Bifidobacterium are the shy probiotic LAB (lactic-acid bacteria) superstars. Although you need more than one type of probiotic microbe to be healthy, these probiotic microbes play critical roles in your health. Most people simply refer to them as "bifidobacteria" or "bifido", so I'll use the names interchangeably.
I've even seen them referred to as "Bifidobacillus".
How can bacteria be shy, you ask? Well, they technically can't, but I think of them as being shy because they don't live out in the open. You usually won't find them widespread naturally in food and drink products that are exposed to air. Bifidobacteria are anaerobic, so most can't tolerate oxygen-rich environments. However, surprisingly, some species have been found on peaches!
Scientifically, Bifidobacterium is a genus of Gram-positive, anaerobic, non-sporulating, usually branched rod-shaped bacteria. More info about genus and classification of microbes can be found here.
The bifidos were originally identified in the feces of a breast-fed infant. These good bacteria are some of the first microbes to take up residence in the gastro-intestinal (GI) tract of newborns, and they dominate the intestines in breast-fed babies. This is one reason why the status of probiotics in the mother in pregnancy is very important! As babies age and are weaned, the bifidobacteria numbers and species change as the diet changes. Typically, their numbers continue to decrease with age.
Bifidobacterium is on the European QPS (Qualified Presumption of Safety) list and is generally regarded as safe.
Bifidobacterium, along with Lactobacillus, are some of the most well-known probiotics and are an important part of your flora. These good bacteria are lactic-acid producing bacteria (LAB), just like Lactobacillus, and they both produce vitamins, bacteriocins (antibacterial chemicals) and antibiotic-like substances. Both have significant health benefits on the digestive and immune systems, as discussed in greater detail here.
Unlike many Lactobacillus, however, bifidobacteria also produce acetic acid, a short-chain fatty acid SCFA).
The significance of this is that acetic acid is more effective at reducing the growth of yeasts and molds than is lactic acid. Acetic acid can also be used as energy by the human body. Producing both lactic and acetic acids and other beneficial compounds makes bifidobacteria the probiotic most qualified to be in the vagina and urogenital tract, where yeasts and opportunistic bacteria can cause distress, and also in the colon, where the opportunity for disease to flourish is greater because fecal transit time slows.
This probiotic species also produces ethanol and other acids, can produce vitamins and can help with lactose intolerance.
Some members of this species have a beneficial effect on us just by being within us because they can cause immune system changes. They can help increase immune function in some cases and also have anti-inflammatory actions in other cases.
Additionally, the mere presence of some of these probiotics can cause other microbes that live in the intestines to perform helpful duties that they otherwise wouldn’t do. (Similar to how some kids will behave better and be more helpful when visiting grandparents are present!) This suggests that bifido can communicate with other beneficial bacteria to keep us healthy.
To date, about 48 different bifido species have been identified, although most of them are very similar in their genetic makeup. As mentioned, they are found in the human gastrointestinal (GI) tract and the female vagina and urogenital tract. They are found in the highest numbers in the colon (large intestine), although they only amount to 3-6% of the total flora in adult feces.
Different species and even strains in those species have different effects. Some of the Bifidobacterium species and strains you may encounter on labels are:
If you want a simple probiotic formula that has only bifido species in it, a good supplement choice is Primadophilus Probifia Pearls by Nature's Way. It contains 1 billion CFU per capsule of B. longum BB536, B. bifidum, B. breve and B. infantis.
To read my review of Probifia Pearls, see this page.
Another probiotic supplement that contains only one strain of Bifidobacterium, B. infantis, is found in the product Align.
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