When we think of bacteria, usually we think of germs and things that can make us sick. But some bacteria are actually good for you.
“Friendly” bacteria, also known as probiotics are organisms that have a beneficial effect in the body by promoting balance of good bacteria in the intestinal tract. L. acidophilus is just one of more than 400 species of bacteria that live in the average human gastrointestinal tract. These beneficial organisms help to keep the body healthy, supporting immune function and digestive health, among other benefits.
Probiotics, such as fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and inulin, are also helpful in that they promote the growth of beneficial organisms. These compounds have been found to enhance immune function along with the probiotics.
L. acidophilus is probably the most well known and well-studied of the probiotic stains. It helps to reduce the levels of harmful bacteria and yeast in the small intestine. It, as well as other probiotic stains, produce lactase, the enzyme needed to digest milk, making it useful in lactose intolerance. And more recently, some small studies have shown that L. acidophilus may have a role in cholesterol reduction. Other Lactobacilli have been shown to be helpful in supporting immunity, supporting overall intestinal health, reducing diarrhea in children, and even potentially inhibiting growth of cancerous tumors in the colon. Specific strains, such as Saccharomyces boulardii, have been found to be very helpful in reducing symptoms and severity of diarrhea related to antibiotic use, HIV/AIDS, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Natural yogurt, kefir and other cultured and fermented foods are good sources of beneficial probiotics. When buying yogurt, be sure the container says “contain live cultures.” In addition, look for yogurt made without fillers such as pectin or gelatin, which can actually reduce the amount of active cultures in the product. Supplements containing L. acidophilus by itself or a combination of several probiotics strains are also available. Be sure the supplement list the level of active organism and that it comes from quality manufacturer to ensure potency and purity.