhea may be weakened by acidophilus, perhaps because the immune-boosting effects of probiotics help to reduce intestinal inflammation.
  • Reduce flatulence. As it restores a healthy balance of bacteria in the digestive tract, acidophilus can keep gas-producers in the large intestine from multiplying. Increasing the gut's level of good bacteria relieves flatulence while lessening gas and bloating.
  • Combat vaginal yeast and other infections associated with Candida. A yeast that normally lives in harmony in your body, Candida albicans can begin to overgrow following antibiotic therapy. Chronic candidiasis such as this can produce digestive disturbances, fatigue, and allergies, among other symptoms. Because they promote a healthy intestinal environment, acidophilus and other probiotics can help to halt Candida overgrowth. Using antibiotics only when truly necessary will also help you avoid the problem of Candida infection.

    For treating and preventing vaginal yeast infections caused by Candida, acidophilus may be particularly effective. A 2000 study in the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics attributed the increase in recurring vaginal candidiasis worldwide to growing antibiotic resistance as well as to a lack of sufficient Lactobacilli in many women. According to the study's authors, Lactobacilli constitute "the vagina's primary defense mechanism against Candida."

  • Relieve urinary tract infections. Lactobacilli such as acidophilus are the dominant members of healthy bacterial life in the urinary tract. Studies have shown that as "bacteriocins" or antibiotic-like substances, they are powerful enough to neutralize Escherichia (E.) coli bacteria, the source of many urinary tract infections.
  • Battle bad breath. As bacteria in your mouth work to break down food particles, they can multiply and release foul-smelling chemicals. Usually, good oral hygiene is adequate to clear out offensive mouth odors. But when you need extra help, adding acidophilus to your system can encourage more efficient digestion and reduce the number of odor-producing bacteria.

    Note: Acidophilus has also been found to be useful for a number of other disorders. For information on these additional ailments, see our Dosage Recommendations Chart for Acidophilus.

  • Forms

    • tablet
    • suppository
    • powder
    • liquid
    • douche
    • capsule

    Dosage Information

    Special Tips:

    --As there are numerous brands of probiotics, with a wide variety of strengths, forms, and concentrations, dosing should be guided by the instructions on the package or the advice of your health-care practitioner.

    --Be aware that the amount of active cultures in acidophilus products can vary widely. Look for those that contain an effective quantity of organisms, between 1 and 2 billion per pill. In capsule forms, ideally there should be no fewer than 1 billion organisms per capsule.

    -- Read labels carefully to confirm that the product contains live, or "active" cultures. Check the expiration date, too. Store acidophilus (regardless of its form) in the refrigerator or another dry, cool place. Both heat and freezing temperatures will kill live acidophilus.

    --Acidophilus is often sold in preparations that combine acidophilus and another effective probiotic, Lactobacillus bifidus. Some may also include prebiotics such as FOS.

    --Typically, for an acute situation, probiotics are taken three times a day, whereas for a more chronic problem, or for prevention, reduce the dose to once or twice a day. As a general rule, probiotics are taken with food to reduce the number of organisms destroyed by stomach acid.

     

  • For irritable bowel syndrome: On a maintenance basis, 2 pills a day, with at least 1 billion live organisms per pill; take with meals.
  • For urinary tract infections: Take 1 pill 4 times a day during the course of your antibiotic therapy.
  • For Candida overgrowth: Take capsules or powder with at least 1 billion live organisms twice a day for at least one month.
  • For vaginal yeast infections: Take 1 pill or capsule (with at least 1 billion live organisms per capsule) twice a day orally until the infection has cleared.
  • For diarrhea: Take 2 pills 3 times a day with meals.
  • For flatulence: Take 1 or 2 capsules of acidophilus or an acidophilus/bifidus combination between meals. Look for a dairy-free strain if you've determined that your gas may be due to lactose intolerance.
  • For bad breath: Take 2 pills twice a day between meals.
  • For antibiotic support: Take 2 pills three times a day with meals during the entire antibiotic course and one week afterward.
  • Guidelines for Use

     

  • If you are taking acidophilus during antibiotic therapy, take the acidophilus as many hours between the antibiotics as possible.
  • To make a vaginal douche, add 2 tsp. acidophilus powder to 1 quart warm water. Douche once a day. Do not use an acidophilus douche for more than 5 days as continuous use can actually cause an irritation of the vaginal walls.
  • When using powder forms, mix about one-half teaspoon with one-half cup of water, or follow package directions.
  • For liquid or suppository forms, follow the product's label directions.
  • General Interaction

    There are no known drug or nutrient interactions associated with acidophilus.

    Possible Side Effects

    Although acidophilus can ease flatulence, ironically, it may increase gassiness for a few days. This effect will ease as your intestines adjust to the bacterial shift.

    Cautions

     

  • See a doctor if you are experiencing the symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection for the first time. Many women believe they have a yeast infection when the culprit is actually a different bacteria, such as gardernella. Although using acidophilus will not worsen the situation, therapies directed at the specific bacteria are sometimes the most appropriate treatment.

  •  
  • Ailments Dosage Bad Breath 2 pills twice a day between meals Candida Overgrowth Syndrome 1-2 billion live organisms in capsules or powder twice a day Diarrhea 2 pills 3 times a day with meals Flatulence 1 or 2 capsules containing at least 1 billion live organisms twice a day between meals. Irritable Bowel Syndrome 2 pills a day, with 3-4 billion live organisms (or more) per pill; take with meals Surgery Strategies 1 to 2 billion live organisms in capsules or powder twice a day or follow package instructions. Helpful if antibiotics are prescribed; discontinue about 2 weeks after surgery. Urinary Tract Infections 1 pill 4 times a day Yeast Infection (Vaginal) 1 pill or capsule (with 3-6 billion organisms per capsule) twice a day orally. Alternatively, use a vaginal douche: 2 tsp. added to 1 quart warm water, once a day. Do not use an acidophilus douche longer than 5 days.

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