Bifidobacteria in probiotic foods are said to promote our intestinal health. Find out how healthy they really are and what effect they have on the body here.

Our digestion is a highly complex system. There are around 100 trillion microorganisms in our intestines. They fight off pathogens, strengthen the immune system and provide us with calories from substances that we cannot digest ourselves. Experts recommend strengthening intestinal health in order to prevent various diseases and enable pain-free digestion. Bifidobacteria in the form of probiotic foods should help with this.

In this article, we explain why bifidobacteria are so healthy, what the current state of research is and what you should pay attention to when buying foods containing bifidobacteria.

Bifidobacteria: species and research results

The intestinal flora of an infant consists of about 95 percent bifidobacteria. When people start eating solid food, bifidobacteria only make up about 25 percent of the intestinal flora. The remaining 75 percent is divided among many other microorganisms. Proportionally, bifidobacteria are still the most common microbes. But what positive health effects do bifidobacteria bring with them?

  • Bifidobacteria are lactic acid bacteria just like lactobacilli. However, they are often not mentioned, even though they have the same ability: both produce lactic acid through their complex metabolism. This creates a slightly more acidic environment in the intestine, which weakens harmful bacteria and prevents them from spreading.
  • Bifidobacteria displace pathogenic bacteria. How is that supposed to work? In our intestines, there is a real battle between microorganisms for the docking sites on the intestinal cells. These are vital for the bacteria to live and are extremely important. If bifidobacteria manage to settle there, they block harmful bacterial strains from settling there.
  • Bifidobacteria regularly provide the amino acid tryptophan, which is an essential building block for the production of serotonin. The “happiness hormone” has a significant influence on our mental well-being. Tryptophan is also contained in various foods, but the bifidobacteria can make it available to the body independently.
  • There are several studies on the connection between bifidobacteria and our immune system. Science Aktuell writes about a Korean study: Bifidobacteria increase the production of immune cells in the intestinal wall. These immune cells have an anti-inflammatory effect. This knowledge is particularly interesting for inflammatory bowel diseases.

Bifidobacteria include many subspecies that differ in small differences. The bifidobacteria variants most commonly found in probiotic foods are:

  • Bifidobacteria bifidum
  • Bifidobacteria longum
  • Bifidobacteria lactis subsp. animalis (subsp. means a subspecies)
  • Bifidobacterium animalis
  • Bifidobacterium infantis

Research is still far from reaching the point where every specific bifidobacterium has been fully investigated. Most of the results from studies on one subspecies can also be found in other studies on other bifidobacteria variants. For example, not only the bifidobacterium bifidus is responsible for controlling pathogenic bacteria, but others as well.

The most frequently researched bifidobacterium is B. animalis subsp. lactisA study by the University of Heidelberg is a good example of this. It found that various symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome patients could be alleviated by taking Bifidobacteria lactis subsp. animalis. In particular, the symptoms of flatulence and a bloated stomach were improved in over 60 percent of participants. Furthermore, there are health links between this bifidobacteria strain and the health of babies and healthy cholesterol levels in adults.

Bifidobacteria and a healthy intestinal flora

Bifidobacteria are important for a healthy intestinal flora.
Bifidobacteria are important for a healthy intestinal flora.
(Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / Alicia_Harper)

Bifidobacteria are essential for healthy digestion and a strengthened immune system. Together with other important intestinal bacteria, they prevent impaired Intestinal flora According to studies by various microbiome researchers, an unhealthy intestinal flora can promote obesity, diabetes or depression.

Other diseases have not yet been researched enough to be able to say with certainty that an imbalance in the intestinal bacteria is the cause. However, experiments have repeatedly shown that there are connections. For example, chronic inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis or chronic inflammatory bowel disease are often also said to involve dysbiosis (disturbed intestinal flora). Dysbiosis can manifest itself through a number of symptoms: Flatulencecramps and pain in the abdomen, chronic Diarrhealack of motivation, tiredness or even lactose intolerance. Even headaches, joint and muscle pain can be a sign.

It is not important to have a lot of protective intestinal inhabitants: According to the Ärzteblatt, a high diversity of good microorganisms in the intestine ensures a high resistance to disease. Bifidobacteria are good, but they do not protect us alone.

Bifiobacteria absorbed through food

Many fermented foods also contain bifidobacteria.
Many fermented foods also contain bifidobacteria.
(Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / edwina_mc)

If you want to do something for your intestinal flora, you can choose foods that contain bifobacteria. These are so-called ProbioticsThese are foods and medical preparations that contain viable microorganisms. In addition to bifidobacteria, these also include lactic acid bacteria and yeasts.

Animal milk products in particular contain bifidobacteria:

Other foods containing bifidobacteria are:

  • pickled cucumbers
  • sauerkraut
  • lactic acid fermented beans and carrots

Prebiotics In contrast, these are indigestible food components that serve as food for the healthy bifidobacteria. They promote the growth and activity of the bacteria in the large intestine. Prebiotics are, for example, dietary fiber such as inulin and oligofructose. These substances are found in many types of vegetables. These include, for example:

Buy these foods preferably from organic farming and, if possible, pay attention to regional, seasonal vegetables.

Are preparations containing intestinal bacteria useful?

Artificially administered bifidobacteria and other intestinal bacteria do not always achieve the desired effects.
Artificially administered bifidobacteria and other intestinal bacteria do not always achieve the desired effects.
(Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / stevepb)

Probiotic preparations that contain bifidobacteria and other microorganisms are supposed to help strengthen the intestinal flora. However, once the intestinal flora is out of balance, good bacteria have a hard time establishing themselves. The Neue Zürcher Zeitung reports on a research group at the Weizmann Institute of Sciences that only managed to establish probiotic bacteria in the intestines of 30 to 50 percent of test subjects using preparations.

Another study from 2021 indicates that probiotic preparations can even be harmful if we take them together with antibiotics. The artificially introduced microorganisms can cause antibiotic resistance. The antibiotics taken are then ineffective.

According to Spektrum, anyone who takes too many high-dose probiotic preparations risks an incorrect colonization of various bacteria. This can cause problems such as concentration problems, flatulence and stomach pain.

But there are also positive observations: In one experiment, test subjects who took no antibiotics but only probiotics reduced the Antibiotic resistanceHowever, to achieve this, it is first necessary to establish the microorganisms in the intestine. How this can be ensured and what other effects artificially administered probiotics can have on our body has not yet been clearly clarified scientifically.

Bifidobacteria – helpers or healthwashing?

Bifidobacteria are not only found in advertised products.
Bifidobacteria are not only found in advertised products.
(Photo: / #300146)

Companies often claim that bifidobacteria and other probiotic bacterial strains have healing properties. They mainly promote expensive drinks and yoghurt dishes that are enriched with additional special bacterial strains. According to the consumer advice center, such advertising claims (about individual products) not scientifically proven and therefore may not be used in food. In addition, some of the products, such as enriched yoghurt drinks, often contain a lot of SugarThis makes the positive health effects even more questionable.

In addition, these probiotic drinks are bottled in small plastic bottles and therefore produce a lot of packaging waste. A better alternative is, for example, organic natural yoghurts in reusable jars. After all, any normal yoghurt also contains microorganisms that can strengthen the intestinal flora.

The consumer center also points out the positive effects of sour milk products and lactic acid fermented vegetables. These have “a positive influence on the intestinal flora and thus possibly also on the immune system.”

To a gut-friendly diet However, there is much more to it. The diet should include plenty of vegetables, fruit, whole grain products and legumes. Getting enough fluids and exercise are also important. However, you will not achieve any significant effects in the long term by using just one expensive product a day.

Conclusion: How healthy are bifidobacteria?

“For healthy people, it is usually enough […] “A balanced diet with vegetables and whole grain products is enough to keep the microbiome in balance,” says nutritionist Matthias Riedl in an interview with NDR. So you can stay healthy without artificially produced preparations and enriched foods. High-dose preparations with bifidobacteria in particular can even have a negative effect. Therefore, always seek medical advice before integrating certain nutritional supplements into your diet.

In order to avoid damaging your intestinal flora, you should establish a healthy lifestyle. This includes avoiding stress, taking as few antibiotics as possible and only consuming sugar and alcohol in moderation. Probiotic and prebiotic foods can also help you in a natural way.


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