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Meet the gut health superhero!

The Conversation is publishing a series on the gut microbiome: in this article we meet a great friend of our bodies, Lactobacillus acidophilus…

Your gut is like a bustling city of trillions of microscopic inhabitants – including bacteria. While some of these bacterial inhabitants are villains, causing illness, infection and disease, others are good – supporting our health and keeping things running smoothly.

But one species of bacterium in our gut is so good and does so much for our health, that it might well be compared to a gut superhero. This microbe goes by the name of Lactobacillus acidophilus.

Lactobacillus acidophilus might sound like a mouthful, but don’t let its long name intimidate you. In simple terms, it’s a tiny bacterium that belongs to a group of microorganisms known for their probiotic properties – meaning it provides health benefits when consumed in adequate quantities.

This microbe hangs out in your gut (mainly your small intestine) and helps keep things running smoothly. In fact, Lactobacillus acidophilus has an incredible number of important functions.

It acts as a digestion buddy, munching on things you can’t digest entirely – such as certain sugars and fibres. For example, it helps digest foods rich in lactose (such as dairy products like milk, yoghurt and cheese), as well as fermentable carbohydrates found in vegetables, fruits and grains. By doing so, it helps break down your food, making it easier for your body to absorb nutrients.

Since your gut is a delicate ecosystem, Lactobacillus acidophilus plays a crucial role in maintaining the right balance of bacteria by preventing harmful bacteria from taking over and causing trouble.

This microbe also strengthens your body’s defence system. It does this by helping your immune cells communicate better and stay alert so they’re ready to fight off invaders.

A man holds his stomach in pain.

And when your stomach is upset or you’re stressed, Lactobacillus acidophilus is the microbe that comes to the rescue, soothing irritation and helping ease digestive discomfort.

All of these important functions mean Lactobacillus acidophilus is a true friend to your body, and its affects on your health are pretty impressive, with benefits such as:

  • Happy tummies: By maintaining a balanced gut environment, your stomach will feel more comfortable, and you have less chance of experiencing tummy troubles such as diarrhoea, constipation and bloating.
  • Immune support: By keeping your gut in tip-top shape, Lactobacillus acidophilus helps protect you from infections and illnesses. It’s shown to be particularly good at keeping influenza at bay.
  • Controlling allergies and inflammation: Some studies suggest that having a strong colony of Lactobacillus acidophilus in your gut might reduce the risk of allergies and inflammation-related conditions (such as eczema). It acts like a natural shield against sneezing fits and sore joints.
  • Preserving mental wellbeing: Believe it or not, your gut health can influence your mood. Lactobacillus acidophilus might play a role in promoting good mental wellbeing.

Given all the important roles that Lactobacillus acidophilus plays in your health, if you’re keen to fill your gut with this microbe you can find it in tasty fermented foods such as yogurt and kefir.

A deeper look

Even though we know a lot about Lactobacillus acidophilus, there’s still much to explore. Scientists are currently digging deeper to understand whether there are different strains of this microbe – and if each of these strains have unique abilities.

Scientists are also working on tailoring probiotics to a person’s specific needs. Imagine having a personalised probiotic superhero designed just for you. People with inflammatory bowel disease, weakened immune systems, allergies and mental health concerns may benefit from personalised products containing probiotic strains such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, because of the benefits it may have for these issues.

And finally, researchers are continuing to investigate the link between gut health and the brain – with scientists taking a particular interest in investigating how specifically Lactobacillus acidophilus might influence mood and mental wellbeing.

Lactobacillus acidophilus is a tiny but mighty superhero in your gut, working hard to keep you healthy and happy. So the next time you enjoy a yoghurt or sip on some kefir, think of it as giving your friendly gut superhero a high-five.

The Conversation, authored by Samuel White, Senior Lecturer in Genetic Immunology, Nottingham Trent University; and Philippe Wilson, Professor of One Health, Nottingham Trent University.

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