Lactobacillus acidophilus is a species of bacteria living in your "digestive, urinary and genital systems," according to MedlinePlus. Don't worry, these passengers, called probiotics, are friendly and support a healthy digestive system by aiding absorption, breaking down food and defending the system against harmful bacteria. Evidence-based uses of Lactobacillus acidophilus, or L. acidophilus, include treatment of diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, bladder cancer, vaginal infections and eczema, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Fermented foods, such as yogurt, contain L. acidophilus, and an increase in the availability of probiotic-fortified foods makes finding sources easy.
Yogurt is the primary food source containing probiotics. L. acidophilus is added to milk after pasteurization to convert milk into yogurt through a process called fermentation. Processing and heating yogurt after fermentation can kill the live bacteria so products must be handled properly to ensure live cultures. The National Yogurt Association certifies products that contain adequate amounts of live cultures. Look for qualifying products displaying the NYA seal when shopping for yogurt or yogurt products.
Health-conscious consumers want something more than food; they want food that provides health benefits and remedies. Probiotic-fortified foods are considered "functional" since they contain additional health promoting ingredients. Foods advertising probiotics should contain at least 100 million cultures for refrigerated foods and 10 million for frozen products to earn the NYA seal. Food products containing L. acidophilus may include frozen yogurt, miso and tempeh. Researchers are investigating other ways to package and preserve the live bacteria for maximum health benefits.
Live Culture Supplements
Supplements come in tablets, liquid, capsules and suppository form. Although the exact number of live cultures needed for health benefits is unknown, between 1 billion to 10 billion live cultures daily is recommended for most adults. To ensure the highest quality, supplements containing L. acidophilus should be refrigerated unless the label specifies differently.
More research is needed to determine how stable probiotics are in food products. Before using supplements, consult with your doctor. Side effects of L. acidophilus may include gas or digestive discomfort. Do not use probiotics if you suffer from a weakened immune system. Safety has not been established for use during pregnancy.