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You’d have to be waking up from a decade-long coma to not have heard the words acidophilus, probiotic or flora in the media – especially with Jamie Lee Curtis’ yogurt commercials making light of what happens “in the bathroom” and the hilarious Saturday Night Live parodies that followed.

Acidophilus (specifically lactobacillus acidophilus) is one of at least 300 different strains of bacteria living in your intestines. Actually, there is an entire ecosystem of microorganisms living in your intestinal tract, called your intestinal flora. Within the flora, you have health promoting “good guys” (probiotics or good bacteria like lactobacillus acidophilus) and health depleting “bad guys” (parasites, fungi, and pathogenic bacteria). Ultimately, you want the good guys proliferating in abundance so they can act like a special task force – performing various health promoting duties like directing fat distribution, producing vitamins B and K, supporting the immune system, and (most importantly) keeping the bad guys in check. If the balance gets disrupted and the bad guys start getting wily, it can create an array of different health concerns; from bloating and constipation (or diarrhea) to leaky gut syndrome and intestinal bowel disease. Disruptions most often occur because of two very common circumstances: antibiotic use and eating a standard American diet.

Antibiotics are life-saving drugs when taken appropriately. We are extremely blessed to live in an age where they exist since they are responsible for killing bacteria that cause infectious diseases like strep throat and meningitis. Unfortunately, antibiotics don’t know the difference between good and bad bacteria, so they end up destroying both. Even the regular consumption of meat, dairy and pre-packaged foods can cause a significant disruption in your flora due to the abundance of preservatives, sugars, hormones and antibiotics used in mass food production. These additives encourage the bad guys to proliferate quickly – outnumbering the good guys and making a mess of your digestive tract.

So… is taking “acidophilus” going to get your flora back in balance and solve all of your digestive woes? Not likely, considering it’s only one out of hundreds of bacterial strains that need help. Eating yogurt with “live cultures” may be somewhat helpful, but not necessarily therapeutic in the long-term. Making a few simple changes to your diet and adding an encapsulated probiotic supplement (which may include, but should never be limited to lactobacillus acidophilus) is your best bet for a long-term positive effect. That being said, there are many factors involved in finding an effective supplement (and in changing your diet, for that matter), so I suggest asking a knowledgeable health professional for help – otherwise, you may risk wasting your money and your efforts on something that doesn’t work.

Be well and stay healthy!