The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved L. acidophilus for any medical use. However, health practitioners may recommend the supplement for a variety of uses, including the following.
Several studies suggest that using L. acidophilus vaginal suppositories can help treat bacterial vaginosis. A small number of clinical studies suggests that eating yogurt with L. acidophilus cultures may also help. Some people also use L. acidophilus to treat or prevent vaginal yeast infections. More research is needed.
The evidence for using Lactobacillus to prevent diarrhea is mixed. Some research suggests L. acidophilus may be effective when used to prevent traveler's diarrhea (caused by eating contaminated food). Other studies show that Lactobacillus GG was effective. A mix of probiotics (Saccharomyces boulardii and a mixture of L. acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum) helped treat traveler's diarrhea in preliminary studies.
Probiotics, especially Lactobacillus GG, may help prevent or treat infectious diarrhea in children and adults, although the evidence is mixed. Studies seem to show probiotics are most effective in treating rotavirus in children and campylobacter infections in adults. Diarrhea in children can be serious. You should call your doctor if it lasts more than a day or your child seems dehydrated.
Other studies show that taking probiotics regularly may help prevent gastrointestinal infections in adults. In fact, research shows that taking L. acidophilus along with other probiotic strains may enhance immune function and improve overall health. One study found that a 2-strain probiotic, including L. acidophilus, twice a day for 3 months reduced symptoms of the common cold and school absenteeism in school children.
Several studies suggest that probiotics, especially Lactobacillus GG and S. boulardii, may help prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Antibiotic-related diarrhea can be serious, so you should tell your doctor about it.
Although evidence in most cases is preliminary or mixed, Lactobacillus and other probiotics have been suggested for a number of remedies and conditions, including:
- Replacing the "friendly" intestinal bacteria destroyed by antibiotics.
- Helping digestion and suppressing disease-causing bacteria.
- Treating chronic constipation.
- Treating symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (such as Crohn disease and ulcerative colitis).
- Improving lactose tolerance.
- Enhancing the immune system. Studies suggest that consuming yogurt or milk that contains specific strains of Lactobacillus, or taking supplements with Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium, may improve the body's natural immune response. One study found that supplementation for 6 months was a safe and effective way to reduce fever, cough, and duration of antibiotic treatment, as well as lessen the number of missed school days for children 3 to 5 years of age.
- Lowering the risk of pollen allergies.
- Reducing the risk of childhood eczema.
- Helping to treat high cholesterol.
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