Acidophilus—Our Second Immune System

You may think nature provides you with all the friendly bacteria you need. You may be wrong. Many factors decrease the number of lactic-acid producing bacteria that live and work in the gastrointestinal tract and protect us from harmful, disease-causing bacteria: aging, alcohol, antibiotics, diet deficiencies, drugs, medications, narcotics, nicotine and stressful living.

Metchnikoff concluded in 1908 that the long lifespan of Bulgarians was due to their heavy intake of lactobacilli and other lactic microorganisms in fermented foods. No significant research since then proves him wrong.

“…Food is partially digested in the alimentary canal, mouth and stomach and, finally, in the intestine, where the partially digested food is ultimately metabolized by millions and millions of microorganisms working, simultaneously and synergistically,” said Khem M. Shahani, Ph.D., professor of food science and technology at the University of Nebraska, and one of the world’s foremost researchers on gastrointestinal microorganisms, having published more than 180 scientific papers published on this subject.

Dr. Shahani also said that there are more bacteria on and in a person at one time than there are people on this earth. Fortunately, less than one percent of all known types of microorganisms are undesirable or pathogenic.

Despite the seeming odds in favor of friendly bacteria, negative microorganisms, singly or as a team, can tilt the delicate balance in the intestinal flora, reducing—sometimes even annihilating—friendly bacteria like Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus.

Too small a colony of L. acidophilus and other friendly bacteria such as L. bulgaricus and L. bifidus means that digestion will be impaired, short-changing us of full nutritional values from our foods. Fewer key vitamins will be synthesized, and our disease preventive mechanism—in addition to the immune system—will be less effective or totally ineffective.

Dr. Shahani and D.R. Rao found a higher concentration of B vitamins in cultured dairy products such as yogurt, buttermilk, sour cream, kefir and koumis than in cow’s milk or mother’s milk. This is due to L. acidophilus and other friendly bacteria that synthesize vitamin K and B vitamins particularly biotin, folic acid and B12.

Without vitamin K in the intestine—or adequate supplementation—osteocalcin can’t be properly formed. Osteocalcin permits calcium to be crystallized and transported into bone tissue.

Lactic acid-producing microorganisms such as L. acidophilus have been called a “second immune system” because they put the brakes on growth of disease-causing bacteria such as salmonella and shigella-caused dysentery, various types of diarrhea and even virus-caused flu.

All the biochemical ways by which acidophilus accomplishes this are not known. However, Dr. Shahani has isolated effective antibiotics produced in milk by acidophilus-caused fermentation. “The acidophlin antibiotic packs more killing power than penicillin, streptomycin or terramycin,” he said.

Acidophilus also annihilates disease-causing bacteria with other biochemical Rambos: acetic acid, benzoic acid, lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide.

Yogurt with acidophilus culture and acidophilus on its own have been shown to clear up yeast infections and vaginitis in adults and children.

Each day for six months, Eileen Hilton, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at Long Island ‘Jewish Hospital Medical Center, Hyde Park, N.Y., administered a cup of plain yogurt cultured with acidophilus to 15 women with recurring yeast overgrowths. The result was dramatic: a threefold drop in the rate of vaginitis.

How can acidophilus contribute to Metchnikoff? By dominating harmful bacteria in the intestines, by assuring the full production of synthesized vitamins and by helping to produce required antibiotics and other armaments to control or kill bacteria, viruses and yeast infections.

Now it has been discovered that acidophilus and other lactic cultures may discourage colon, colorectal and even breast cancer. For more than two decades, numerous studies have revealed that these cultures—including L. bulgaricus, bifidobacterium infantis, streptococcus thermophilus, L. helveticus, L. casei and L. lactis have suppressed growth of cancers.

Laboratory rats with various kinds were infused with extracts of friendly microorganisms, and their tumors shrank by 20 percent or more and stopped growing. Animals treated with friendly microorganisms lived twice as long as those in the control group.

The various forms of acidophilus that raised the pH factor in the intestines were responsible, according to Michael Wargovich, M.D., assistant professor of cell biology at the M.D. Anderson Tumor Institute in Houston, who added that a low pH in the colon increases the risk of colon cancer. Wargovich also reported that an ingredient in garlic, added to easily-assimilated calcium like that from cultured dairy products, can prevent colon cancer by blocking early changes in tissue that lead to cancer Zhanges in cells were stopped by the positive influence of garlic on raising colonic pH.

Another biochemical, colorectal anticancer mechanism by acidophilus and some other lactobacilli appears to be their ability to absorb and isolate cancer-causing agents so that they can be removed from the intestines.

Cultured dairy products and garlic, used regularly, seem to be effective in preventing and treating colon cancer.

Yogurt may also help prevent breast cancer. Scientists at the National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Paris studied the diets of two groups of women—1,010 with breast cancer and a similar group without, Those who ate yogurt most frequently had a lower risk of breast cancer, As yogurt eating increased, breast cancer decreased.

Although yogurt has many therapeutic benefits, not all brands in the United States contain L. acidophilus, It may be necessary to write to the manufacturer to find out whether or not your brand does, Of course, health food stores carry a variety of acidophilus supplements and yogurt.

Go to: ProDophilus


I. Burros, Marian. “Does ‘Yogurt On The Label Make It So” The New York Times, Sept. 19,1990.

2. Carper, Jean. The Food Pharmacy. New York: Bantam Books, 1988.

3. Fernandez, Custy F., and Shahani, Khem M., “Anticarcinogenic and Immunological Properties of Dietary Lactobacilli,” University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Sept. II, 1989.

4. Hilton, Eileen, M.D., et al. “Ingestion of Yogurt Containing Lactobacillus Acidophilus as Prohylaxis for Candidal Vaginitis,” Annals of Internal Medicine, Mar. 1, 1992.

Reprinted with permission of BETTER NUTRITION for Today’s Living, November 1992.

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