Lactobacillus acidophilus for diarrhea?

Dear Alice,

What is your opinion on Acidophilus for diarrhea?

Dear Reader,

Lactobacillus acidophilus (L. acidophilus) is a type of helpful bacteria called a probiotic. These bacteria are normally found in the digestive system and the urinary tract. They're also naturally found in cultured or fermented food products, such as yogurt, miso, and kefir, which contain live active cultures. Probiotics are also sold as nutritional supplements. Since the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn't regulate dietary supplements, the presence or amount of live active cultures in supplements isn't guaranteed. To answer your question: There has been some research to suggest that L. acidophilus (commonly combined with another probiotic) may reduce the risk or duration of some cases of diarrhea if used as a preventative measure (more on this in a bit). Ready for more? Keep on reading!

Probiotics appear to offer various health benefits. They create a more acidic environment in the intestine and vagina, which helps keep harmful bacterial growth in check. This natural balance can be disrupted, however, by antibiotic use and illness. In these cases, the harmful bacteria proliferate, usually causing conditions such as diarrhea or vaginal infections. Taking probiotics may help prevent or reduce the symptoms of diarrhea, and treat vaginal infections. Other possible benefits include enhancement of the immune system, helping the digestion process, production of antimicrobial substances, and lowering risk for certain chronic illnesses, such as cancer, among other possibilities. However, more research is needed to definitively demonstrate that probiotics have these favorable actions.

When it comes to diarrhea and probiotics, there are some specific use cases in which they may be most helpful. More specifically, a few studies have shown that the use of this probiotic may reduce the risk and incidence of diarrhea associated with antibiotic use and chemotherapy. In another study, a combination of probiotics that included L. acidophilus resulted in a shorter duration of acute diarrhea in children. While these findings are promising, there is currently no consensus on whether L. acidophilus alone or in combination with other probiotics would be effective for the prevention or treatment of traveler’s diarrhea.

Despite this research, if you're considering using L. acidophilus or other probiotics, consulting your health care provider is recommended. For those who are pregnant or immunocompromised, additional guidance is recommended to determine whether or not it's medically safe to take probiotics. Adverse effects include gas, bloating, irritation, sensitivities or allergies, and interactions with over-the-counter or prescription drugs and dietary supplements.

There are other remedies for diarrhea, including antidiarrheal and antimicrobial medicines, but these aren't recommended in all cases. When the cause is food poisoning, it’s best to let the illness run its course. Antidiarrheals can delay the time it takes for food-borne microorganisms to leave the body.

Hope this helps!

Last updated Dec 30, 2022
Originally published Jan 31, 2003

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