Probiotics Explained: What are lactobacillus and acidophilus?
Lactobacillus is a type of bacteria which has many different species. They are the most-studied, best-understood, of the microorganisms known as probiotics. Lactobacillus is a normal, essential, inhabitant of the gastrointestinal system, and is found in the urinary and genital systems. Lactobacillus is also found naturally in some fermented foods (yogurt and kefir), and as dietary supplements.
Lactobacillus is the first, and the most common, probiotic for treating and preventing diarrhea of the infectious type, including viruses in adults, rotavirus in children, and bacteria in travelers. It can be used to prevent diarrhea associated with the use of antibiotics.
The Uses and Benefits of Lactobacillus
Lactobacillus has many uses, and more are recognized continually. A few uses (not all inclusive) include:
- General digestion problems: irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, ulcers associated with the bacteria Helicobacter pylori, and lactose intolerance.
- In children: life-threatening necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) in premature infants, and respiratory infections in group settings, such as child-care centers.
- Other types of infections: urinary tract infections (UTIs), vaginal yeast infections, the common cold in adults, and Lyme disease.
- Skin disorders: fever blisters, eczema, hives, and acne.
- To lower high cholesterol.
- To boost the immune system.
The Uses and Benefits of Acidophilus
Acidophilus is one species of lactobacillus. In the naming of bacteria, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, think of the first word assigned as a large group, as you think of fruit as a large group. The second word in the name is a subtype of the larger group, such as apples and bananas are like subtypes of the larger fruit group. Lactobacillus is the large group, called a “genus”; acidophilus is the subtype, called a “species”.
Acidophilus, a normal inhabitant in the gastrointestinal tract, is found predominantly in the small intestine. It’s also present in yogurt containing live cultures. It helps the body maintain or restore its normal balance of helpful bacteria after the balance has been disturbed, such as occurs with antibiotic use. Acidophilus in the digestive system breaks down some food ingredients and releases hydrogen peroxide, which creates a toxic environment for unhealthy organisms. It also releases chemicals that aid in digestion. Too little acidophilus can impair digestion.
Acidophilus is promoted for a large variety of conditions. A few of its many uses are:
- Preventing or treating diarrhea.
- Vaginal infections.
- Lowering cholesterol.
- Lactose intolerance.
- Preventing the growth of bacteria and yeast that can cause illness.
Lactobacillus acidophilus is the chief means by which the body obtains vitamin K, which is manufactured in the intestines. It’s an essential co-factor for blood clotting and maintaining healthy bone tissue. L. acidophilus also aids in the body’s use of B vitamins – niacin, folic acid, B6, and B12. It helps recycle the amino acids in bile and normalize cholesterol.
Some people claim that L. acidophilus may lower the risk of cancer, especially colon cancer, by neutralizing cancer-causing agents in the diet and by directly killing tumor cells. Results of animal studies looking at reducing the risk of cancer are variable. There have been no studies yet with humans on the role of Lactobacillus acidophilus in preventing or treating human cancers.
If you’re looking for a basic background explanation, you’re invited to read this article: What are Probiotics?
References – lactobacillus and acidophilus
- Holzapfel WH, Haberer P, et al. Taxonomy and important features of probiotic microorganisms in food and nutrition. AM L Clin Nutr. 2001 Feb; 73(2Suppl):365S-373S
- Anjum N, Maqsood S. Lactobacillus acidophilus: Characterization of the species and application in food production. Crit Rev Food Sic Nutr. 2014; 54(9):1241-51
- Kligler B, Cohrssen A. Probiotics. Am Fam Physician. 2008 Nov 1; 78(9):1073-8 (AAFP)