There are trillions of bacteria on and in your body, and they’re extremely important for your health. One of the most important types is called Bifidobacteria.
These beneficial bacteria digest dietary fiber, help prevent infection and produce vitamins and other important chemicals.
Low counts of Bifidobacteria have been linked to many diseases, and Bifidobacteriasupplements may help treat symptoms of certain diseases.
This article explains what these beneficial bacteria are, and why they are so important for your health.
There are trillions of bacteria, fungi, viruses and other microbes living in your body.
Most of these are found in your intestines, particularly in a small part of the large intestine called the cecum. Collectively, these gut microbes are known as your gut microbiome.
There may be up to 1,000 species of bacteria in the human gut microbiome, and each of these carries out different functions in the body (1).
A few of these species can cause disease, but most of them are extremely important for your health.
The gut microbiome plays a number of roles in health by digesting certain foods, controlling the immune system and producing important chemicals that the body can’t make by itself (2, 3).
In fact, an unhealthy microbiome has been shown to play a role in many chronic diseases, including obesity, heart disease and cancer (4, 5, 6).
A number of factors can affect the gut microbiome, including diet, antibiotic use and, particularly, stress. In addition, the way babies are delivered can affect their gut microbiomes (7, 8, 9).
Therefore, eating a diet that benefits the healthy bacteria within your gut microbiome may help you reduce the risk of such diseases.
Summary: All the microbes in your intestines are collectively known as the gut microbiome. They are extremely important for health and preventing disease.
Bifidobacteria are y-shaped bacteria found in your intestines, and they’re incredibly important for your health.
Researchers have discovered nearly 50 species of these beneficial bacteria, each of which is thought to have different functions and health benefits (10).
Despite their huge importance for the body, Bifidobacteria typically make up less than 10% of the bacteria in the adult gut microbiome (11).
One of the main functions of this type of bacteria in humans is to digest fiber and other complex carbs your body can’t digest on its own (12).
Fiber has been shown to help reduce weight gain and the risk of diabetes, heart disease and other chronic disorders. Bifidobacteria may help reduce the risk of these diseases by digesting fiber (12, 13).
That’s because when they digest fiber, these beneficial bacteria produce important chemicals called short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These compounds play a number of important roles for gut health, and may also help control hunger (14, 15).
Bifidobacteria help produce other important chemicals too, including B vitamins and healthy fatty acids (16, 17).
They may also help prevent infections from other bacteria such as E. coli, in part by producing chemicals that prevent toxins from passing into the blood (18).
Because these bacteria are important for health, they’re often used as probiotics in supplements or certain foods. Probiotics are live microorganisms that provide a specific health benefit when consumed.
Summary: Bifidobacteria are healthy bacteria found in your intestines that help digest fiber, prevent infections and produce important healthy chemicals.
These beneficial bacteria are particularly important for the body in early life.
In fact, they are one of the first types of bacteria to grow in babies’ intestines after they’re born (19).
In the first few weeks of life, they can make up 60% of all of the bacteria in the infant gut microbiome (20).
Their main role during this time is to digest the healthy sugars in breast milk that are important for babies’ growth (21).
In fact, babies who are breastfed tend to have much higher levels of these beneficial bacteria in their intestines than those who are bottle-fed (22).
Similarly, babies who are born by standard vaginal delivery usually have more Bifidobacteria in their intestines compared to those born by caesarean section. Preterm birth can also reduce levels of these bacteria in infants (23).
Bifidobacteria may also help control the immune system and help the gut wall stay intact in infants, which can help prevent infections (24).
Summary: Bifidobacteria are some of the first bacteria to grow in babies’ intestines. They play an important role in digesting the sugars in breast milk, along with other beneficial effects.
Many diseases are associated with low numbers of Bifidobacteria in the intestines.
For example, studies have shown that people with celiac disease, obesity, diabetes, allergic asthma and dermatitis all appear to have lower levels of Bifidobacteria in their intestines compared to healthy people (25, 26, 27).
For this reason, a number of studies have examined whether taking Bifidobacteria in the form of probiotic supplements can increase their abundance in the gut and improve disease symptoms.
Certain species may help improve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), including bloating, cramps and abdominal pain.
A large study of 362 people found that taking a Bifidobacteria probiotic for four weeks significantly improved symptoms of IBS (28).
Other studies found that the same Bifidobacteria probiotic also reduced inflammation in people with inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, chronic fatigue syndrome and psoriasis (29, 30).
This crucial strain of bacteria may help improve other health markers too. One study found that taking a Bifidobacteria probiotic for 45 days reduced body mass index (BMI) and blood cholesterol in people with metabolic syndrome (31).
Studies have found similar positive effects for lowering cholesterol (32).
Interestingly, Bifidobacteria probiotics may even help brain health.
Two studies have shown that, in combination with other probiotics, Bifidobacteriareduced psychological distress and negative thoughts associated with sad mood in healthy people (33, 34).
Furthermore, one recent study was the first to show that probiotics may benefit people with depression.
One study investigated the effects of a Bifidobacteria probiotic in 44 people with IBS and mild-to-moderate depression. Those who took the probiotic had significantly lower depression scores than those who took the placebo (35).
Summary: A number of diseases are associated with reduced levels of Bifidobacteria in the intestines. Supplements of the bacteria may help treat IBS, high cholesterol and even mental health disorders.
Increasing the amount of Bifidobacteria in your intestines may help prevent or treat symptoms of various diseases.
Here are a few ways you can help them grow:
- Take probiotics: Consuming Bifidobacteria probiotics can increase their numbers in your intestines.
- Eat high-fiber foods: These beneficial bacteria can break down fiber. Therefore, foods rich in fiber, such as apples, artichokes, blueberries, almonds and pistachios, can all help your Bifidobacteria thrive (36, 37, 38).
- Eat prebiotic foods: Not to be confused with probiotics, prebiotics are carbs that help healthy bacteria grow. Onions, garlic, bananas and other fruit and veggies all contain prebiotics that can increase Bifidobacteria (39, 40).
- Eat polyphenols: Polyphenols are plant compounds that can be broken down by gut bacteria. Polyphenols from foods such as cocoa, green tea and red wine all increase Bifidobacteria in the gut (41, 42).
- Eat whole grains: Whole grains such as oats and barley are very good for gut health and can help increase intestinal Bifidobacteria (43, 44).
- Eat fermented foods: Fermented foods such as yogurt and kimchi contain healthy bacteria. They mainly contain Lactobacilli, but sometimes also contain Bifidobacteria, and help increase them in the gut (45).
- Exercise: Some studies in mice have suggested that exercise may increase Bifidobacteria. Women who exercise more also tend to have more of the bacteria, but this may be due to other factors, like a healthy diet (46, 47).
- Breastfeed: If you can, consider breastfeeding your baby to increase his or her Bifidobacteria. Breastfed babies tend to have more of the bacteria than those who are bottle-fed (23).
- Choose vaginal birth, when possible: Babies born by standard vaginal delivery have more Bifidobacteria than those born by C-section (24).
Summary: You can increase Bifidobacteria by eating fiber-rich foods such as fruit, vegetables and whole grains. You can also take probiotics that contain the bacteria.
Your intestines contain trillions of bacteria that are hugely important for your health, and Bifidobacteria are one of the most important types for lifelong well-being.
They carry out a number of important functions, including digesting the sugars in breast milk in infants, and controlling the immune system and gut health in adults.
Bifidobacteria probiotics may even help treat symptoms of certain disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease.
The best way to increase levels of these beneficial bacteria in the gut is to eat a wide range of fiber-rich fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and fermented foods.