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Little L

Bacteria Working in the Shadows: Lactobacillus
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If the probiotic movement is a shiny discotheque, Lactobacillus, or Little L, would be the glamorous VIP whose celebrity moves velvet ropes.

Lactobacillus is a gram-positive, rod-shaped bacterium native to the mouth and digestive track and found in the production of yogurt, cheese, chocolate, pickles and other fermented foods. In the body, Little L converts lactose and other sugars to lactic acid, which inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria and aids in regulation and digestion. Lactic acid produced from Lactobacillus is also used in detergents as a soap-scum remover and antibacterial agent. While working to break down bile in the gut, Little L inhibits absorption of harmful microbes in blood, lowering the body’s cholesterol levels.

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Certain strains of Lactobacillus prove a powerful force in maintaining a healthy immune system. Lactobacillus acidophilus, for example, produces a carbohydrate-digesting enzyme, amylase, that serves as an anti-inflammatory, aids digestion and helps in the conversion of sugar into energy. Lactobacillus bulgaricus, commonly found in yogurt, serves as an anti-mutagenic in the prevention of colon cancer.

Little L loves the ladies, as the consumption of Lactobacillus rhamnosus, a dairy preserve, by pregnant women helps protect babies’ immune systems to stave off the effects of asthma, eczema and other allergies.

Lactobacillus casei, used the processing of some cheeses, reduces lactose intolerance. High levels of casei detected during pregnancy may indicate heavier birth weight, as the strain helps to create a more hospitable in utero environment.

Too much of one thing can be bad, and as is the case with overindulgent celebrities, too much opulence can cause Little L to go all Lindsay Lohan on a person’s stomach. Heavy intake of Lactobacillus can cause discomfort, nausea, diarrhea and tooth decay. Too much Little L turns the afterglow of a night on the town to one helluva mid-morning headache.