Bacteria in the genus Lactobacillus are found naturally in the intestinal tract and vagina, and they have a number of medical applications. Lactobacillus bacteria can be used as a supplement to conventional medicine or as a standalone alternative treatment. There is strong medical evidence to support some uses of this bacteria, particularly Lactobacillus acidophilus, and it can be a useful tool in the treatment of a variety of conditions.
One use for Lactobacillus bacteria is the treatment of vaginal and urinary tract infections. People can treat such infections by taking Lactobacillus supplements or by inserting suppositories. Some people simply use yogurt with live active cultures, rather than taking a supplement. A number of studies have provided evidence that Lactobacillus bacteria can be effective in the treatment of these types of infections.
Another reason to take Lactobacillus is to address a digestive problem. If the balance of the bacteria in the intestines is disturbed, people can experience symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, and malnutrition. So-called "probiotics" or "good bacteria" can be introduced to the body to restore the balance. Lactobacillus bacteria can be used to treat specific outbreaks of diarrhea and other problems, to prevent digestive problems, or to supplement the diet after taking antibiotics to replace organisms that might have been killed off by courses of antibiotics.
These bacteria can also help break down lactose, as implied by their name. People with lactose intolerance can sometimes take Lactobacillus bacteria to allow them to eat some dairy products if advised to do so by a doctor. The bacteria are eaten shortly before consuming a meal that contains dairy. Other uses for Lactobacillus bacteria include the treatment of skin conditions and asthma, although there is less evidence to support these uses.
People can find Lactobacillus supplements in many health food stores and some big grocery stores. These bacteria are also found in yogurt and other cultured food products marked as containing live active cultures. People should take Lactobacillus bacteria with food and should follow the storage directions on the package carefully to ensure that the organisms are still active when they are used.
If using Lactobacillus does not resolve a condition, a doctor should be consulted. The doctor can provide a thorough evaluation and may make other treatment recommendations such as prescriptions for medications. People who are not sure about whether taking a probiotic supplement is appropriate should consult a doctor for advice.