What Is It?
Of the 400 different kinds of bacteria and yeasts typically found in the human digestive tract, there are a handful of so-called friendly ones that are of particular importance: Lactobacillus acidophilus and other members of the Lactobacillus family. Acidophilus is considered a “probiotic” because it helps to maintain a normal balance of beneficial bacteria in the intestines and vagina. Like other probiotics, it does this by supplying healthy bacteria and inhibiting unwelcome organisms. Many people take acidophilus to prevent and treat various digestive disorders, vaginal infections, and other illnesses.
An excellent food source of acidophilus is yogurt, which has long been valued for its therapeutic and nutritional effects. Unfortunately, the amount of acidophilus in yogurt varies widely. Supplements are an effective alternative. These are sold in health-food stores, often in combination with L. bifidus, another Lactobacillus member that functions as a probiotic. Acidophilus is also commonly combined with FOS (fructo-oligosaccharides), dietary fibers that the body can?t digest but which stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria as they make their way through the digestive tract. Both probiotics and prebiotics can modify the composition of intestinal bacteria in beneficial ways.
Be sure to read the label of all acidophilus products carefully to confirm that the cultures are “live,” or active. Check the expiration date, too. Store acidophilus (regardless of form) in the refrigerator or another dry, cool place. Both heat and freezing temperatures will kill live acidophilus. In fact, some commercial yogurt manufacturers add active cultures after pasteurization, a heating process that can destroy both unwanted and beneficial organisms.
There are no known drug or nutrient interactions associated with acidophilus.
See a doctor if you experience symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection for the first time. Not all such infections are caused by the fungus (Candida albicans) that acidophilus counteracts. In fact, acidophilus might even worsen problems caused by other organisms.
David Edelberg, M.D.
The “good guys” bacteria (Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum) help keep disease-causing bacteria in check. They’re known as probiotics because they help maintain a normal balance of beneficial bacteria in the intestine. They also help keep the immune system working well and assist in your system’s effort to manufacture vitamins, fortify resistance to cancer, help control cholesterol, and promote good digestion. Acidophilus and other probiotics are excellent complements to the broad-spectrum prescription antibiotics that are the prime culprit in disrupting the delicate balance of the intestinal bacteria which we rely on for good health.
HOW IT HELPS IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME
With alternating bouts of constipation and diarrhea, those with IBS often have intestinal tracts where their bacterial balance is out of kilter, a condition known as intestinal dysbiosis. Acidophilus can be a real boon in these situations, because it promotes the growth of healthy bacteria, helps create a hostile environment for unwelcome bacteria, and works to re-establish a healthy balance in the large intestine. Acidophilus is also particularly good for relieving the diarrhea that often accompanies IBS. However, the majority of conventional gastroenterologists do not believe that intestinal dysbiosis is a source of IBS symptoms. They almost never suggest using probiotic supplements for any clinical purposes. For irritable bowel syndrome, you can either have two pills a day with meals or follow directions on the label of the acidophilus powder container.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Selecting an acidophilus/bifidus product can be mystifying. You need to take a lot of factors into account, including: Concentration. Some capsules contain a small number of organisms, about a few million, while others provide a significant number, about 10 to 20 billion. Stability. Remember, you are taking live bacteria with a finite life span. Laboratory analyses performed on different brands of acidophilus found in health-food stores have actually turned in reports of “no living organisms found,” which makes the product essentially useless. (Read the label of all acidophilus products carefully to confirm that the cultures are live, or active.)
The most common source of acidophilus is yogurt, a food long valued for its therapeutic and nutritional effects by folk medicine practitioners/adherents. Unfortunately, the amount of acidophilus in yogurt can vary widely. If the supply is insufficient, it may not provide any benefits. For a consistent dosage of acidophilus, look for the following forms: Tablets and capsules containing acidophilus alone or in combination with bifidus or with FOS (fructo-oligosaccharides), food components that also increase the growth of healthy bacteria. Make sure that each tablet or capsule contains at least 3-4 billion acidophilus organisms. If it contains less, it may have little positive effect. Powders may contain acidophilus or bifidus or both. Mix the powder with water, according to label directions, and drink. Liquid, douche, and suppositories are additional forms. To use them, follow the label directions. Shopping tip: You’ll probably be best served with a product that is either in the health-food or grocery refrigerator case or sealed in such a way that the package insists “Must be refrigerated after opening.” Always check the expiration date.
Oral acidophilus supplements should be ingested anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour before eating. Always store acidophilus, regardless of form, in the refrigerator or another dry, cool place. Both heat and freezing temperatures will kill live acidophilus. In fact, some commercial yogurt manufacturers add active cultures after pasteurization.
Do not take acidophilus at the same time as an antibiotic drug (leave a two hour buffer between pills). Once you have finished a course of antibiotics, continue using acidophilus for at least an additional two weeks.
For product recommendations and orders click here for the Natural Apothecary or call 773-296-6700, ext. 2001.
David Edelberg, MD