Science 

Lactobacillus Acidophilus 101: Benefits, Uses, and More

February 19, 2021 5 min read

Lactobacillus acidophilus in a petri dish

You've probably heard that "good" bacteria can help digestion and improve your overall gut health. But what exactly is it? The best place to start in understanding gut-friendly bacteria is with Lactobacillus acidophilus (also known as L. acidophilus). 

Often taken as a probiotic, L. acidophilus can improve a range of conditions, including digestive upset from medications, gut imbalances, or food intolerances. You can find this healthy bacteria in various foods and supplements, making it an all-star for sustained gut wellness. 

Read on to learn more about what the science has to say about this helpful microbe, with tips to incorporate more L. acidophilus into your diet for a balanced gut and healthier body.

What is Lactobacillus Acidophilus?

The most important thing to understand about L. acidophilus is that it occurs naturally in the body. Most prominently, it's found in the intestines, mouth, and vagina.

The primary role of this bacteria in the body is to facilitate proper digestion. But it also wards off "bad" bacteria that can cause digestive upset. It achieves this by releasing lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide during food breakdown, making it difficult for harmful bacteria to thrive. 

L. acidophilus is an essential component of a healthy microbiome. A balanced microbiome is necessary not only for proper digestion but also for absorbing nutrients, preventing chronic disease, and warding off harmful bacteria and pathogens. 

Health Benefits of Lactobacillus Acidophilus

L. acidophilus can be taken as a probiotic supplement for a direct supply to your gut. Probiotics include live microorganisms that benefit human health by improving the gut microbiome. Here's a look at the specific, science-backed benefits of L. acidophilus supplements.

Improved Gut Health After Antibiotics 

People taking antibiotics may experience diarrhea because antibiotics can kill healthy bacteria that regulate digestion and keep other types of bacteria under control. Typically, a person's digestion returns to normal after they've stopped taking antibiotics. However, continued use of antibiotics can cause lasting damage to a person's gut microbiome, causing prolonged digestive upset. 

One bacteria strain, Clostridium difficile (C. difficile), is usually kept in check by L. acidophilus. But when antibiotics suppress L. acidophilusC. difficile can overrun the gut and cause bowel inflammation, cramps, and persistent diarrhea.

Taking a probiotic containing L. acidophilus has been proven effective in clinical studies for reducing diarrhea associated with C. difficileThe same study showed that it's also useful for reducing other types of diarrhea, such as that caused by exposure to novel bacteria in food and water during travel. 

Reduced Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms

Irritable bowel syndrome is a common digestive condition that causes a range of symptoms, including bloating, diarrhea, gas, constipation, and stomach cramps. 

In people with IBS-C, the primary symptom is constipation. In people with IBS-D, the primary symptom is diarrhea. However, many people with IBS also experience alternating symptoms, which can significantly disrupt daily life.

Taking an L. acidophilus probiotic has been shown to reduce stomach pain associated with IBS. It can also help make IBS more manageable by reducing bloating. In a randomized study, taking L. acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis twice a day for eight weeks reduced the severity of bloating in patients with IBS-D. 

These findings suggest that L. acidophilus may be a beneficial addition to the microbiomes of those battling IBS. 

Woman holding her stomach in pain

Balanced Vaginal Health

L. acidophilus occurs naturally in the vagina. However, an overgrowth of other bacteria like G. vaginalis and A. vaginae can cause bacterial vaginosis (BV). 

This overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria can lead to vaginal irritation, itching, burning, and abnormal discharge. Strains like E. coliS. aureus, and group B Streptococcus also contribute to similar imbalances. 

Research suggests that L. acidophilus may help reduce BV symptoms and restore the balance of healthy bacteria in the vagina. Scientists hypothesize that this effect of L. acidophilus on BV is due to the compounds it produces (like hydrogen peroxide), which are toxic to "bad" bacteria, therefore inhibiting their growth. 

Improved Immunity

Another benefit of L. acidophilus is its ability to stimulate anti-inflammatory and antiviral responses in the body. Specifically, one study looked at how taking a probiotic containing L. acidophilus stimulated the expression of intestinal genes that ward off disease and boost immunity. 

This research suggests that maintaining a balanced gut with healthy L. acidophilus populations makes it easier for the body to fight infection. 

Additional findings suggest that six months of probiotic supplementation with L. acidophilus can reduce the severity of seasonal issues in children. These benefits also reduced dependency on antibiotic use, which may help maintain a child's healthy gut over time. 

Sources of Lactobacillus Acidophilus

While L. acidophilus occurs naturally in the body, eating foods that contain this healthy bacteria can promote ongoing gut balance. 

Fermented foods are the primary natural source of this beneficial probiotic, while other foods are fortified with them. Probiotic supplements can also provide a healthy dose of these beneficial bacteria.

Foods with Healthy Bacteria

The top nutrient-rich food sources of Lactobacillus bacteria include:

  • Yogurt. Yogurt is one of the most common probiotic foods available. Look for brands specifically designed to boost gut health and digestion, as they're likely to contain higher quantities of L. acidophilus
  • Kimchi. This Korean food is made with fermented cabbage, and it's an easy and delicious way to get more probiotics into your diet. It's often eaten with rice, seaweed, chicken, and other light and healthy foods.
  • Tempeh. Tempeh is a protein-rich ingredient made from fermented soybeans. It's often eaten as an alternative to meat among people on plant-based diets.
  • Sauerkraut. This fermented cabbage is often eaten with hotdogs or ham and is an easy way to incorporate more probiotics into a simple, quick meal.
  • Kefir. Kefir is a fermented drink akin to a liquid yogurt. You can eat kefir with muesli or cereal in place of milk.
  • Sourdough. Sourdough bread is made from a fermented starter, which contains healthy bacteria. Sourdough found at a local bakery (or homemade) will likely have more probiotics than store-bought bread, which may be more processed and therefore less rich in healthy bacteria.
Man cutting tempeh on a cutting board

Fermented foods are always a safe bet when opting to add more probiotics to your diet. However, beware of pasteurization. The pasteurization process kills healthy bacteria in fermented foods, so they won't carry the same benefits.

Supplements

Fermented foods don't fit into everyone's diet, and they're not something everyone wants to eat regularly. That's why supplements can be a smart choice for someone interested in adding more L. acidophilus into their diet.

Probiotic supplements come in a range of forms, including powders, pills, suppositories, and more. When choosing a probiotic supplement with L. acidophilus, look for an option that doesn't include extra sugar, dyes, or additives. It's best to choose a natural supplement that won't upset your body or trigger any reactions.

Side effects of L. acidophilus

For healthy individuals, the potential side effects of probiotics containing L. acidophilus are minimal. Some report gas, bloating, or digestive upset when adding probiotics into their routines, but these often subside within two weeks. 

As with any supplement, it is recommended to consult with your doctor before beginning a new probiotic regimen. This step is all the more important for high-risk or immunocompromised individuals, who are at greater risk of adverse side effects. 

In Summary

Lactobacillus acidophilus is a cornerstone of a healthy gut. Research shows that maintaining a balanced bacterial microbiome can regulate digestion after antibiotic use, improve IBS symptoms, maintain vaginal health, and boost immunity. 

Many foods and supplements can help you maintain a balanced gut, but it's important to choose natural options that work well with your body. Once you've found the gut-healthy staples that work for you, you might be surprised at the array of benefits ahead.  

Michelle Polizzi - Contributing Writer, Physician's Choice 


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