Guidelines for Use
Possible Side Effects
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.
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:
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."
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.
--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.
There are no known drug or nutrient interactions associated with acidophilus.
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.