Why probiotics matter

You barely give them a thought, but deep within your gut, there’s a whole world of living organisms. Maybe it sounds a bit unsettling, but most of them are there for your own good.

One of those microorganisms is called Lactobacillus casei, or L. casei. It’s one of many friendly bacteria that call your digestive system home. You probably also have some in your urinary and genital tracts.

These helpful organisms are also known as probiotics.

Unlike the harmful bacteria that make you sick, probiotics like L. casei are beneficial to your digestive system. Actually, your body depends on them. Without them, it’s much harder to digest food and absorb important nutrients.

They also help keep some of the more harmful microorganisms under control. If you don’t have enough of the good bacteria, things can get out of balance and cause trouble.

There are many types of probiotics. Along with Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus is among the most common. Within these two types of probiotics, there are many varieties.

When you don’t have enough of the good bacteria, adding more L. Casei to your dietcan help regulate your digestive system.

Probiotic supplements containing L. Casei are used to prevent or treat diarrhea. This includes infectious diarrhea, traveler’s diarrhea, and antibiotic-associated diarrhea.

It may also have some effect on other digestive problems, including:

  • colic
  • constipation
  • Crohn’s disease
  • inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • lactose intolerance
  • ulcerative colitis

L. casei may also be useful for:

  • acne, hives, and fever blisters
  • allergies, eczema, and dermatitis
  • cold, flu, and respiratory infection
  • ear infection (otitis media)
  • oral health problems, such as plaque, gingivitis, and canker sores
  • Helicobacter pylori infection, which causes stomach ulcers
  • Lyme disease
  • necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a serious intestinal disease common in premature infants
  • rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
  • urinary tract and vaginal infections

Check out: Can you use probiotics to treat acid reflux? »

Probiotics such as L. casei are generally considered safe and potentially helpful in regulating the digestive system. There have been many promising studies involving L. casei.

Researchers in a 2007 trial studied a probiotic drink containing L. casei, L. bulgaricus, and S. thermophiles. They concluded that it may reduce the incidence of antibiotic-associated diarrhea and C. difficile-associated diarrhea. No adverse events were reported.

A 2003 study showed that a probiotic drink containing Lactobacillus casei Shirota was a beneficial adjunctive therapy for people with chronic constipation. A later study looked at people with Parkinson’s disease. That one revealed that regular intake of milk fermented with Lactobacillus casei Shirota can improve bowel habits of people with the disease.

Researchers for a 2014 clinical trial found that L. casei supplements can help alleviate symptoms and improve inflammatory cytokines in women with RA.

There is a growing body of research into L. casei and other probiotics. But to date, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t approved L. casei or any other probiotic for the treatment of a specific health problem.

L. casei is naturally found in the gut. Some fermented foods contain L. casei, too. These include some yogurts, yogurt-like fermented milk, and certain cheeses.

Dietary supplements containing L. casei and other probiotics can be found in health food stores or wherever dietary supplements are sold. When shopping for probiotics, it pays to read labels carefully. Follow directions for storage and take expiration dates seriously.

Studies regarding dosage are lacking. There are no definitive guidelines. Read product labels carefully and ask your physician or pharmacist how much you should take.

Most people can consume probiotics without side effects. Of those who do, one of the most common side effects is mild gas. If that happens, try cutting back on your dose and gradually raising it again.

Severe side effects from probiotic use have been reported, including dangerous infections. The risk of such side effects is greater if you have a serious medical condition or weakened immune system.

There isn’t much information regarding the long-term safety of probiotics. More studies are needed to determine who is most likely to benefit from them.

Considering adding L. casei or other probiotic supplements to your daily regimen? You might want to discuss it with your doctor first. Here’s why:

  • New or worsening symptoms could signal an undiagnosed health condition that requires treatment or monitoring.
  • If you have an existing health problem, chronic illness, or weakened immune system, probiotics may interfere with your current treatment or put you at increased risk of serious side effects.
  • If you plan to replace your prescription medication with probiotics, your doctor will need to know. The same holds true if you’re pregnant or nursing.
  • Your doctor or pharmacist can guide you on the safest dosage and what to look for on product labeling.

Probiotics such as L. casei can’t do it alone. To get the full benefit of L. casei and to keep your digestive system healthy, you’ll need to follow a balanced diet. That should include:

  • an abundance of vegetables and fruits (canned and frozen are just as healthy as fresh)
  • plenty of whole grains
  • fat-free or low-fat milk products
  • lean meats, fish, and poultry
  • eggs
  • nuts
  • beans

You should avoid trans fats wherever possible and eliminate or cut down on:

  • saturated fats
  • cholesterol
  • added sugars
  • salt

Some daily physical activity, even walking, will also help keep your digestive system on track.

Keep reading: How probiotics can help with digestive issues »