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...
- Constipation. Some early research shows that taking a specific Bifidobacterium breve product (Yakult Co., Japan) can reduce constipation in children 3-16 years of age. Also, most research shows that mixing Bifidobacterium longum BB536 with milk or yogurt and taking the mixture daily for 2 weeks increases the number of bowel movements in adults prone to constipation. However, taking this same strain of Bifidobacterium for 16 weeks does not seem to reduce constipation in elderly adults receiving nutrition with a feeding tube.
- Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection. Taking bifidobacteria along with other probiotic bacteria strains seems to reduce side effects of treatment for the ulcer-causing bacterium Helicobacter pylori.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Taking Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 (Align or Bifantis, Proctor & Gamble) for 8 weeks seems to reduce symptoms of IBS. However, it does not seem to increase bowel movements. Taking a specific product containing species of Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, and Streptococcus (VSL#3) seems to decrease bloating in people with IBS.
- A type of infection in the lining of the intestine caused by bacteria (necrotizing enterocolitis; NEC). Taking Bifidobacterium infantis along with another bacterium called Lactobacillus acidophilus seems to help prevent NEC in critically ill infants.
- A complication after surgery for ulcerative colitis called pouchitis. Taking a specific product containing a combination of Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, and Streptococcus (VSL#3) by mouth seems to help prevent pouchitis after surgery for ulcerative colitis.
- Lung infections. Some research suggests that taking a specific combination product containing Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium (HOWARU Protect) with milk helps reduce symptoms of fever, cough, runny nose, and decreases 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. Also, eating food containing Bifidobacterium longum BB536 for 3 weeks before getting a flu shot and for 14 weeks thereafter seems to help prevent the flu in elderly people.
- Diarrhea in infants (rotaviral diarrhea). Taking Bifidobacterium bifidum seems to help prevent rotaviral diarrhea when used with other bacteria such as Streptococcus thermophiles or Bifidobacterium Bb12.
- Traveler's diarrhea. Taking Bifidobacterium seems to help prevent traveler’s diarrhea when used with other bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, or Streptococcus thermophilus.
- Ulcerative colitis. Research suggests that taking specific products containing combinations of Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, and Streptococcus (VSL#3) or Bifidobacterium breve, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and Lactobacillus acidophilus (Yakult Co., Japan) helps control symptoms and prevent their recurrence in people with ulcerative colitis.
Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for...
- Diarrhea caused by antibiotics. So far, some studies have found Bifidobacterium effective for this use, but other study results have not agreed.
- Scaly, itchy skin (eczema). Some research shows that giving Bifidobacterium lactis by mouth reduces eczema severity in infants. However, giving Bifidobacterium along with Lactobacillus does not seem to prevent eczema in infants with a family history of the condition.
- Infections related to chemotherapy treatment. Early research suggests that taking specific products containing Bifidobacterium longum and Lactobacillus acidophilus (Morinaga Bifidus) or Bifidobacterium infantis, Lactobacillus acidophilus, and Enterococcus faecalis (Levenin) does not prevent Candida infection in people with leukemia who are undergoing chemotherapy.
- High cholesterol. Early research suggests that taking milk containing Lactobacillus acidophilus 145 and Bifidobacterium longum BB536 reduces “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in people with high cholesterol. However, it also seems to reduce “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.
- Infant development. Giving formula containing Bifidobacterium longum BL999 plus prebiotics, or giving Bifidobacterium longum BB536 plus Lactobacillus rhamnosus or Lactobacillus paracasei, does not seem to improve growth in infants. However, drinking milk containing Bifidobacterium longum BB536, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, prebiotics, and fatty acids seems to increase weight gain in toddlers.
- Japanese cedar pollen allergy. Some research suggests that taking Bifidobacterium longum BB536 during pollen season might reduce nose and eye symptoms of Japanese cedar pollen allergy. However, some conflicting evidence exists. Also, this strain of bifidobacteria does not seem to reduce sneezing or throat symptoms associated with Japanese cedar pollen allergy.
- Preventing infections after exposure to radiation. Early research suggests 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.
- Common cold and flu (influenza).
- Liver problems.
- Lactose intolerance.
- Breast pain, possibly due to infection (mastitis).
- Stomach problems.
- Replacing beneficial bacteria removed by diarrhea.
- Lyme disease.
- Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate bifidobacteria for these uses.
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.
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 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.
Be cautious with this combination.
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.
There are no known interactions with herbs and supplements.
There are no known interactions with foods.
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:
- 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.
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.
To learn more about how this article was written, please see the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database methodology.methodology (//www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/methodology.html).
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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