Gut Check

Bacterial Spotlight: All About Bifidobacteria

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There are trillions of bacteria that reside in the body. Bifidobacteria is found in the colon too. Some of the good bacteria in the colon help break down dietary fibre into vitamins and short chain fatty acids that are essential for the body. 

But what exactly are bifidobacteria, and what do they do? You’ve come to the right place to find out!

What is Bifidobacteria?

‘Bifidobacteria’ is the term given to a group of bacteria that are responsible for digestion, production of vitamins, and infection prevention. They were one of the first microbes to establish themselves in the digestive tract, namely the large intestine. Bifidobacterium bifidum are one particular species of bifidobacteria that have shown great health benefits.

Since the properties of this bacteria have proved to be beneficial to an individual, it has the  potential to be used in our food, right?

Fun fact: IT IS! Read more about its uses and relevance below.

What is its relevance?

Bifidobacteria are generally incorporated in foods as active ingredients – as probiotics. Bifidobacteria, in particular, help to fight off harmful bacteria in the gut, all while digesting dietary fibre and producing vitamins such as vitamin B6 (that helps with metabolism, creating blood cells, and keeping cells healthy) and vitamin K (that helps in blood clotting and healing of wounds).

Probiotic Properties of Bifidobacteria

Bifidobacteria are tolerant to digestive stress, as they are required to survive in the intestinal environment. They can adapt to the increasing concentration of bile salts in the gut, which is an important property as the beneficial effects of good bacteria have to be generated in the presence of bile salts.

What happens during gut disease/infection?

When an individual is suffering from a gut disease or infection, the levels of Bifidobacteria are low. The number of bad bacteria in the gut is higher than the number of good bacteria, and hence health is compromised. A decrease in good bacteria in the gut can also lead to several diseases and infections. The restoration of good bacteria can be done through a faecal microbiota transplant (FMT). In this way, a balance in the digestive tract can be achieved – the gut microbiota is restored. Consuming foods rich in probiotics will ensure there is enough good bacteria in the gut.

Uses of Bifidobacteria

Bifidobacteria can be effective for a number of health issues. Some of them are listed below:

  • Constipation: occurs when poop becomes difficult to pass. Some strains of Bifidobacteria can help increase bowel movements.
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): is a disorder that affects the large intestine. It is chronic, which means its effects are long-lasting and persistent. Some strains of bifidobacteria can reduce symptoms of IBS such as stomach pain, bloating and anxiety.
  • Ulcerative Colitis (UC): is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes ulcers in the lining of the large intestine. Probiotics that contain bifidobacteria, and other types of good bacteria such as lactobacillus and streptococcus, can increase the rate of reduction of the disease by two-fold in those with active UC.

The colon is the longest part of the large intestine.

Short chain fatty acids are substances produced as a result of the digestion of dietary fibre in the digestive tract. These substances are called metabolites i.e products of a metabolic reaction.

Probiotic is the name given to live bacteria (and yeast) that are good for your digestive tract and keep your gut healthy.

Faecal Microbiota Transplant (FMT) is a procedure whereby stool from a healthy donor is placed into the digestive tract of a patient to treat chronic illnesses and gastrointestinal diseases, and restore gut microbiota.

The gut microbiota or gut microbiome refers to all the microorganisms (bacteria, archaea, and fungi)  that reside in the digestive tract. Bifidobacteria work by altering the gut microbiota. It does this by counteracting environmental challenges that therefore, restore gut homeostasis. 

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About the author

Shreya Nair is a Year 3 student majoring in Biomedical Engineering at NUS. She is passionate about advancing healthcare through the engineering of medical devices and aspires to enter the field of Research and Development in the future. She has been a part of various projects in university that aim to improve pre-existing medical devices, such as devices aiding in the administration of insulin and the improvement of the heart-lung machine. Five years down the line, she sees herself pursuing a Masters degree in Biotechnology.

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