What are the Benefits of Acidophilus?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

There are many claimed health benefits of acidophilus, a “good” bacteria that can be found in supplement form and in a number of foods. Acidophilus is also present in the human intestines and vagina, and it’s assumed that increasing the body's natural supply through food or pill supplementation may be beneficial. Such assumptions have not been proven, and while there are some suggestions of benefits to the body, there remain questions about how well acidophilus actually works to the treat the conditions it is supposed to address.

A bowl of yogurt.
A bowl of yogurt.

The most commonly accepted health benefits of acidophilus is using foods or supplements that contain live active cultures to counteract the side effects of antibiotic use, such as fungal infections. Antibiotics can eliminate good bacteria in the gut or vagina, causing chronic diarrhea or yeast infections. It does appear that using acidophilus while taking antibiotics may slightly reduce the risk of these complications. It essentially replaces good bacteria as it is lost, meaning fungus will not go unchecked by the lack of it beneficial bacteria.

Sauerkraut contains acidophilus.
Sauerkraut contains acidophilus.

The other area where it appears that the health benefits of acidophilus are legitimized by research is in considering supplements of the bacteria as a digestive aid. For some people, acidophilus makes it possible to digest milk, but only if they consume the bacteria with the milk product. Many people can eat yogurt, but can’t drink milk, though this is not true for all people. Similarly, some people seem to find overall digestive benefit when they regularly consume acidophilus, and may find it helps to regulate stomach action.

Pitcher of acidophilus milk.
Pitcher of acidophilus milk.

Additional claims about the benefits of acidophilus aren’t supported by lots or research, but they are intriguing and remain things to watch for as more research is completed. There is some suggestion that acidophilus might be beneficial in curing traveler’s diarrhea or chronic diarrhea in children. A few studies suggest it may be of use in illnesses like irritable bowel syndrome. The bacteria has also been the subject of small, inconclusive studies to determine if it effectively treats conditions like hayfever or asthma.

More proposed benefits of acidophilus haven’t been studied. There are suggestions that it boosts immune system strength, fights cancer, drops cholesterol levels, reduces acne breakouts, and fights bacterial infections. Some of these claims seem unlikely, and all lack any kind of proof except anecdotal evidence.

In studies, acidophilus is usually tolerated well, and it is a supplement that causes little harm to people who take it and might cause some good. Researchers especially don’t know how much acidophilus really survives the digestive process because it tends to break down pretty quickly. People should not take more than recommended amounts in supplement form, and it’s often suggested that it is better to get bacteria in fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut.

Acidophilus, in the form of capsules, promotes good digestive health.
Acidophilus, in the form of capsules, promotes good digestive health.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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