Bifidobacterium are another group of probiotics with enough members in the family to make it confusing to sort out which supplement is best for you.
So let's look at why one the Bifidobacterium family might be a very good choice for you.
Although discovered back in 1899 they have been grouped in with Lactobacillus for much of this time due to their similarities.
There are currently (2014) 58 species (including subspecies)5 but the commonest found in humans include:
Check out those links above to see how each different strain can help you and where you might find them.
The commonest species found in animals include B pseudolongum, B thermophilus and B animalis. The animal species are rarely found in the human intestinal tract and human species are almost never found in animal intestines.
12 species of Bifidobacterium have been associated with humans: Bifidobacterium adolescentis, B infantis, B longum, B bifidum, B breve, B catenulatum, B pseudocatenulatum, B angulatum, B gallicum, B inopinatum, B dentium, and B denticolens4. So these are the ones that naturally "belong" to the human gastrointestinal tract (and a few other area of our bodies.)
And whilst most of them are beneficial to human health, not all of them are. B dentium causes caries in teeth.
This beneficial bacteria is known to live in five different "ecolgical niches" - the intestine, the oral cavity, food, the insect gut, and sewage. And although you might be thinking "yuck" at this point, it is clear that this bacteria has been intimately involved with mankind.
We're supposed to be living together and it's presence can do us nothing but good.
Just like some other useful bacteria, many Bifidobacteria species are found in fermented dairy foods, especially yogurt, cheeses, butter, and probiotic drinks.
Whether it is actually present will depend on the method of manufacturing and storage but the potential is there. These are the food groups to be looking for if you wish to increase your intake of this valuable and health giving bacteria but unfortunately beneficial bacteria are rarely listed as an ingredient.
However, because they enjoy anaerobic (airless) conditions, they are not always the easiest of companions to "grow" inside the typical yogurt mix. This is definitely one probiotic to NOT attempt to grow yourself.
I mention this because I repeatedly hear of people claiming to grow their own probiotics in yogurt by emptying a probiotic capsule in to it. Unless you are a microbiologist with full laboratory facilites at your call, you simply have no idea what you're growing! Probably it will be one of the helpful lactic acid bacteria but it certainly won't be any of the Bifidobacterium strains!
One strain of the yogurt starter Streptococcus thermophilus (ST6008, deposited under DSM18111) has been found to greatly improve the growth of Bifidobacteria during the fermentation process.
Bifidobacteria live in greatest numbers in the lower part of the colon where their success is due to their ability to metabolize complex carbohydrates.
A particular type of fiber called nondigestible carbohydrates (NDCHs) is fermented in the colon, where they encourage the growth of bifidobacteria but not other bacteria. So by eating plenty of non-digestible carboydrates you can naturally increase your supply of these helpful bacteria
You'll find nondigestible carboydrates in cellulose, wheat bran, gum arabic, resistant maltodextrin, polydextrose, fructooligosaccharide, galactooligosaccharides, and RS.
This is the philosphy behind prebiotics and is used by supplements such as Theralac which have both Bifidobacteriuim and NDCH.
The side effects of a diet too high in fiber include wind and bowel distention so make sure you increase your fiber slowly to give your existing bacteria time to be accustomed to this extra source.
Either of these is an excellent choice.
You can read about my own experiences with this supplement Align and antibiotic diarrhea. Antibiotics are strongly detrimental to the survival of Bifidobacterium (more so than to some other probiotics) and a supplement that contains it should always be taken when undergoing antibiotic therapy.
One point to note is that when Bifidobacteria are grown in synthetic media for many generations (as they are when making supplements) there can be a loss of chromosomal regions5. Food is always the best source of probiotics however the same problem can arise if the bacteria has been added to the food rather than being a natural part of it.
Although Bifidobacteria make up only 3 to 6% of the bacteria count in adult stools, their presence has been associated with many beneficial health effects such as the prevention of diarrhea, the reduction of lactose intolerance, an immune enhancement1.
When you examine the number of problems where a lowered number of Bifidobacteria in the colon is known to occur - diarrhea, Crohn' disease, Inflammatory Bowel disease (IBD) -you can see just why this probiotic is of such importance to human health.
They assist with both vitamin and protein synthesis, assist in digestion and absorption, prevent colonization of bad bacteria, and stimulate the immune response. 3
Some strains of this bacteria have been successful in either treating or helping with necrotizing enterocolitis (in infants), diarrhea in infants, traveler's diarrhea, atopic eczema, IBS, pouchitis, Helicobacter pylori and ulcerative colitis.
It is often used in combination with other probiotics so that a multi- probiotic is often your best supplement with this particular bacteria. Some strains such as Bifantis have been trademarked.
You can see that most of the health problems where it has shown to be of use are to do with gastrointestinal tract.
Antibiotics can severly affect the populations of all strains of Bifidobacteria so that a supplment may be necessary after finishing your course of antibiotics.
I include this section for those trying to make a connection between the strain number (or letters) in their probiotic supplement and strains used in medical studies. (Note that these are not all probiotic or even associated with humans. Some are only found in other animal species.)
There are hundreds of agencies that have bacterial collections and each one has its own code. This list shows the codes given for the identical bacteria by different agencies.
Species: Over 30 species including B infantis, B longum and B bifidum.
A gram-positive, anaerobic, branched rod-shaped bacterium.
In the intestines, they ferment sugars to produce lactic acid.
1. Mark A. Schell, Maria Karmirantzou, Berend Snel, David Vilanova, Bernard Berger, Gabriella Pessi, Marie-Camille Zwahlen, Frank Desiere, Peer Bork, Michele Delley, R. David Pridmore, and Fabrizio Arigoni. The genome sequence of Bifidobacterium longum reflects its adaptation to the human gastrointestinal tract. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2002 October 29; 99(22): 14422-14427.
3. Ishibashi N, Yaeshima T and Hayasawa H. Bifidobacteria: their significance in human intestinal health. Mal J Nutr 3: 149-159, 1997.
4. Reetta M Satokari, Elaine E Vaughan, Antoon D L Akkermans, Maria Saarela, Willem M de Vos. Bifidobacterial Diversity in Human Feces Detected by Genus- Specific PCR and Denaturing Gradient Gel Electrophoresis. Applied And Environmental Microbiology, Feb. 2001, p. 504-513 0099-2240/01/$04.0010 DOI: 10.1128/AEM.67.2.504513.2001
5. Francesca Turronia, Douwe van Sinderenb and Marco Ventura. Genomics and ecological overview of the genus Bifidobacterium. Int J. Food Microbiol. (2011). doi:10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2010.12.010