Bifidobacteria are a group of bacteria called probiotics that normally live in your intestines and stomach. They help your body perform essential functions such as digestion and staving off harmful bacteria.
One species, named Bifidobacterium bifidum (B. bifidum), has gotten a lot of media attention as being potentially beneficial to health. Are there any actual positive health effects for eating this bacterium? Moreover, is it safe for human consumption?
Here’s the most up-to-date research on B. bifidum, where you can find it, and who it is and isn’t safe for.
What are the benefits of B. bifidum?
Probiotics such as B. bifidum have exploded in popularity recently. However, research into B. bifidum has been limited. There aren’t many high-quality studies showing its effects on treating clinical conditions.
That said, several high-quality studies on the bacterium do exist that suggest B. bifidum shows promise in treating the following conditions:
- infection by Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori)
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- restoration of intestinal bacteria after chemotherapy
- lung infections
- ulcerative colitis
- certain kinds of diarrhea
- necrotizing enterocolitis, a type of infection in the intestinal lining caused by harmful bacteria
- pouchitis, a complication of surgery for ulcerative colitis
Research is conflicting, inconsistent, or weak for using B. bifidum to treat the following conditions:
- infections related to chemotherapy
- high LDL cholesterol (aka the “bad” cholesterol)
- low HDL cholesterol (aka the “good” cholesterol)
- infant development
- liver problems
- stomach problems
- breast pain
What does the research say?
Multiple research studies indicate that B. bifidum is helpful in the following areas.
Symptoms of IBS
A 2011 randomized control trial of 122 people indicates that B. bifidum may help lower symptoms of IBS. In it, researchers provided 62 people a placebo and 60 others a tablet containing B. bifidum each day. After four weeks, about 47 percent of subjects taking the probiotic reported significant relief from symptoms, while only 11 percent of subjects taking the placebo did.
Another study involving human tissue samples also suggests that B. bifidum may play a helpful role in containing symptoms of IBS.
More high-quality clinical trials in humans are needed to prove B. bifidum’s role, but these results are promising.
Several studies on human tissue cells indicate that B. bifidum might improve immunity. Researchers in one study noted that different strains of these bacteria have the ability to influence the immune system. Some can boost immunity by recruiting white blood cells to fight off an infection. Others can reduce inflammation by recruiting fewer white blood cells.
More clinical trials on human subjects are needed to evaluate the value of B. bifidum on the immune system.
Eczema in infants
Eczema is itchy scaly patches of skin. A randomized trial of 112 pregnant women suggest that B. bifidum may play a role in preventing eczema in their babies. In the study, researchers provided mothers with a family history of eczema either a placebo pill or pill of B. bifidum four to eight weeks prior to giving birth. After birth, researchers provided infants one tablet of B. bifidum per day for six months. About 18.2 percent of the infants who took the B. bifidum tablet had eczema. In contrast, about 40.0 percent of infants in the placebo group had eczema.
The results of this study are promising, but more research is needed.
Where to find this probiotic?
Like other probiotic bacteria, B. bifidum can be produced outside your body and ingested orally. Certain foods are abundant in it, including:
- yogurt with added cultures
- kefir, a fermented milk drink
- fermented foods including kimchi, tempeh, miso, and pickles
- cured meats
- certain wines
- sourdough bread
- some vinegars
Manufacturers sell tablets of B. bifidum that you can take orally. The quality of these products can vary considerably, and it’s important to evaluate where you get your supplement. We recommend using the website labdoor.com to find a trusted source of probiotics and check the expiry dates.
How much can you take?
Due to lack of research and regulation, there isn’t an agreed-upon amount of B. bifidum you should take. You should consult with the manufacturer of your specific supplement or talk with your doctor before taking it.
Are there any risks or warnings for this probiotic?
Research so far suggests use is safe for most children and adults with normal, healthy immune systems minus a few potential side effects. Research has documented several reported cases of severe infection due to probiotic consumption. However, these people had weakened immune systems.
There are certain groups that should be cautious when taking B. bifidum.
People with weakened immune systems
Doctors and scientists have some concerns that probiotic bacteria may grow too quickly in people with weak immune systems. This can possibly lead to infections.
This hasn’t been documented specifically in people taking B. Bifidum. However, it has occurred in people supplementing with other probiotic bacteria. Examples of conditions that weaken the immune system include HIV and AIDS and undergoing chemotherapy to treat cancer.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
There is minimal research on the effects of probiotics on pregnant women and recent mothers. So it’s best they avoid potential complications and pass on the B. Bifidum.
Older adults should avoid taking probiotics. This is because this group is typically more sensitive to complications.
Other health conditions
A 2015 research study on probiotics suggests that people with short bowel syndrome or heart valve disorders are at higher risk of infections from probiotic bacteria. Premature infants may also be at higher risk.
You should also check with your doctor before taking B. bifidum if you’re taking prescription medications.
The bottom line
Early studies on B. bifidum show promise that it can treat health conditions, especially IBS, unregulated immunity, and eczema. However, more high-quality studies are needed to examine the effects of B. bifidum. This probiotic is safe for most healthy adults to use daily. Consult with your doctor and stop immediately if you experience side effects.