Lactobacillus plantarum

Written by: Kari Raman, PharmD, RPh
Published April 10, 2023

At my pharmacy counter patients ask me about the probiotic supplement Lactobacillus plantarum a lot. And they ask for good reason – L. plantarum is in a lot of probiotics you can buy because it’s been shown to have a lot of possible health benefits in a large number of clinical trials and medical studies. 

Let’s dive in and learn about what this helpful bacteria is, and what it might be able to do to help your health.

Of course, I always have to remind people reading my articles that they should always consult their doctor if they are having serious medical issues or chronic conditions, and talking to your doctor before beginning to take supplements is a very good idea.

What is Lactobacillus plantarum?

Lactobacillus plantarum is a type of beneficial bacteria that is naturally found in many healthy people’s guts. But, the levels of Lactobacillus plantarum in the gut can vary widely between individuals, depending on factors such as diet, age, and overall health – and it’s not generally one of the most common bacteria in the gut, just one that is often found there. It is more commonly found in foods, such as fermented vegetables, dairy products, and some types of sourdough bread. And, as you can already guess, it’s a commonly used probiotic because it likely has a number of health benefits. 

A little bit of sciency stuff that explains a lot

Lactobacillus plantarum is a type of gram-positive, lactic acid bacteria that belongs to the genus Lactobacillus. The gram-positive isn’t super interesting (gram-positive bacteria, such as Lactobacillus plantarum, have a thick peptidoglycan layer in their cell walls that shows up clearly when scientists use a specific type of identification technique). More importantly, like other lactic acid bacteria, can produce lactic acid through the fermentation of carbohydrates. So it turns carbs into lactic acid. In general, this genus of bacteria can digest lactose (the inability to do this is the cause of lactose intolerance), so it could possibly help with lactose intolerance – but I didn’t find any good studies to support this, so it’s not the first probiotic I’d possibly turn to for lactose intolerance – consider Bifidobacteria for that instead. 

Is Lactobacillus plantarum a good probiotic?

Clinical studies and research suggest that L. plantarum may provide a range of potential health benefits, including:

Improving gut health: Like other probiotics, L. plantarum helps to maintain a healthy balance of gut flora by competing with harmful bacteria and producing lactic acid, which creates an unfavorable environment for bad bacteria that mess up your gut health. Basically, they can out compete the bacteria that can make your gut less healthy. I’ll link to a good study from the medical journal Frontiers in Immunology in the next benefit that demonstrates some possible, strong, gut health improvements with this probiotic.

Helping fix chronic diarrhea: Chronic diarrhea is a serious condition – if you are having many loose and uncomfortable stools see your doctor! Chronic diarrhea is generally defined as three or more loose stools daily for at least four weeks; it can be caused by a serious underlying problem, so see a doctor. If your doctor suggests trying a probiotic to treat chronic diarrhea, a supplement with L. plantarum might be a great choice. The clinical study I mentioned showed that a specific strain “can mitigate the apparent clinical symptoms and improve the health status and quality of life of patients.” That strain is Lactobacillus plantarum CCFM1143. 

Reducing inflammation: Some studies suggest that Lactobacillus plantarum may help reduce inflammation in the body, which could potentially benefit individuals with inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and allergies. This is actually pretty interesting, as the study I linked, seems to show that it can actually help reduce vascular inflammation – so it could actually help your circulatory system and heart, not just reducing inflammation in the gut. The specific strain studied was Lactobacillus plantarum 299v.

Boosting immune function: Lactobacillus plantarum has been shown in some smaller medical studies to stimulate the immune system by enhancing the activity of immune cells, which could potentially help the body better respond to infections and other challenges. One study looked at the strain Lactobacillus plantarum HOKKAIDO (they gave it to the participants in yogurt, which is one of the yummier ways to do a clinical study in my opinion!).

Reducing cholesterol levels: Some studies suggest that Lactobacillus plantarum may help reduce total cholesterol levels and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels, which could potentially benefit individuals with high cholesterol levels. A study published in The British Journal of Nutrition found “A significant reduction of 13·6 % in plasma total cholesterol (TC) levels was observed after 12 weeks of consumption in the L. plantarum group when compared with the placebo group.” I found several other studies in medical journals suggesting a similar improvement in cholesterol. 

Improving skin health: Some research has shown that Lactobacillus plantarum may help improve skin health. Unlike the other uses of this probiotic, you don’t eat it to improve your skin, you use it as an ointment. The main study I looked at was pretty small, just 15 people, but it seems like it had a positive impact. I’d say more research is needed, but this is a promising possible use for L. plantarum. Your skin has a lot of helpful bacteria living on it, and when we wash it or expose it to tough things like detergent you can wash away the good bacteria. 

How do you take Lactobacillus plantarum?

As with any supplement, it’s important to follow the dosage instructions provided on the label and to talk to your doctor before starting any new supplement regimen. In general, doses of Lactobacillus plantarum ranging from 1 to 10 billion colony forming units (CFUs) per day have been used in clinical studies. And you may find an ointment or lotion that has this probiotic – obviously you don’t eat that, you apply it to your skin following the directions on the packaging. 

Can you take Lactobacillus plantarum every day?

Yes, healthy people can take Lactobacillus plantarum and can generally be taken daily as a probiotic supplement. But, again, you need to talk to your doctor before beginning any supplementation, especially if you are trying to treat a specific condition. It can also be consumed through fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir, which naturally contain this beneficial bacteria.

Is Lactobacillus plantarum safe?

For most healthy individuals, this probiotic is considered safe. However, people who have weakened immune systems or certain underlying medical conditions should consult their healthcare provider before starting any probiotic supplementation, as there may be potential risks or interactions.

In summary, Lactobacillus plantarum is one of the most promising probiotics with a range of potential health benefits. As with any supplement, it’s important to talk to your doctor before starting any new regimen, and to follow dosage instructions carefully. One interesting supplement you can try to get it is GoodBelly’s probiotic juice. My niece tried it when she was on a pretty serious antibiotic treatment, and we had some good things to say about it’s taste. You can read my full review of GoodBelly probiotic juice, and learn about the amount of bacteria per serving, etc.

What are Probiotics?

Probiotics are live, beneficial microorganisms that may assist some people in maintaining or restoring the balance in the digestive system, possibly contributing to overall well-being. They may be especially helpful when the body’s usual balance of bacteria is disrupted due to factors such as antibiotics, stress, or improper diet. I often get asked about them in the pharmacy when someone is getting antibiotics, since antibiotics can kill the helpful bacteria in your gut – and therefore cause some uncomfortable side effects like diarrhea. 

How Probiotics Are Thought to Work

When consumed in sufficient amounts, probiotics might help in optimizing the gut flora, which could translate to various health advantages. The science behind some bacteria supplements is better than for others, but I feel pretty strongly that L. plantarum is one with a lot of science, especially around digestive health. 

Beyond digestive health, emerging research suggests that other probiotics could play a role in supporting mental health. They might interact with the gut-brain axis, potentially reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety in some people. The interaction of probiotics with the immune system is also an area of interest, with studies hinting that they could enhance immune responses, possibly leading to a reduced susceptibility to infections.

However, it is essential to approach these potential benefits with caution, recognizing that individual responses can widely vary and not everyone may experience positive outcomes. It is highly recommended that people considering probiotics for health enhancement consult with a healthcare provider or a qualified pharmacist to assess the suitability and safety based on individual health conditions and needs.

In wrapping up, the spectrum of probiotics, including strains like Lactobacillus plantarum, holds promising potential in various health domains. The provisional benefits range from ameliorating digestive discomfort to possibly uplifting mood, but outcomes may differ significantly among individuals. Therefore, personalized advice and cautious consideration are pivotal when contemplating the inclusion of probiotics in one’s health regimen.

Pharmacist Kari Raman

I’m Kari Raman PharmD, RPh, and I am a licensed, practicing pharmacist. I hold a Doctorate in Pharmacy from The University of the Pacific, and I’ve served patients in retail, compounding and hospital pharmacies.

Probiotics are confusing!

One of the most common questions I get asked by patients is about probiotics. And the truth is, probiotics are not as well understood by the healthcare community as they should be.

So I’ve been reading a lot of probiotic clinical trials, and sharing what I’m learning here.

I hope Pharmacist Probiotics helps you find out if there is a type of probiotic that works for you!