Did you know that your body contains about the same number of bacteria as it does human cells? Not quite the widely touted 10:1 ratio of 10 bacteria per 1 human cell. However, that is still quite an impressive number!
One very important bacterium is Bacterium longum. This beneficial bacterium is important for a healthy gut.
As a naturopath, I have treated many people whose health issues can be traced back to the gut. However, the range of benefits of Bifidobacterium longum extends beyond gut-linked health issues.
In this article, I will explain how gut bacteria affect your health, explain what Bifidobacterium longum is, and how it works to protect your gut. I will also discuss its wide range of health benefits. So dig in and read on!
How Gut Bacteria Can Affect Your Health
Collectively, we refer to the microbes such as bacteria, fungi and viruses that live in and on your body as your microbiota. Most of these microbes are found in your gut and are referred to as your gut microbiome. There are up to 1,000 different species of bacteria in your gut microbiome.
The majority of these are “good bacteria”, while the rest are “bad bacteria”; bacteria that may cause havoc on your body if they overrun your good bacteria.
Good gut bacteria are extremely important for your wellbeing. They make vitamins and amino acids and prevent the bad bacteria from overrunning your body. They are also important for the health of your immune system and brain.
On the other hand, when the bad bacteria overrun your good bacteria, you may be more at risk of developing colon cancer, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and even becoming overweight or obese!
For more on how gut bacteria can affect your health, feel free to read my article!
What is Bifidobacterium longum?
Bifidobacterium longum is a probiotic bacteria found in the gut of humans and most animals and insects. It was first isolated more than a century ago from human faeces. It soon gained the reputation of being associated with gut health since breast-milk fed babies have them in greater numbers than formula-fed babies.
It is shaped like a rod and is known as a gram-positive bacteria, meaning that it stains blue when a Gram stain is added to it. One way to test for this bacteria is to see if it contains the enzyme P6PPK, fructose-6-phosphate phosphoketolase since it is the only gram-positive gut bacteria that contains this enzyme. Another key feature of this bacteria is that it contains plasmids, unlike other gram-positive bacteria in the gut.
Bifidobacterium longum is one of the most important probiotic bacteria in humans since it provides various health benefits. As a result, it is often added to food to provide additional health benefits.
Bifidobacterium longum is made up of 3 subspecies: longum, infantis, and suis.
How does Bifidobacterium longum (B. longum) work?
B. longum and Gut health
B. longum is very important in maintaining the health of your gut. This is because it is able to withstand gastric acid and bile. As a result, it can survive the harsh environment of your stomach and get rid of the bad bacteria and other pathogens in your gut.
How B. longum works to protect your gut
- It prevents the latching of bad bacteria
In order for the bad bacteria to cause any harm, they have to latch onto the cells in your gut. B. longum works by latching onto the cells in your gut so that the bad bacteria have nothing to latch onto. If you have a healthy gut, most of the cells in your gut will have B. longum or other good bacteria latched onto them. This leaves very few cells in your gut for the bad bacteria to latch onto.
Keeping the bad bacteria in your gut under control is important for maintaining the health of your immune system.
- It helps control the pH levels of your gut
B. longum helps lower and raise the pH levels of your gut, thus maintaining the health of your gut. It lowers the pH levels by fermenting sugars into lactic acid, and by producing hydrogen peroxide and acetic acid in your gut.
Why is it important to have different pH levels of your gut? Different bacteria need different types of acidic environment to thrive! By creating different pH levels of your gut, B. longum enables a variety of good bacteria to thrive, which in turn keeps the bad bacteria in check.
- It prevents bad bacteria from growing
B. longum makes bacteriocins, which are substances that slow down or prevent bad bacteria from growing in your gut.
Health Benefits of Bifidobacterium longum
As impressive as B. longum is for the health of your gut, B. longum can do much more for your health!
These benefits include:
- Boosting your immunity
A strong immune system can literally mean the difference between life and death. The very young and those on the other end of the spectrum, the elderly, have weaker immune systems.
A study conducted on elderly participants found that the activity of natural killer cells (white blood cells that boost your immunity) remained stable in those taking B. longum, but decreased in those taking the placebo. Another study done on elderly participants found that those who took B. longum were less likely to get the flu.
And what about the effects of B. longum on the very young? A study done on healthy newborns found that infants given formula supplemented with B. longum had better immune responses than infants who were given non-supplemented formula.
- Fighting infections
Well, it is all well and good that B. longum can boost your immunity, but the real question to ask is “Does it help fight or reduce the number of infections you get?” The answer is a resounding “Yes!”
Influenza aka “the flu” can be quite deadly for the elderly and the very young. B. longum has been shown to have a role in protecting against respiratory functions in these vulnerable populations. For instance, a study found that among elderly participants who were given a flu shot, those taking B. longum were less likely to get the flu.
Similarly, a study done on non-breastfeeding infants found a trend toward fewer respiratory tract infections among those receiving formula supplemented with B. longum.
- Reducing inflammation in your body
Research has shown that if you have ulcerative colitis, psoriasis or chronic fatigue syndrome, you have more markers (or indicators) of inflammation in your body. B. longum has been shown to reduce markers of inflammation in these conditions.
For instance, B. longum was shown to reduce symptoms and markers of inflammation such as sigmoidoscopy scores and tumor necrosis factor in patients with ulcerative colitis. In another study, B. longum also reduced various markers of inflammation in diseases such as chronic fatigue syndrome and psoriasis.
- Alleviating allergies
Are you allergic to pollen? B. longum may be helpful in relieving your symptoms. A study examining the effect of B. longum on Japanese cedar pollinosis, an allergy to Japanese cedar pollen, found that B. longum was helpful in alleviating allergy-related eye symptoms. Similarly, another study found that nasal symptoms such as nasal blockages, itching and runny nose, as well as throat symptoms, tended to improve with B. longum.
- Helping with Celiac Disease
If you have Celiac Disease, you may be surprised to learn that B. longum may be helpful in treating Celiac Disease. In a study examining the effects of B. longum on patients with untreated Celiac Disease, those taking B. longum had less gastrointestinal symptoms such as indigestion, constipation and acid reflux than those taking a placebo.
In addition, B. longum may be helpful in children suffering from Celiac Disease. A study examining the effects of B. longum on children with Celiac Disease found that B. longum improved the composition of microbes in the gut, as well as improved the immune response in children who had recently been diagnosed with Celiac Disease.
- Lowering Cholesterol
If you have high cholesterol, you probably know that you have a higher risk of heart disease. As a result, it is imperative to lower your cholesterol levels.
In a study examining the effect of B. longum on blood cholesterol levels, about 50% of those taking yoghurt fermented with B. longum had a reduction in total cholesterol. In particular, those who had moderately high cholesterol levels experienced greater decreases in total cholesterol. On the other hand, the control group witnessed very few changes in total cholesterol.
- Treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
If you have IBS, you may be aware that the few medications that can treat this condition have been discontinued or restricted for treatment due to adverse side effects. B. longum reduces intestinal inflammation and is effective at treating individual and global symptoms of IBS without adverse side effects. Specifically, it has been shown to “be significantly superior to placebo as well as other bifidobacterium” in relieving IBS symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, straining and flatulence.
- Improving sensitive skin
Is your skin quite sensitive to heat, the cold, and chemicals? Research has shown that when B. longum is applied topically i.e. to the skin, it improves sensitive skin. In a study examining the effect of B. longum on sensitive skin, B. longum was shown to decrease skin dryness and increase skin resistance against physical and chemical triggers in individuals who applied a topical cream containing B. longum.
- Improving liver health
Do you suffer from NASH aka fatty liver disease? If you do, you may be at risk of developing cirrhosis or scarring of your liver, a serious health problem. A study examining the effect of B. longum in patients with NASH found that after 6 months, various measures of liver function were better in those who took B. longum versus the control group.
- Helping with chronic kidney disease
If your kidneys work well, they are able to remove extra phosphorus from your blood. However, if you suffer from chronic kidney disease, your kidneys no longer filter phosphorus from your blood well. This results in a build-up of phosphorus and makes your bones leach calcium. The calcium enters your blood vessels, eyes, lungs and heart making you more vulnerable to strokes, heart attacks and death.
B. longum may be helpful in preventing this cascade of events. In a study examining the effect of B. longum in patients on hemodialysis, B. longum was shown to decrease phosphorus levels in the blood.
- Preventing cancer
Short chain fatty acids, substances that are produced when your good bacteria digest fibre, may decrease your risk of colon cancer. A study examining the effect of ingestion of B. longum on the production of short chain fatty acids, found that there was an increase in the production of short chain fatty acids when B. longum was ingested in healthy individuals.
- Alleviating anxiety
Do you suffer from chronic anxiety? Chronic anxiety leads to higher cortisol levels, as well as decreased memory. B. longum may be helpful if you suffer from anxiety. A study on the effect of B. longum in healthy volunteers, found that cortisol levels decreased and participants reported less anxiety. In addition, their memory improved.Reducing depression
If you suffer from depression, in addition to regular exercise, taking B. longum may be helpful in alleviating your symptoms. In a study examining the effect of B. longum on depression, 64% of participants taking B. longum had a reduction in depression scores of at least 2 points on the Hospital Anxiety and Depression scale compared with only 32% of participants in the control group.
- Reducing constipation associated with weight loss
Are you succeeding in your weight loss goals? Congratulations! You may have noticed on the other hand, that you are more constipated than usual. When you lose weight, you may disrupt your gut microbiome, resulting in gut dysbiosis. The result? Worsening constipation!
A study found that participants on a diet and exercise program who frequently took a combination of B. longum and a prebiotic (food for the good bacteria in your body) had less constipation than those who took the B.longum/prebiotic less frequently.
- Preventing diarrhoea associated with antibiotic treatment
If you have ever taken antibiotics, you may have experienced diarrhea thereafter. This is because antibiotic-associated diarrhea is a common side effect of antibiotic therapy. In fact, antibiotic-associated diarrhea occurs in close to 40% of patients taking antibiotics! Research has shown that B. longum is effective in preventing antibiotic associated diarrhea.
- Alleviating lactose intolerance symptoms
Do you suffer from lactose-intolerance? Then you may be looking for ways to relieve the painful cramps and the bloating that occurs after you consume dairy! In a study examining the effect of B. longum in patients with lactose intolerance, participants consuming milk containing B. longum experienced less flatulence (gas) than when they consumed plain milk.
Bifidobacteria in Babies
Bifidobacteria play an important role in babies. In fact, they are one of the first bacterial species present in the gut of a newborn. In addition, they are the most abundant bacteria and can make up to 90% of the bacterial makeup in the gut of a breast-fed baby.
The main role of Bifidobacteria in babies is to digest the naturally occurring sugars in breast milk which are necessary for a baby’s growth. Bifidobacteria may also improve immunity in infants, leading to less infections.
So, how can we increase Bifidobacteria in babies?
There are a number of ways including:
- Opting for a vaginal birth if possible: Babies born vaginally tend to have more Bifidobacteria in their gut than babies born via Caesarian section. This is because Bifidobacteria enter the baby’s gut from the mother’s vaginal areas when the baby is delivered.
- Opting to breastfeed your baby if possible: Breast-fed babies tend to have more Bifidobacteria in their gut than formula-fed babies. In fact, breastfed babies tend to have 20% more Bifidobacteria in their gut than their formula-fed counterparts. What is so special about mother’s milk? Mother’s milk contains growth factors that are important for the growth of Bifidobacteria.
- Opting for prebiotic formula if breastfeeding is not an option: If breastfeeding is not an option, don’t despair! Baby formula supplemented with probiotics encourages the growth of Bifidobacteria.
How to Increase Bifidobacteria in Your Gut
Now that you know about the health benefits of Bifidobacteria (in particular, Bifidobacterium longum), how can you increase their levels in your gut? There are a number of ways including:
- Taking a probiotic: By taking a probiotic containing Bifidobacteria, you may increase the number of Bifidobacteria in your gut.
- Eating foods high in fiber: Bifidobacteria love fiber! As a result, eat foods rich in fiber to encourage their growth. Fruit, vegetables, legumes, and whole-grains are good/excellent sources of fiber. For instance, 1 cup of cooked lentils provides a whopping 63% of your daily fiber needs!
- Eating foods that contain prebiotics: Onions and garlic, as do other fruit and vegetables contain prebiotics that help Bifidobacteria thrive.
- Exercising: Exercise has many benefits, and one of them may be increasing the amount of Bifidobacteria in your gut! A study found that women who have an active lifestyle have more Bifidobacteria in their gut than women who are sedentary. Exactly how much exercise do you need to reap these benefits? For women (the population studied), you need to exercise 3 days a week for 30 minutes (each session) at a moderate pace. So, get your move on!
- Consuming polyphenols: Polyphenols are health-promoting chemicals that occur in plants. Polyphenols found in cocoa, green tea and red wine have been shown to increase Bifidobacteria levels.
I hope you now understand the far-reaching benefits of Bifidobacterium longum. Most importantly, I hope you take the necessary steps to increase their numbers in your gut!
If you are interested in learning more about your own levels of Bifidobacterium longum, you may want to check out our gut microbiome testing program.
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