Probiotic Bacteria: The Lactobacillus Family
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There are a lot of probiotic bacteria that have been shown to potentially provide several health benefits, and the Lactobacillus is no exception. Whether you have taken probiotics for a long time or you are a relatively new user, it’s important that you become acquainted with this family of bacteria so you know what you’re getting.
Why Lactobacillus is Important
It wasn’t that long ago that the idea of willfully ingesting bacteria was thought of as crazy. But as research progressed and people became better educated, it became clear that there are a lot of beneficial bacteria in the body, even though the bad ones get nearly all of the press. Lactobacillus, for example, is a form of probiotic bacteria that helps wage battles against harmful microbes in the gut. When the good bacteria like Lactobacillus are present in healthy numbers in our bodies, we have a much better chance of enjoying good health. When there are more harmful bacteria than beneficial ones, the opposite is generally true.
Lactobacillus bacteria perform several important roles, none more important than producing lactase, an enzyme that helps the body break down the lactose found in dairy products such as milk and sour cream. These bacteria also produce lactic acid, which is vital to reducing the number of harmful microbes in the body.
Here’s some information on the more common Lactobacillus strains that are found – or at least should be found – in most probiotic products:
L. rhamnosus, research suggests, can provide several benefits. It shows promise in helping reduce symptoms of depression and feelings of anxiety, and it could also reduce weight gain and help reduce the severity of gastrointestinal problems such as irritable bowel syndrome.1,2 There are even studies that indicate L. rhamnosus could reduce hay fever and other types of seasonal allergy attacks.3
While a lot of probiotic bacteria can’t survive in the harsh environment of the stomach because they die when exposed to acid, L. rhamnosus actually thrives in this area, which could help reduce the symptoms associated with certain digestive problems.4 The bacterium has also been linked to helping reduce urinary tract infections.5
L. brevis, like many other probiotic bacteria, is found in several types of fermented foods such as pickles, yogurt, and sauerkraut. But since no one could live on those foods alone, it’s important that there are other ways to get these beneficial bacteria into our systems. L. brevis and other members of the Lactobacillus family are commonly found in probiotic supplements. These come in several forms, including drinks, powders, capsules, and others.
Research shows that L. brevis could help fight ulcers as well as boost the immune system.6 The bacterium has also been shown to help keep the gums healthy.7
This might be one of the lesser-known members of the Lactobacillus family, and as a result, research into this strain is not as extensive. But the studies that have been performed paint an encouraging picture. For example, one study involving a group of obese adults showed that they lost nearly 10 percent of their abdominal fat over a three-month period by taking probiotic products containing L. gasseri.8 Studies also show that the bacterium could help lower cholesterol as well as reduce pain in women who suffer from an often-debilitating condition known as endometriosis.9,10
L. plantarum helps keep harmful bacteria in check, as do other probiotic microbes. But it is also believed to play a role in helping the body synthesize important vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.11 L. plantarum has also been shown to reduce the gastrointestinal distress commonly associated with use of antibiotic medications.12
This is one of the most prevalent – as well as beneficial – members of the Lactobacillus group of bacterial. L. acidophilus not only helps the body produce lactase, it has also been shown to help reduce cholesterol.13,14 L. acidophilus is also linked to improved functioning of the immune system.15
The Bottom Line
As you can see, various Lactobacillus bacteria have been shown to deliver potentially substantial benefits to the body. While you can find these bacteria in various types of foods, you should seriously consider using probiotic supplements as well, to help ensure you have an ample supply of these beneficial microbes.
But it can be overwhelming to decide exactly what type of probiotic product is right for you – or if it will even be able to deliver on its promises. One of the things you should always remember is to look closely at the labeling before you buy anything. Make sure, for example, that your probiotics contain a wide variety of not only Lactobacillus bacteria but other types as well. Certain bacteria provide specific benefits, so it only makes sense to get as many different ones into your system as possible.
It’s important, however, that you talk to your doctor if you haven’t used probiotic products before. It is generally believed that using probiotics is safe if you are in generally good health. But if you have a severe illness – especially if you have intestinal problems or a compromised immune system – then they may not be right for you. Have a talk with your doctor, because some people with serious health problems have experienced complications when using probiotics. There have been some reports, in fact, that probiotics can make health issues worse in some rare instances.
For the vast majority of people, however, probiotic products have proven not only to be safe but also beneficial. Just make sure you get the “all clear” from your doctor before you start taking them.
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