Considered amongst the most beneficial commensal bacteria in the human gut, Bifidobacterium spp. are able to degrade monosaccharides, galacto-, manno-, and fructo-oligosaccharides, as well as some complex carbohydrates. Many of the non-digestible oligosaccharides, found as natural components in mother’s milk, select for colonization of these species which dominate the infant gut shortly after birth.
Bifidobacteria may provide health benefits directly through interactions with the host, and indirectly through interactions with other microorganisms. Bifidobacterium spp. take part in production and adsorption of vitamins, such as vitamins K and B12, biotin, folate, thiamine, riboflavin, and pyridoxine.
They are also involved in lipid absorption and metabolism, glucose and energy homeostasis, and regulating intestinal barrier function.
Although Bifidobacterium produce acetate over butyrate, healthy levels of Bifidobacterium spp. facilitate colonization of Faecalibacterium. prausnitzii. Polyphenols derived from chocolate, green tea, blackcurrant, red wine and grape seed extracts have been shown to increase
Bifidobacterium species. The increased abundance of Bifidobacterium species has been associated with amelioration of inflammation.
Multiple published studies have suggested that there is an association between obesity and a lower abundance of bifidobacteria. They may also be less abundant in elderly populations, patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and in individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Patients with active inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) have a lower abundance of Bifidobacterium spp. than patients whose IBD is in remission. Taking a probiotic containing bifidobacteria, lactobacilli, and streptococci might help in controlling ulcerative colitis symptoms and preventing their recurrence. Some Bifidobacterium strains have been shown to have beneficial effects in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Bifidobacterium spp. abundance has been shown to be diminished with IBD and with long term use of macrolide antibiotics. Luminal
bifidobacteria is reduced with restriction of fermentable carbohydrates, i.e. a low FODMAP diet. High fat dietary feeding is also associated with reduced abundance of bifidobacteria. Consumption of maize and barley-based whole grain products and red berries, which are comprised of anthocyans, are known to increase levels of bifidobacteria.
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