In this article, I want to talk a little about one of my favourite bacterial species (well…aren’t they all), Bifidobacteria. It’s the most predominant bacteria in the large bowel. Researchers have identified 48 species of Bifido, four of the best studied and beneficial strains are in our Kultured Wellness yoghurt and kefir. Bifido has been well studied which means we know a few things about Bifido, we know its benefits and how to use it. So I’m going to review a little of what research has shown us about our friend Bifido, how to use it, what it does for us and how to increase your own ‘indigenous’ population of Bifidobacterium.
Firstly, let me say, Bifido is so very cool as a bacteria. It’s category or ‘phyla’ – this means the large family of bacteria it belongs to, is Actinobacteria. These are gram-positive bacteria and anaerobic bacteria. What does that mean? It means that they thrive in an environment without oxygen (ie. our bowel).
Gram-positive versus gram-negative bacteria
It’s important to know the difference between these two categories of bacteria. Even though we do have beneficial gram-negative bacteria in our gut, we want to encourage those gram-positive ones. The main reason here is that the membrane coating each gram-negative cell has a structural component called ‘Lipopolysaccharides’ or LPS for short. In a nutshell, LPS are deeply inflammatory for the human body. They stimulate the release of inflammation you markers such as cytokines, tumour necrosis factor and interleukins (that basically just means lots of inflammation in the body). High levels of LPS have been found in the blood of people with gut dysbiosis. Overgrowth of gram-negative bacteria means that as they die they release the toxic LPS into your gut.
Basically, we want to build up a strong community of gram-positive bacteria such as Bifido – not only does it have health benefits but it keeps those damaging pathogens in check.
Little Humans & Bifido
One of the most cool and fascinating things about Bifido is the amounts of it we find in the infant's gut. So from birth up until the age of about two, the gut can have up to 88%, varying studies show different amounts, but basically, a lot! You have to ask yourself here, why does the infant gut have a bucket load of Bifido? Well, its able to digest the sugars from mums breast milk. Have you heard that a large component of breast milk is there to feed bubs microbiome? Those sugars are net there just for energy – this isn’t about energy in equals energy out and the old defunct calories concept. This is about feeding up your babies microbiome. And what are they feeding up? Bifido! Bifidobacterium in such large amounts in the infant gut tells us how crucial it is in human health. This is a time when the brain is developing, the immune system is developing, learning is happening at a mind blowing rate. And all the time, Bifido is in the gut in large amounts. So lets take a look at what Bifidobacterium does for our adult microbiome.
Depression and anxiety
People with depression have been shown to have lower levels of Bifido in their gut. When Bifido is low, pathogenic gram negative bacteria often predominate and the LPS rich pathogens also correlate with depression. Some strains of Bifidobacterium produce GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid) which is connected with mood, sleep, anxiety, ADHD and relaxation. Here is a little link to a simple explanation of GABA.
Other neurotransmitters that help mood such as serotonin are more abundant in healthy microbiome with a good concentration of Bifido. Strains of Bifido including Bifidobacterium longum and Bifidobacterium infantis are shown to positively influence mood and can be found in our cultures.
Colonisation Resistance – maintains pH in the colon
I love this about all of our beneficial microbial strains. When you have a robust healthy microbiome with plenty of beneficial Bifido, you have protection against pathogenic microbes setting up shop in your gut. If you do have pathogenic strains, they are less likely to move on in and take over. The Bifido keeps them at bay. One of the very cool ways it does this is to affect the pH of the colon. High levels of Bifido help to keep gut slightly more acidic. When the gut environment is acidic, pathogenic bacteria, virus’ and fungi cannot take hold. Many pathogens such as candida love an alkaline environment, in fact, pathogenic microbes in the gut can tone down the amount of acid you produce to create themselves a more comfy home. When Bifidobacterium is at work, it can keep the pH where our body really needs it. The main product Bifido makes (called metabolites) is acetate, and this is where the beautiful synergy of the gut microbiome kicks in…acetate is a food source for many other of our beneficial microbes which make butyrate. They then eat the acetate and grow and thrive. This increases the acetate eating, butyrate making microbes and helps acidify the colon, protecting us against pathogens.
Another mechanism of colonisation resistance is by influencing the immune system. Bifido has been shown to regulate our immune system, and the gut lining has many immune factors that identify and kill off pathogens when they enter the gut. Basically, Bifido helps refine and improves your immune systems response to threats.
Finally Bifido has a strong ability to adhere firmly to the gut wall, meaning, in basic terms, that you cant budge it out of the way to make room for pathogens. Like a tenant, you can get out of the house – except in this case you don’t want to.
Protects against gut damage
Love this one, healing the gut lining is always such a key factor in gut health, but preventing damage in the first place would be so much better. One example is commonly used medications such as non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs. They can damage the gut lining and Bifido protects the gut against this damage. This is so important as we are exposed to so many environmental toxins that can damage the gut wall.
Aids in the healing of leaky gut
Bifido has been shown to help with leaky gut. It improves the integrity of the gut wall by restoring those tight junctions. Tight junctions are a collection of proteins that ‘glue’ or ‘knit’ the cells of the gut wall together. Healthy functional tight junctions are so crucial for preventing endotoxins and other materials like partially digested food, bacteria and LPS passing through into the bloodstream. Bifido will help restore the mucosa of the gut lining as well, creating an ideal environment for our beneficial microbes to be thrive.
Nutrition - vitamin production
Bifido can make a lot of vitamins for us. Of course, we get a lot of nutrition from good foods. We also get a lot from our amazing healthy microbiome. Bifido makes many B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B6, folate and biotin) and vitamin K. We can address vitamin deficiencies by really enhancing the health of our microbiome.
What would low Bifido look like?
After having read about all the amazing functions of Bifidobacterium in your gut, I’m sure you can kind of guess how you might feel with low Bifido.
This would include:
- Possible increased incidence of depression and anxiety
- Impairment of the immune system
- Increased risk of gut infections
- Increased risk of leaky gut – aches, pain, brain fog, appetite dysregulation, increased risk of diabetes, inflammation, Alzheimer's, vascular disease, autoimmune disease.
- Poorer nutrition – fatigue, hunger, brain fog
- Inflammation within the gut and the entire body
Bifido Building Basics - Foods that build Bifido
All the tasty foods that nourish us build our Bifido populations.
- Kultured Wellness kefir and yoghurt to keep up your Bifido intake. When you’ve managed infections and move onto feeding up your microbiome, you can build your indigenous Bifido populations. Having said that, dietary intake of Bifido through the cultures should also be a long-term strategy for a healthy Bifido population.
- Polyphenol rich foods are amazing here - purple carrots, berries, almonds, black currants, raw cacao.
- Prebiotic foods like brassicas, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach.
- Green tea is great to build Bifido.
- Resistant starches such as cooked and cooled sweet potato or rice.
- Oligosaccharide rich foods such as garlic, onion, leek, asparagus and globe artichoke.
** If you are dealing with infections and maintaining a lower carbohydrate diet it can be harder to get some of these in without feeding your pathogens.
There are some people who can have extinct Bifidobacterium species. If you retest your stool you should get an idea if you’ve managed to rebuild your own population.
Finally, I want to link you into two recipes that are great for building Bifido. Now you know that any recipe with the beautiful kefir or yoghurt will help bolster your Bifido.
- Gut Bifidobacteria Populations in Human Health and Aging
- Probiotic Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001 Reduces Depression Scores and Alters Brain Activity: A Pilot Study in Patients With Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Bifidobacteria modulate cognitive processes in an anxious mouse strain
- The Gut-Brain Axis: The Missing Link in Depression
- Interaction of dietary compounds, especially polyphenols, with the intestinal microbiota: a review
- Bifidobacteria-Host Interactions—An Update on Colonisation Factors
- Protection and Restitution of Gut Barrier by Probiotics: Nutritional and Clinical Implications