Bifidobacteria - What is it & How to use

Bifidobacteria belong to a group of bacteria called lactic acid bacteria. Lactic acid bacteria are found in fermented foods like yogurt and cheese. Bifidobacteria are used in treatment as so-called “probiotics,” the opposite of antibiotics. They are considered “friendly” bacteria and are taken to grow and multiply in areas of the body where they normally would occur. The human body counts on its normal bacteria to perform several jobs, including breaking down foods, helping the body take in nutrients, and preventing the take-over of “bad” bacteria. Probiotics such as bifidobacteria are typically used in cases when a disease occurs or might occur due to a kill-off of normal bacteria. For example, treatment with antibiotics can destroy disease-causing bacteria, but also normal bacteria in the GI (gastrointestinal) and urinary tracts. The theory is that taking Bifidobacterium probiotics during antibiotic treatment can prevent or minimize the death of good bacteria and the take-over by bad bacteria.

Effectiveness

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.

The effectiveness ratings for BIFIDOBACTERIA are as follows:

Possibly effective for…

  • Constipation. Research shows that taking bifidobacteria can increase bowel movements by about 2-4 stools per week in people with constipation.
  • Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection. Taking bifidobacteria plus lactobacillus along with standard H. pylori therapy helps get rid of H. pylori infections about twice as well as taking standard H. pylori therapy alone. It can also reduce side effects caused by H. pylori therapy.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Most research shows that taking bifidobacteria for 4-8 weeks can reduce IBS symptoms such as stomach pain, bloating, and difficulty having a bowel movement. It might also reduce symptoms such as anxiety and depression in people with IBS. But some conflicting research exists.
  • A complication after surgery for ulcerative colitis called pouchitis. Taking a combination of bifidobacteria, lactobacillus, and streptococcus by mouth seems to help prevent pouchitis after surgery for ulcerative colitis.
  • Airway infections. Most research shows that using probiotics containing bifidobacteria helps prevent airway infections such as the common cold in otherwise healthy people, including school-aged children and college students. But taking bifidobacteria does not seem to reduce the risk of airway infections in hospitalized children and teens.
  • Diarrhea in infants (rotaviral diarrhea). Giving bifidobacteria to infants with rotaviral diarrhea can shorten the duration of diarrhea by about one day.
  • Traveler’s diarrhea. Taking bifidobacteria helps prevent traveler’s diarrhea when used with other probiotics such as lactobacillus or streptococcus.
  • Ulcerative colitis. Research shows that taking probiotics containing bifidobacterium along with lactobacillus and streptococcus can help increase remission rate by almost 2-fold in people with active ulcerative colitis. However, most research shows that bifidobacterium is not beneficial for preventing relapse.

Possibly ineffective for…

  • Diarrhea due to an infection with the bacteria Clostridium difficile. Most research shows that taking bifidobacteria along with other probiotics does not prevent diarrhea caused by Clostridium difficile infection.
  • Mortality of premature babies. Adding bifidobacteria to infant formula does not reduce the risk of death in premature babies.
  • Infant development. Giving formula containing bifidobacteria plus lactobacillus does not improve growth in infants.
  • Damage to the intestinal tract in preterm infants (Necrotizing enterocolitis; NEC). Research shows that giving bifidobacteria to preterm infants does not prevent necrotizing enterocolitis or death from any cause.
  • Blood infection (sepsis). Adding bifidobacteria to infant formula does not prevent sepsis in premature babies.
  • Weight loss. Taking bifidobacterium for 6 months does not improve weight loss in people who are overweight or obese.

Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for…

  • Diarrhea caused by antibiotics. Research shows that taking bifidobacteria along with antibiotics can reduce the chance of diarrhea by about 45%. But some conflicting results exist. It is possible that bifidobacteria might prevent diarrhea caused by some antibiotics but not others. Also, bifidobacteria might work better when used in certain combinations with lactobacillus and streptococcus. But not all combination seem to work.
  • Scaly, itchy skin (eczema). Some research shows that giving bifidobacterium to infants can help TREAT eczema, but conflicting results exist. Other research shows that giving bifidobacteria plus lactobacillus to pregnant women during the last 2 months of pregnancy, and then giving to the infant for the first 2 months after birth, can help PREVENT eczema. But conflicting results exist. Giving bifidobacteria plus lactobacillus to only at-risk infants during the first 6 months of life does not prevent eczema.
  • Celiac disease. Early research shows that taking bifidobacteria as part of a gluten-free diet does not improve stomach and intestinal symptoms compared to diet alone in children with newly diagnosed celiac disease.
  • Infections related to chemotherapy treatment. Early research shows that taking bifidobacteria plus lactobacillus or bifidobacteria plus lactobacillus plus enterococcus does not prevent yeast infections in people with leukemia who are undergoing chemotherapy.
  • Diabetes. Early research shows that taking bifidobacteria along with lactobacillus helps lower fasting blood sugar and insulin levels in people with diabetes during pregnancy. But taking this combination doesn’t help lower cholesterol or other blood fats in people with this condition.
  • Muscle pain caused by exercise. Early research shows that taking bifidobacteria plus streptococcus doesn’t reduce muscle soreness caused by lifting weights. But it does seem to improve range of motion during follow-up exercises despite muscle soreness.
  • High cholesterol. Early research shows that drinking milk containing bifidobacteria plus lactobacillus can reduce “bad” low-density lipoprotein cholesterol in people with slightly high cholesterol. But it also seems to reduce “good” high-density lipoprotein cholesterol.
  • Japanese cedar pollen allergy. Some research shows that taking bifidobacteria during pollen season reduces nose and eye symptoms of Japanese cedar pollen allergy. But conflicting results exists. Bifidobacteria does not seem to reduce sneezing or throat symptoms associated with Japanese cedar pollen allergy.
  • Preventing infections after exposure to radiation. Early research shows that antibiotic-resistant bifidobacteria can help improve short-term survival in the treatment of radiation sickness. In combination with antibiotics, bifidobacteria appear to help prevent dangerous bacteria from growing and causing a serious infection.
  • Arthritis. Early research shows that taking bifidobacteria plus lactobacillus does not reduce symptom severity or lessen joint pain in people with moderate-to-severe arthritis.
  • Aging.
  • Breast pain, possibly due to infection (mastitis).
  • Cancer.
  • Lactose intolerance.
  • Liver problems.
  • Lyme disease.
  • Mumps.
  • Replacing beneficial bacteria removed by diarrhea.
  • Stomach problems.
  • Other conditions.

More evidence is needed to rate bifidobacteria for these uses.

Dose

The following doses have been studied in scientific research:

ADULTS

BY MOUTH:

  • For constipation: 100 million to 20 billion colony-forming units of bifidobacteria have been used daily. In most cases, bifidobacteria are taken daily for 1-4 weeks. In some cases 5-60 billion colony-forming units of bifidobacteria plus lactobacillus have been taken daily for 1 week to 1 month.
  • For irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): For improving stomach and intestinal symptoms, 100 million to 1 billion colony-forming units of bifidobacteria has been used daily for 4-8 weeks. Also, 5 billion colony-forming units of bifidobacteria plus lactobacillus plus streptococcus has been used twice daily for 4 weeks. For improving depression and anxiety in people with IBS, 10 billion colony-forming units of bifidobacteria has been used once daily for 6 weeks.
  • For airway infections: 3 billion colony-forming units of bifidobacteria have been used daily for 6 weeks.
  • For a complication after surgery for ulcerative colitis called pouchitis: a dose of up to 3 trillion colony-forming units of bifodobacteria plus lactobacillus plus streptococcus has been given once daily for up to 12 months.
  • For Helicobacter pylori treatment: 5 billion colony-forming units of bifidobacteria plus lactobacillus daily for 1 week during H. pylori treatment plus one week thereafter has been used.
  • For ulcerative colitis: For increasing remission, 3 grams equivalent to 900 billion colony-forming units of lactobacillus plus bifidobacterium plus streptococcus has been used once or twice daily.

CHILDREN

BY MOUTH:

  • For constipation: 1-100 billion colony-forming units of bifidobacteria daily for 4 weeks has been used in children aged 3-16 years.
  • For irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): 10 billion colony-forming units of bifidobacteria daily for 4 weeks has been used.
  • For airway infections: 2-10 billion colony-forming units of combinations of bifidobacteria plus lactobacillus have been used twice daily in children ages 3-13 years.
  • Diarrhea in infants (rotaviral diarrhea): Bifidobacteria, along or along with streptococcus, has been used in children up to 3 years-old. Also, bifidobacteria plus lactobacillus has been used twice daily for 3 days.
  • Ulcerative colitis: Up to 1.8 trillion colony-forming units of bifidobacteria plus lactobacillus plus streptococcus has been used daily for up to 1 year in children 1-16 years-old.

Safety Concerns

Bifidobacteria are LIKELY SAFE for adults and children when taken by mouth appropriately. In some people, treatment with bifidobacteria might upset the stomach and intestine, causing diarrhea, bloating and gas.

Special precautions & warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: There is not enough reliable information about the safety of taking bifidobacteria if you are pregnant or breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.

Weakened immune system: There is some concern that “probiotics” might grow too well in people with a weak immune system and cause infections. Although this has not occurred specifically with bifidobacteria, there have been rare cases involving other probiotic species such as Lactobacillus. If you have a weakened immune system (e.g., you have HIV/AIDS or are undergoing cancer treatment), check with your healthcare provider before using bifidobacteria.

Blockage in the intestines: Two cases of blood infections have been reported for infants given bifidobacteria probiotics. In both cases, the infants had had stomach surgery. It’s thought that the blood infections resulted from intestinal blockage caused by the stomach surgeries, which allowed the bifidobacteria to cross into the bloodstream. In one case, taking bifidobacteria after the intestinal blockage was corrected did not cause another blood infection. Therefore the risk of blood infections is not a concern for most infants taking bifidobacteria. But bifidobacteria should be used cautiously or avoided in infants with stomach or intestinal blockages.

Interaction with medication

Moderate
Be cautious with this combination.
Antibiotic drugs
Antibiotics are used to reduce harmful bacteria in the body. Antibiotics can also reduce friendly bacteria in the body. Bifidobacteria are a type of friendly bacteria. Taking antibiotics along with bifidobacteria might reduce the effectiveness of bifidobacteria. To avoid this interaction, take bifidobacteria products at least two hours before or after antibiotics.

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.