Acidophilus is a bacteria known as a probiotic, which translates literally to "pro life." It is naturally present in the human digestive system, as well as the vagina, and helps to control other, potentially harmful bacteria that can cause disease. Acidophilus is also sold in pill form, typically for the purpose of promoting bowel health and to prevent infection in the digestive tract and vagina. Research has indicated that when taken in the proper dosage, acidophilus can help with a variety of health concerns, but much of the research is preliminary and studies have shown mixed results for some issues. Consult a doctor before taking acidophilus pills for a particular health concern, particularly if you are taking other medication.
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Acidophilus -- scientifically referred to as Lactobacillus acidophilus -- is a "beneficial" or "friendly" bacteria, as it aids in the digestive process and eliminates "bad" bacteria that can cause infection. Human beings are not born with it, but it eventually makes its way to our intestines and the vagina, according to the NYU Langone Medical Center. Acidophilus is also found in many cheeses and yogurts, as it is added to both of them to aid in the fermentation process, and is also found in miso and tempeh. It is often prescribed in pill form -- along with other probiotics, such as Bifidobacterium longum and Lactobacillus bulgaricus -- to patients who have taken antibiotics, as antibiotics kill all the bacteria in the intestine, including the "friendly" bacteria.
The exact benefits of taking acidophilus alone are hard to determine, as much of the research performed focuses on taking it combined with other probiotics. However, the University of Maryland Medical Center reports that taking acidophilus alone may help prevent or treat vaginal infections and some forms of diarrhea. Acidophilus, when taken with other probiotics, has shown potential benefit in treating diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, eczema, colitis, Crohn's disease and lactose intolerance, as well as helping to boost immunity and control cholesterol levels. More research is needed, however, to provide conclusive results.
A study published in the September 2006 "Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand" found that a two-day course of treatment with live Lactobacillus acidophilus plus Bifidobacterium infantis, another probiotic, significantly reduced the duration of acute diarrhea in infants. Another study, published in "The Journal of Korean Parisitology" in September 2011, found that Lactobacillus acidophilus increases proliferation and health of the cells in the vaginal wall, which suggests that taking Lactobacillus acidophilus may help strengthen the vaginal wall, possibly helping to prevent infection.
Taking acidophilus pills is generally considered safe for most people, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, but they can cause side effects such as gas, diarrhea and bloating if you take an excessive amount. If you are planning on taking acidophilus pills for a specific health issue, consult a qualified health practitioner for the proper dosage and to ensure it doesn't conflict with any medications you are currently taking. Check the label for proper storage instructions, as some acidophilus pills require refrigeration.