Breastfeeding & Infant Nutrition: Articles
Maintaining a Healthy Balance: The Role of Bifidobacteria in Infant Health
Beneficial bacteria for pediatric health: A primer on Bifidobacteria.
What are Bifidobacteria?
Bifidobacteria are classified as lactic acid-producing bacteria and are one of the groups of nonpathogenic microorganisms used as probiotics. Bifidobacteria are a natural part of the bacterial flora in the human body and have a symbiotic bacteria-host relationship with humans. The development of the Bifidobacteria flora in the intestine is influenced by nutritional factors and by age.1
Bifidobacteria ferment sugars to produce lactic and acetic acid, which in turn contribute to a more acidic intestinal environment that is less favorable to the growth of pathogens and more favorable to a balanced intestinal flora population.2
Bifidobacteria are the predominant microorganisms in the intestinal flora of infants. In breastfed infants, they represent the vast majority of the total flora – 80 to 90% – which is approximately 10 times greater than the level of Bifidobacteria in the non-supplemented formula-fed infant.1 It is thought that the higher number of Bifidobacteria in breastfed babies may account for some of the general good health attributed to them.
Bifidobacteria as a probiotic supplement
Bifidobacteria are one of the most commonly used probiotics and are available in many food and supplement applications. They are also one of the most studied genera of bacteria used as probiotics, which contributes to our understanding of the functional benefits and safety of these microorganisms.3,4
There are many species of Bifidobacteria. Bifidobacteria in general, and the species Bifidobacterium lactis in particular, meet the criteria to be considered probiotics because of their ability to remain viable during production and packaging and to survive GI digestion to populate the small intestine and colon, where they exert their beneficial effects.5
Bifidobacterium is the most studied species of the Bifidobacterium genus, particularly in the context of pediatric health, making it uniquely suited as a probiotic agent for infants. Many studies along with extensive clinical use have confirmed that B. lactis is well tolerated in both healthy and premature infants and children.6,7,8
The history of clinical investigation with B. lactis in conjunction with various health conditions has yielded sufficient positive results to conclude that it can beneficially modify the balance of the intestinal flora.
The safety of B. lactis is well documented. Formulas supplemented with B. lactis have been marketed since the early 1990s in countries outside of the U.S. and studies have demonstrated an excellent safety record while confirming beneficial effects in immune support.9
Overall, studies are confirming that supplementation with the probiotic B. lactis may help balance the flora of infants who are not breastfed, so that they too can benefit from this type of support to their immune system.