Bifidobacteria - A Good Bacteria
All being well, we start our lives with a healthy gut microbiome as the ‘good’ bacteria bifidobacteria naturally colonises our gut microbiome in infancy. For years research has demonstrated an association between bifidobacteria with health-promoting effects. Many bifidobacteria species are now often isolated as an ingredient for functional foods and supplements.
Bifidobacteria is thought to be beneficial to health through several mechanisms including:
- protection of the host against pathogens by competitive exclusion
- modulation of the immune system
- provision of nutrients through the breakdown of non-digestible dietary carbohydrates.1
What are bifidobacteria?
The genus bifidobacteria are gram-positive, non-motile, anaerobic bacteria from the phylum Actinobacteria. They inhabit many parts of our body including the digestive system. They were first discovered in 1899 when they were isolated in breast-fed infants. Until the 1960s Bifidobacterium species were collectively referred to as "Lactobacillus Bifidus". Bifidobacteria are important members of a varied gut microbiota and have been linked to many important processes. And although the phyla Actinobacteria only make up a small percentage of our gut microbiome in adulthood, bifidobacteria produce metabolites, which crossfeed other health-producing bacteria and lower the pH making it more difficult for pathogenic bacteria to grow in the GI tract.
Which health effects are bifidobacteria linked to?
As with all bacteria, the functionality of each varies at a species level.1
There are over 50 identified species and the ones most studied in relation to human health include Bifidobacterium bifidum, Bifidobacterium infantis, Bifidobacterium adolescentis and Bifidobacterium longum.2
In the gut they can influence the immune system, fight against inflammation, improve GI symptoms, protect the gut barrier and break down fibres to produce short chain fatty acids (SCFAs).3
How much bifidobacteria do we naturally have?
Although bifidobacteria represent the majority of the bacteria in our gut microbiome when we are infants, our levels drop during our lifespan.
Infants fed human breast milk have higher numbers of bifidobacteria than formula fed babies. This is due to the presence of the prebiotic oligosaccharides in human breast milk, which are preferentially selected by, and increase the numbers of bifidobacteria. As an infant develops, a more varied diet is introduced, which includes fats and protein which are not substrates for bifidobacteria. This contributes to the age-related decline as their food source is depleted. Other environmental factors, including antibiotics, contribute to the drop in bifidobacteria.
How are bifidobacteria increased in the gut microbiota?
One way to increase your levels of good bacteria, including bifidobacteria, is to optimise plant-based dietary intake, which will naturally include prebiotics. Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients that beneficially affect the host by selectively stimulating the growth and/or activity of one or a limited number of bacteria in the colon and improving host health. Through fermentation of prebiotics, bacterial growth (bifidobacteria and lactobacillus) is stimulated and organic acids (lactic acid and SCFAs), are produced.3
The prebiotic fibre supplement Bimuno® feeds good gut bacteria and has a higher selectivity towards bifidobacteria4 compared with other commercially available prebiotic supplements. Bimuno may be particularly useful if an individual is unable to tolerate foods which contain prebiotics such as onions, Jerusalem artichokes and leeks and if they are following a low FODMAP diet.
Bifidobacteria are also available as live strains (probiotics).
How do bifidobacteria in the gut exert an effect?
- Colonic Fermentation: Bifidobacteria produce lactic acid which cross feeds other bacteria to create SCFAs (mainly acetate, propionate and butyrate), end‐products of bacterial fermentative reactions in the colon. One of SCFAs major properties is their protective effect on the gut epithelium. Moreover, butyrate, is an important energy source for the colonic epithelium and regulates cell growth and differentiation.
- Vitamin synthesis: In addition to fermentation products, gut bacteria, including bifidobacteria can synthesize vitamins, especially B vitamins.
- Barrier effects: In addition to the production of SCFAs, bifidobacteria has been shown to enhance gut barrier effects by producing inhibitory substances, blocking adhesion sites and stimulating immunity.
- Effects of colonic immune system: They exert a considerable influence on the number and distribution of the gut association lymphoid tissue (GALT) cell populations and play an important role in the regulation of immune responses
- 1 O’Callaghan et al (2016) Bifidobacteria and Their Role as Members of the Human Gut Microbiota https://dx.doi.org/10.3389%2Ffmicb.2016.00925
- 2 In Atlas of Oral Microbiology, 2015
- 3 Picard et al (2005) Review article: bifidobacteria as probiotic agents -- physiological effects and clinical benefits https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16167966
- 4 Depeint et al(2008) Prebiotic evaluation of a novel galactooligosaccharide mixture produced by the enzymatic activity of Bifidobacterium bifidum NCIMB 41171, in healthy humans: a randomized, double-blind, crossover, placebo-controlled intervention study https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18326619
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