A passing familiarity with health foods and supplements likely means a passing familiarity with probiotics, and the workhorses that these supplements claim to be. From supporting general health, to being used to target specific gut-based conditions, probiotics have been enjoying a great deal of publicity and attention. This attention is given for good reason: probiotics have been linked to a truly vast range of health benefits and improvements to existing disorders, conditions, and diseases. What makes this particular strain so special?
Although the term "probiotics" is familiar, fewer people are familiar with the different types of bacteria most commonly found in food and supplements, alike. Bifidobacterium is one such strain, and this particular type of bacteria has been linked to a slew of specific health benefits and needs. Before we dive into why bifidobacterium is so significant, let's first define exactly what this particular strain of probiotic is.
What is Bifidus?
Bifidus is a specific species of probiotic, or the beneficial bacteria that can be found in fermented foods. The word "bifidus" is a shortening of bifidobacterium. This type of bacteria is naturally found in the digestive systems of human beings, animals, mammals, and birds, and is considered a healthy bacteria, or a bacteria capable of improving human health. Although the intestinal tracts of living things are filled with a truly limitless number of bacterial and fungal species, there are some species in particular that are considered vital in order to maintain a healthy balance of gut flora, and bifidus falls within this category.
Health Benefits of Bifidus
Bifidus has numerous health benefits, all stemming from its positive effects in the digestive system. Whether you are discussing the health of an infant gut microbiota or discussing how to ward off urinary tract infections, bifidus and other beneficial bacteria strains can have immense positive impacts on human (and animal) health. These include, but are not limited to the following:
- Improvements to the immune system. The immune system was once something of a mystery, but as human health has been more thoroughly studied, healthcare professionals and scientists have come to realize that the immune system resides primarily in the gut. By supporting gut health, you are supporting immune health.
- Improvements to digestive health. Although daily bowel movements are often jokingly attributed to an individual's morning cup of coffee, it is true that a healthy and robust digestive system is vital to ensure health elsewhere in the body. It is through the digestive tract that nutrients from food are absorbed, unneeded waste is eliminated, and inflammation and damage are evaluated. Improving digestive health can mean more effectively breaking food down into necessary and bioavailable nutrient content, and generally improving health.
- Reduced blood pressure and cholesterol. Bifidus has been shown to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels, thereby strengthening heart health and decreasing the likelihood of adverse cardiac events.
- Prevention of eczema and acute diarrhea. Eczema is considered an autoimmune disorder, and by supporting immune and digestive health, you may be supporting the body's defenses against upswings in eczema symptoms. At the same time, you can avoid experiencing the onset of acute diarrhea, by supporting digestive and immune health.
- Reduction of irritable bowel syndrome symptoms. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a complicated syndrome that can be exacerbated by several seemingly unrelated issues, including anxiety disorders and physical stress. The inclusion of bifidus bacteria in your diet can help reduce the onset of IBS symptoms, and lessen the severity of symptoms if they do arise.
- Resolution of gastroenteritis, or what is commonly called the "stomach flu." Although gastroenteritis is in no way related to actual influenza, the stomach flu is a common affliction that can be helped by eating bifidus-rich foods. While beneficial bacteria may not completely eliminate symptoms, fermented foods can help symptoms resolve more quickly.
- Relief from constipation. Probiotic strains have been linked to improvements in acute and chronic diarrhea, but they have also been linked to improvements in symptoms of constipation. While constipation has plenty of origins, including a simple lack of adequate fluid intake, constipation can also be linked to inadequate nutrient absorption and other issues that can be helped by the use of herbal products and foods containing bifidus.
- Weight loss support. Although consuming probiotics alone cannot mitigate the effects of overweight and obesity, probiotics like bifidus can help support weight loss efforts. This is thought to be a result of improved digestion, reduced inflammation, and improved overall health and digestion.
- Easing stomach ulcer symptoms and development. Stomach ulcers are autoimmune reactions wherein a portion of the stomach essentially begins to attack itself. Ulcers can cause a great deal of pain and discomfort, and resolution of the condition can be difficult or accompanied by medications with unpleasant side effects. Some studies have suggested that probiotics like bifidus can have positive effects on stomach ulcers when used in conjunction with standard treatment methods by helping balance the colonies of bacteria in the gut.
What foods have Bifidus?
The health food industry often makes a great deal of pomp about putting the presence of bifidus on the product label, but many foods that you might not initially consider a health product have bifidus without overt labeling that declares the presence of this beneficial bacteria. Some of the more common foods containing bifidus include:
- Yogurt and fermented milk products. Yogurt is the most commonly consumed fermented milk product that is used to positively impact the gut microbiota, but other fermented milk products can also contain boons to intestinal microbiota.
- Kefir and sour milk have also been known to carry strains of bifidus. These products differ from yogurt in the way that they are cultured. Sour milk, for instance, is quite literally just set out and cultured using the warmth of someone's surroundings. Kefir is cultured using a small mass of "grains," or a bacterial mass that is placed into a fresh container of milk, where the milk is then transformed into a thicker product called kefir, which is often used as a support for intestinal microbiota.
- Buttermilk is created by straining the liquid left over after milk has been churned to create butter. Buttermilk can either be used immediately following the formation of butter, or can be further fermented to create a richer, more tangy flavor to accompany the lighter taste of butter. Buttermilk is not often associated with helping ailments like ulcerative colitis, but does have the potential to possess beneficial bacteria.
- Fermented foods have been consumed in virtually all human cultures for thousands of years. From the ubiquitous yogurt to the more regionally centered products like kimchi and sauerkraut. Fermented foods are considered so valuable for the intestinal microbiota because they are intentionally cultured to develop different strains of beneficial bacteria, which are then directly introduced into the intestinal tract. Fermented foods are often used by people who might have allergic reactions to milk products and are therefore unable to enjoy the benefits of foods like kefir and yogurt.
- Like the other food items listed, sourdough bread is developed using beneficial bacteria. While a healthcare professional is unlikely to prescribe a diet including sourdough bread as part of supporting a healthy intestinal tract, the bacteria found in sourdough bread is extremely active. Unlike other breads, which rely on yeast for their rise and expansion, sourdough relies entirely on the swelling brought about by those bacterial colonies growing in the flour, salt, and water used to make up sourdough and makes the bread more easily digested.
Bifidobacterium can be consumed as a bifidus supplement or as a type of food, but many prefer to use bifidus supplements in order to measure and be sure of the amount of beneficial bacteria being consumed. Typically, this supplement is offered in the form of either a tablet or a powder. Powders are often included in smoothies and morning juice, or they can be placed into a simple glass of water and imbibed.
The standard oral dosage is usually up to 12.5 billion colony-forming units (or CFUs) daily, for up to 6 weeks for acute issues. Bifidobacterium can be consumed in conjunction with other probiotic strains in order to double up on protection, or create a stronger colony of this particular type of bacteria.
Bifidus Side Effects and Interactions
The side effects and interactions associated with bifidobacterium include stomach bloating and discomfort, though these may be minor. Side effects and potential harm are worse for those who are lactose intolerant or allergic to milk, as bifidobacterium has been known to produce lactase. Antibiotic use also prohibits the use of probiotics during the course of treatment, as antibiotics effectively destroy all bacteria, including beneficial bacteria, and the probiotic supplement will not be able to complete its purpose.
Some have found it useful to start taking probiotics in half doses to work up to the full recommended dosage, to alleviate any stomach bloating or discomfort. This can be done for a few days or a few weeks, and dosages can drop down again if bloating or discomfort persists. While truly adverse reactions in the absence of allergies are rare, not all bodies respond well to probiotic treatment, and discussing supplement regimens with your doctor is always advised.