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Lactobacillus is a type of probiotic bacteria often found in the gut or urinary tract. Find out more about Lactobacillus in this FAQ.
If you’ve heard of ‘acidophilus’, then you’ve probably heard of Lactobacillus. But L. acidophilus is actually a species of bacteria from the Lactobacillus genus (plural Lactobacilli), a widely used type of friendly bacteria often found in probiotic supplements.
In this article we look at:
The name ‘Lactobacillus’ is very well-known; in fact, many people call probiotics Lactobacillus as a generic term. But Lactobacillus is actually the name for a particular genus of lactic-acid-producing probiotic bacteria (hence the name Lactobacillus). A genus is a ‘family’ of bacteria. Within the Lactobacillus genus, there are numerous well-known probiotic species, including Lactobacillus reuteri, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, and Lactobacillus acidophilus. The Lactobacillus genus contains some of the world’s most highly researched probiotic bacteria which have been featured in countless clinical trials. One such strain is Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM®, the most extensively researched strain of Lactobacillus acidophilus.
All probiotics from the Lactobacillus genus share certain qualities, but it is important to note that within the numerous species of Lactobacilli, there are many different strains. Each bacterial strain will have its own unique modes of action in the body. Therefore, when considering a probiotic supplement, it is best to compare them at strain level rather than just by genus or species. This way you can ensure you are getting the right types of probiotics to suit you.
Read this page to find out more about the difference between species and strains of bacteria.
Lactobacilli are ubiquitous in nature and can be found living in a wide variety of environments. In animals and humans, they are natural residents of the intestines, and also like to inhabit the human vagina and oral cavity. They are also found in soil (most commonly associated with the rhizosphere), and in plants (particularly decaying plant material). They have been used in agriculture for years to improve soil quality, promote plant growth, and prevent disease in plants1.
This genus of bacteria is very well-known, but many people are still unclear about what Lactobacillus does. Most people want to know ‘are Lactobacilli good bacteria?’, and the answer to this is ‘yes’! These bacteria provide their ‘hosts’ with many health benefits.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the functions of the Lactobacillus genus, as all Lactobacilli will have some benefits in common, such as their ability to produce acids, including lactic acid. Many species and strains of Lactobacilli can colonise in the gut or vaginal microbiomes2, where they improve the environment by producing bacteriocins (natural antimicrobial agents), which inhibit the growth of pathogens (undesirable micro-organisms).
However, many benefits are unique to the individual species and strains. Strains from this genus have been extensively researched and found to offer health benefits for a variety of conditions including:
As explained above, different Lactobacillus strains have different properties, so the best Lactobacillus supplement for you will be the one which contains strains researched for the health conditions you wish to support. So, first look for Lactobacillus probiotics which provide the strain names.
As well as finding a supplement which contains the best strain for your needs, there are also a few other key points to consider when choosing probiotics to ensure you choose a high-quality supplement:
For more information, read microbiologist Dr. Kate Stephens’ article about how to choose a high-quality supplement.
Luckily for you, Optibac supplements satisfy all of the above criteria! The following Optibac supplements contain Lactobacillus probiotic strains:
It’s hard to say what is the best source of Lactobacillus, as the resourceful species and strains from this genus can be found in various dietary sources. Find out more about fermented foods over on the Probiotics Learning Lab.
Lactobacillus bacteria can ferment the milk-sugar lactose, so are very at home in dairy products. For this reason, strains of Lactobacilli are used commercially to ferment a variety of dairy products including cheese, yoghurt, and kefir. But these versatile bacteria are equally at home when fermenting vegan cheeses, vegetables such as cabbage in sauerkraut and kimchi, and grains in fermentation for sourdough bread production. Lactobacillus strains can also be found in various types of pickles, and preserved foods like olives.
In addition to these Lactobacillus foods, the bacteria are also used in live cultures supplements in various different formats, including Lactobacillus tablets, capsules, sachets, chewable products, and liquids.
Many people worry whether Lactobacillus can be harmful; however, taking probiotics in supplement form is considered very safe, and side effects from taking Lactobacillus bacteria are rare. Mild symptoms such as abdominal bloating and/or gas may occasionally be caused as a direct result of the positive ‘shift’ in the microbiota towards a healthier balance of gut microbes.
See this FAQ about side effects for more information.
Any symptoms are generally mild and only last for a few days. If symptoms are uncomfortable, you can either reduce the amount you are taking initially and gradually increase or stop taking the supplement and speak to the manufacturer for guidance. If you or someone in your family has a severe health issue and you’re not sure who should take probiotics, then it’s always best to speak to your doctor for advice first.
Healthcare practitioners might be interested to find out more about Lactobacillus on the Probiotics Database, on the Probiotic Professionals site.
Some species of Lactobacilli have recently been reclassified. For more information about this, read Dr. Kate’s article about the new Lactobacillus names.
You may also wish to read about other live bacteria genus, including Bifidobacterium.
Author: Dr Kate Stephens PhD (Food and Microbial Sciences) BSc(Hons) Medical Microbiology