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Bifidobacteria


What is it?

Bifidobacteria are a group of bacteria that normally live in the intestines. They can be grown outside the body and then taken by mouth as medicine.

Bifidobacteria are used for many conditions affecting the intestines, including preventing diarrhea in infants and children; as well as traveler’s diarrhea in adults. Some people take bifidobacteria to restore “good bacteria” in the gut that have been killed or removed by diarrhea, radiation, chemotherapy, antibiotics, or other causes. Bifidobacteria are also used to treat a bowel disease called ulcerative colitis, as well as a condition called pouchitis, which sometimes develops after surgery for ulcerative colitis. Some people use Bifidobacteria to prevent a particular bowel infection called necrotizing enterocolitis in newborns.

Other uses for Bifidobacteria include treating a skin condition in infants called atopic eczema, yeast infections (candidiasis), cold, flu, reducing flu-like symptoms in children attending day-care centers, breast pain (mastitis), hepatitis, lactose intolerance, mumps, Lyme disease, and cancer. These bacteria are also used to boost the immune system and lower cholesterol.

How effective is it?

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...

  • Prevention of a type of infection in the lining of the intestine caused by bacteria (necrotizing enterocolitis), when used in combination with another bacterium called Lactobacillus acidophilus.
  • Prevention of diarrhea in infants (rotaviral diarrhea), when used with another bacterium called Streptococcus thermophilus.
  • Prevention of traveler's diarrhea, when used with other bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, or Streptococcus thermophilus.
  • Treating a skin condition in infants called atopic eczema.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
  • Preventing a complication after surgery for ulcerative colitis called pouchitis.
  • Reducing side effects of treatment for the ulcer-causing bacterium Helicobacter pylori.
  • Ulcerative colitis. Some research suggests that taking a specific combination product containing bifidobacteria, lactobacillus, and streptococcus might help control symptoms and prevent their recurrence.
  • Lung infections. Some research suggests that taking a specific combination product containing Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium (HOWARU Protect) with milk might help reduce symptoms of fever, cough, runny nose, and decrease the amount of antibiotics needed in children. It may also shorten how long children have symptoms and decrease the number of days missed from daycare.

Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for...

  • Common cold and flu (influenza).
  • Diarrhea caused by antibiotics. So far, some studies have found Bifidobacterium effective for this use, but other study results have not agreed.
  • Liver problems.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Lactose intolerance.
  • Breast pain, possibly due to infection (mastitis).
  • Mumps.
  • Cancer.
  • Stomach problems.
  • Replacing beneficial bacteria removed by diarrhea.
  • Chemotherapy.
  • Lyme disease.
  • Constipation. Some preliminary research shows that taking a specific Bifidobacterium breve product (Yakult Co., Japan) can reduce constipation in children 3-16 years of age.
  • Preventing infections after exposure to radiation. There is preliminary evidence that antibiotic-resistant Bifidobacterium longum 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.
  • Aging.
  • Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate bifidobacteria for these uses.

How does it work?

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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.

Are there safety concerns?

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

Special precautions & warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Not enough is known about the use of bifidobacteria during pregnancy and 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.

Are there interactions with medications?

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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.

Are there interactions with herbs and supplements?

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There are no known interactions with herbs and supplements.

Are there interactions with foods?

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There are no known interactions with foods.

What dose is used?

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The strength of bifidobacteria preparations is usually quantified by the number of living organisms per dose. The following doses have been studied in scientific research:

BY MOUTH:
  • For irritable bowel syndrome: 1 billion cells of Bifidobacterium infantis daily in a malted milk drink.
  • For lung infections in children: 120 mL of milk twice daily containing 5 billion colony forming units each of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium contained in a specific product (HOWARU Protect, Danisco).
  • For chronic pouchitis: a dose of 600 billion bacteria consisting of species of Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Streptococcus (VSL#3) given once daily.
  • For Helicobacter pylori treatment: a dose of 5 billion bacteria consisting of Bifidobacterium lactis and Lactobacillus acidophilus once daily.
  • For constipation: 1-100 billion cells of a specific Bifidobacterium breve powder (Yakult Co., Japan) once daily.
  • For ulcerative colitis:
    • 100 mL per day of a specific fermented milk product (Yakult Co., Japan) containing at least 10 billion live Bifidobacterium breve, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and Lactobacillus acidophilus strains per dose has been used.
    • 3 grams of a specific combination probiotic containing living freeze-dried bacteria species including lactobacillus, bifidobacteria, and streptococcus (VSL#3) twice daily has also been used.

Other names

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B. Bifidum, B. Breve, B. Infantis, B. lactis, B. Longum, Bifido, Bifido Bacterium Longum, Bifidobacterias, Bifidobactérie, Bifidobactéries, Bifidobacterium, Bifidobacterium adolescentis; Bifidobacterium animalis, Bifidobacterium bifidum; Bifidobacterium breve; Bifidobacterium infantis; Bifidobacterium lactis; Bifidobacterium longum, Bifidum, Bifidus, Bifidus Brevis, Bifidus Infantis, Bifidus Longum, Bifidobacteria Bifidus, Lactobacillus Bifidus, L. Bifidus, Probiotic, Probiotique.

Methodology

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To learn more about how this article was written, please see the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database methodology.methodology (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/methodology.html).

References

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To see all references for the Bifidobacteria page, please go to http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/891.html.

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Page last updated: 08 September 2014