The Two Most Common Types of Probiotics: Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli
I admit that it can be overwhelming trying to educate one’s self in microbiology – I can attest to undertaking this challenge myself. The scientific names (Family, Genus, Species, etc.) used to describe different bacteria are often difficult to read and intimidating to pronounce. But given the growing appreciation we have for gut microbes and the important roles they play in contributing to our health, it may be worth the effort.
Lactobacilli (LAK-tow-BAH-sill-EYE) and Bifidobacteria (BIF-id-OH-BAK-teer-EE-ah) are both probiotics, beneficial types of bacteria that promote numerous health benefits. But there are some important differences between Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria, and these probiotics should not be confused.
Lactobacilli include lactic acid-producing bacteria found in yogurt and other fermented foods. These acid-resistant bacteria feed on naturally occurring sugars and secrete their own acid, which prevents other harmful bacteria from growing and helps to lengthen the shelf life of fermented foods. This acid also adds to the sour flavor present in many fermented foods.
However, most Lactobacilli do not colonize our colon. They survive the journey through our digestive tract and provide health benefits along the way. But most Lactobacilli never make our gut their permanent home. To obtain the health benefits associated with Lactobacilli, you need to continue consuming fermented foods or supplements that contain these bacteria on a regular basis.
On the other hand, Bifidobacteria are true residents of the gut and while their numbers may rise or fall, they are generally present in most people of all ages. In fact, Bifidobacteria are among the first types of bacteria to colonize the digestive tract in infants. These bacteria play an important role in breaking down prebiotics into by-products that are used by other bacteria for food. The end-products of this cascade include short chain fatty acids, which are incredibly helpful to the body for several reasons.
Like Lactobacilli, Bifidobacteria can be introduced in the form of probiotics but recent studies suggest that introducing a prebiotic is sufficient to increase the abundance of several strains of healthy bacteria that are already living in your gut, including Bifidobacteria. These changes are linked to a reduction in the number of harmful bacteria, as well as several other important health benefits.
While the benefits of probiotic supplementation with Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria are well-known, growing appreciation for the role of prebiotics in maintaining gut health suggest that probiotics alone may not be sufficient to revitalize the microbiome.
Fortunately, stimulating the growth of Bifidobacteria can be achieved by supplementing your diet with prebiotics. In turn, the increases in this group of helpful bacteria produces the Bifidogenic Effect (aka. Bifidogenic Factor), a combination of health benefits stemming from improvements in the digestive tract. A future blog will outline the Bifidogenic Effect and why almost everyone could benefit from having more Bifidobacteria in their gut.