Frustratingly, some of pregnancy's most annoying symptoms are difficult to treat because of restrictions placed on what medications you can take during pregnancy. In some cases, supplements can act as a stand-in for medications, but you should check with your healthcare provider first. Plenty of women have come to rely on acidophilus in foods or pill supplements to help overcome common health maladies, but need to consider whether they are safe during pregnancy.
Acidophilus, also known by its proper name, Lactobacillus acidophilus or L. acidophilus, is a bacterium that naturally lives in the small intestine and vagina. It has been designated a beneficial bacteria because, like other probiotic bacteria, it produces substances that make our bodies more hostile toward harmful bacteria. During times our systems are off-balance, such as after an illness or after taking antibiotics, the amount of beneficial bacteria such as L. acidophilus in our bodies can decrease substantially, allowing more harmful bacteria to flourish and possibly cause illness. To help prevent this from occurring, some people opt to seek probiotics such as acidophilus either in foods such as yogurt or as a dietary supplement.
Uses for Acidophilus
L. acidophilus is generally accepted as a safe remedy for several relatively minor medical problems. It is most commonly used to prevent diarrhea. According to the National Institute of Health's, or NIH's, "Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database," L. acidophilus has been shown to be effective in treating diarrhea in children who have contracted rotavirus. It is possibly effective in treating other forms of diarrhea, including traveler's diarrhea and diarrhea from antibiotics. L. acidophilus also is rated as possibly effective for the treatment of colic in infants, lung infections, bowel disorders such as ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome, vaginal infections and eczema in children or infants who have a cow's milk allergy.
While it is sometimes suggested for these conditions, NIH currently states there is not enough evidence to support the use of L. acidophilus to treat vaginal yeast infections after antibiotics, Crohn's disease, an overabundance of bacteria in the gut, general digestive issues, lactose intolerance, cancer and Lyme disease.
Pregnancy and Acidophilus
One of the symptoms associated with pregnancy is vaginal yeast infections. Because of the general hormone changes throughout the body, the amount of sugar in vaginal secretions increases and provides an environment in which yeast can thrive, making you more susceptible to a yeast infection. While they are generally considered harmless to the developing baby, you should visit your physician if you suspect you have a yeast infection during your pregnancy.
The American Pregnancy Association suggests that one way to help prevent a yeast infection is by being sure to include plenty of L. acidophilus in your diet, in the form of yogurt or a supplement. Talk with your doctor before adding a supplement to your regimen.
A study published in the March 2010 issue of "Pediatric Allergy and Immunology" found that when pregnant women with a family history of allergies received a probiotic supplement that contained L. acidophilus before delivery and again during the first three months they breastfed, the incidence of eczema in the baby's first year of life was significantly reduced. If you have a family history of allergies, talk with your healthcare professional about the possible use of probiotics, such as L. acidophilus, to help prevent allergic eczema in your baby.
Some people report general digestive discomfort during pregnancy. While NIH states that there is insufficient evidence to support the use of acidophilus to prevent and treat this, probiotics are widely used to treat digestive issues. Talk with your healthcare professional to see if acidophilus could help your situation before you begin a regimen.
Problems With Acidophilus
While L. acidophilus is widely used to treat both digestive disorders and vaginal yeast infections, it is not without side effects and warnings. According to Drugs.com, since the Federal Drug Administration does not oversee the production of supplements such as L. acidophilus, the quality of supplements is unknown. Herbal supplements are also occasionally found to have been contaminated, so that is something to consider when you are pregnant. You should talk with your physician before you begin taking acidophilus supplements.
The most commonly-reported side effects from taking acidophilus supplements are intestinal discomfort, diarrhea and gas. These symptoms are usually associated with larger doses of probiotics. Women who use insertable L. acidophilus tablets to treat vaginal yeast infections have reported vaginal burning, as well -- never insert anything into your vagina while pregnant without talking to your healthcare professional.
If you have cancer, are immunocompromised or have synthetic heart valves, you may not be able to take L. acidophilus or other probiotics. You should talk with your healthcare provider in these cases. (ref. 5)
- National Institutes of Health: Lactobacillus
- American Pregnancy Association; Yeast Infections During Pregnancy; April 2006
- "Pediatric Allergy and Immunology"; Effect of Probiotic Mix in the Prevention of Eczema: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial; J.Y. Kim, et. al.; March 2010
- Drugs.com; Acidophilus; February 26, 2010
- Mayo Clinic; Lactobacillus acidophilus: Safety; April 1, 2011