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Everything you need to know about Bifidobacterium infantis

Expert answers, General health, Gut microbiome health, Type 2 diabetes

Everything you need to know about Bifidobacterium infantis

Overview

Bifidobacterium infantis is a highly specialized microbe that helps protect us from various gut infections, excessive gut inflammation, “leaky gut”, and the many conditions that are associated with these. 

Unlike most other bacteria in the human gut, Bifidobacterium infantis is truly an inherited microbe, often being passed down from mother to child during child birth. 

Once it takes up residence in the gut microbiome, Bifidobacterium infantis flourishes and helps to cultivate an environment where other beneficial bacteria can grow. 

Bifidobacterium infantis is also the focus of many research projects that explore its potential as a probiotic strain. 

Most notably, Bifidobacterium infantis is of interest as a potential probiotic treatment for conditions like irritable bowel syndrome. 

However, recent research suggests supplementation with this bacteria may be useful in other conditions as well, including prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. 

Here, we explore the many benefits of Bifidobacterium infantis and how it is being used as a probiotic.

 

TL;DR

  • Bifidobacterium infantis has been shown to reduce gut inflammation, strengthen the gut barrier, and increase butyrate production in certain contexts
  • Bifidobacterium infantis is being studied as a probiotic for use in multiple health conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, and type 2 diabetes
  • Currently, the most effective way to increase Bifidobacterium infantis levels is through the use of probiotics

     

    Note: Looking for a probiotic containing Bifidobacterium infantis? Pendulum Glucose Control is the only medical probiotic containing Bifidobacterium infantis that’s been clinically shown to lower blood glucose spikes by 33% and reduce A1C levels by 0.6 in people with type 2 diabetes.

     

    What is Bifidobacterium infantis?

    Bifidobacterium infantis is a lactic acid producing bacteria that provides many benefits to newborn infants as well as adults. Bifidobacterium infantis appears to help reduce excessive inflammation that is characteristic of conditions like irritable bowel syndrome1

     

    What are the benefits of Bifidobacterium infantis?

    Put simply, Bifidobacterium infantis benefits us by2

    • Cooperating with other bacteria in the gut microbiome to harvest energy from non-digestible nutrients, ultimately leading to the creation of butyrate;
    • Occupying space in the gut microbiome that potentially harmful microbes would otherwise fill;
    • Suppressing unnecessary—and harmful—inflammation in the gut;
    • Discouraging “leaky gut.”

      It is noteworthy that much of what is known about the benefits of Bifidobacterium infantis comes from studies that were done in infants2. While it is likely that these benefits extend to adults as well—and there is some evidence to support this—the magnitude of these benefits may differ as we get older. 

       

      Digestion and butyrate

      Bifidobacterium infantis is a specialized microbe that has evolved to colonize the human gut very early in life, potentially even before birth2

      Once in the gut, Bifidobacterium infantis plays a critical role in breaking down complex carbohydrates that human cells are unable to digest. In infants, this skill is particularly useful as breast milk is primarily made up of fats, sugars, a set of nondigestible carbohydrates that are collectively referred to as Human Milk Oligosaccharides (HMO)2.

      HMOs are difficult to digest, but they contain many valuable parts that can be harvested and used by both bacteria and human cells. 

      However, very few organisms are capable of breaking up HMOs and making their useful parts accessible to others. 

      Bifidobacterium infantis is one such organism. 

      Equipped with an array of tools coded in its DNA, Bifidobacterium infantis is one of the few bacteria in the gut microbiome that can digest HMOs, transforming them from inert molecules to sources of nutrition for the gut microbiome2

      Among the many products that may come from this activity is the creation of butyrate

      Butyrate is one of the three main short chain fatty acids (SCFA) produced in the gut microbiome and, among its many uses, is instrumental in helping the body regulate insulin and blood sugar levels. 

      By increasing SCFA production, Bifidobacterium infantis may exert some influence on our health that extends well beyond the gut, including the promotion of healthy blood sugar regulation via increased butyrate signaling. 

       

      Blocking harmful bacteria

      Bifidobacterium infantis’ ability to extract nutrients from HMOs gives it a competitive advantage in a baby’s gut. This is because infants primarily feed on formula or breast milk which is made up of lactose, fats, and HMOs2

      In this environment, Bifidobacterium infantis is able to grow and occupy a large amount of space in the microbiome. Simply by outcompeting others, Bifidobacterium infantis may be helping to keep infants healthy by preventing potentially harmful bacteria from taking up residence in the gut. 

      baby

       

      Preventing “leaky gut”

      Leaky gut is an unofficial term used to describe a digestive tract who’s defensive barrier of mucus and tightly-linked gut cells has become less effective—allowing bacteria and other molecules to transit across the gut barrier far easier than they normally would.

      Evidence from studies in rodents suggest that Bifidobacterium infantis can counteract leaky gut2,7,8,9. This is likely a result of signals released by the bacteria that instruct the body’s cells to enhance their connections to one another, creating a tighter seal between cells. 

      Additionally, Bifidobacterium infantis helps to edge out other bacteria and degrade the mucus barrier.

      Together, these two actions would be expected to help prevent leaky gut. 

      This is reflected in people, too, where the presence of Bifidobacterium infantis has been correlated with a healthy, tight gut barrier that makes it harder for offending bacteria to cross into the body and trigger inflammation. 

      body 

       

      Anti-inflammation

      Preventing a “leaky gut” has the added benefit of decreasing inflammation. But it’s not the only way that Bifidobacterium infantis demonstrates anti-inflammatory properties. 

      Bifidobacterium infantis has also been found to release signals into the gut that help calm the immune system and decrease the levels of inflammation2,8,9.

      In infants, signals released from Bifidobacterium infantis are believed to help train the immune system, thereby preventing it from being overly excited in response to potential pathogens. 

      Taken together, Bifidobacterium infantis has been found to have many potentially beneficial qualities that collectively help keep us healthy.

       

      Bifidobacterium infantis and diabetes

      Evidence from some early research studies suggest that Bifidobacterium infantis may be a beneficial probiotic in treating symptoms of type 2 diabetes. 

      While no study has specifically focused on Bifidobacterium infantis, several studies have reported that probiotic mixtures that contain Bifidobacterium infantis may help improve insulin resistance and blood glucose levels30

      For example, one clinical trial had participants with type 2 diabetes take the medical probiotic Pendulum Glucose Control which contains multiple species of bacteria including Bifidobacterium infantis. 

      After several weeks, participants with type 2 diabetes taking metformin who had taken the probiotic were found to have lower blood A1C levels—indicating a prolonged decrease in their blood glucose levels17.

      Additionally, studies done in rodents have found that probiotics containing Bifidobacterium infantis (along with several other species of bacteria) could reduce blood glucose levels by decreasing inflammation30.  

      These studies provide promising evidence to suggest that probiotics containing Bifidobacterium infantis may be beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes. 

      However, more research is needed to fully understand if Bifidobacterium infantis is itself a benefit, or if it’s most beneficial in the presence of certain other species of bacteria, such as those found in Pendulum Glucose Control. 

       

      Bifidobacterium infantis for IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome): does it help?

      Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a condition characterized by severe inflammation in the digestive tract, bloating, and possible diarrhea or constipation. 

      Among the many treatment options, some researchers believe that probiotics may be one of the most promising, specifically probiotics that include Bifidobacterium infantis. 

      Studies have shown that patients with IBS tend to have an altered microbiome in which certain species of bacteria, including Bifidobacterium infantis, are missing. 

      This raises the possibility of treating IBS by restoring Bifidobacterium infantis.

      To this end, a study involving 48 children with IBS found that a probiotic mixture containing Bifidobacterium infantis caused a significant decrease in abdominal pain and a 48% increase in participants’ stated quality of life10.

      This study is backed by multiple earlier studies showing that probiotics with Bifidobacterium infantis may be able to relieve some, but not all, symptoms of IBS.

      One way Bifidobacterium infantis may be beneficial for patients with IBS is through its ability to calm the immune system and decrease inflammation10,11,12,13

      This alongside Bifidobacterium infantis’ role in promoting a healthy gut barrier and survival of butyrate producing bacteria may all coalesce together to help patients with IBS. 

       

      How to increase bifidobacteria in the gut

      For adults,  altering the gut microbiome often requires a personal approach that combines diet, exercise, and probiotics. 

      Increasing Bifidobacterium infantis in the gut can, in theory, be done using probiotic foods or probiotic supplements that contain Bifidobacterium infantis18,20

       Yogurt

       

      Are there any natural sources or foods that increase Bifidobacterium infantis?

       

      While there are many probiotic foods, such as: 

      • Yogurts containing live cultures; 
      • Fermented vegetables such as Kimchi
      • Probiotic cheeses, kiefer, or buttermilk

        We are unaware of commercial food products that currently include Bifidobacterium infantis in their list of ingredients23

         

         

        Are there  yogurts that have Bifidobacterium infantis?

        As of this article, there are no commercially available yogurts that contain Bifidobacterium infantis (that we are aware of). 

         

        Are there Bifidobacterium infantis probiotics or supplements that you can take?

         

        While it may be difficult to know what species of bacteria are included in foods, probiotic supplements can be much more direct in how much Bifidobacterium infantis they provide. 

        Beware of confusion around Bifidobacterium infantis 35624. 

        Align® is a probiotic that is commercially available and has previously been marketed as containing Bifidobacterium infantis strain 35624. 

        However, it now correctly states that it has Bifidobacterium longum 35624—meaning it does not contain Bifidobacterium infantis.

        The medical probiotic Pendulum Glucose Control also contains a unique strain of Bifidobacterium infantis, alongside multiple other bacterial species that are known to produce butyrate or fortify the gut barrier18.

        To date, most of the research on Bifidobacterium infantis as a probiotic has focused on treating IBS. Bifidobacterium infantis is included in Pendulum Glucose Control, however, because it’s known to help support cross-feeding between the various species of bacteria that are encapsulated with it. 

        Ultimately, this means that the inclusion of Bifidobacterium infantis in Pendulum Glucose control may help boost butyrate production and bring additional perks that can be helpful when trying to manage prediabetes and type 2 diabetes (such as anti-inflammatory and anti-leaky gut properties)18

         

        How many CFUs of Bifidobacterium infantis should you take?

        The amount of bacteria in a probiotic is often measured in colony forming units, abbreviated as CFUs. 

        A “colony” of bacteria is formed when one bacterial cell replicates into two, and then four, and so on. In essence, CFUs is a reference to how many bacteria are alive and well enough to grow under the right conditions. 

        Usually probiotics are taken with the goal of establishing, or increasing, the amount of specific bacterial species in the gut microbiome. So how many CFUs does it take to make sure Bifidobacterium infantis is growing in the gut microbiome?

        At present, there is no universally agreed upon amount of Bifidobacterium infantis that should be taken. 

        This is because several factors—such as medication you may be taking, your diet, exercise level, age, health—affect how successfully the bacteria will be able to grow in your gut microbiome. 

        If you are trying to figure out how much of a probiotic to take, talk with your healthcare professional and, if no guidance is provided, follow the instructions provided with the probiotic. 

         

        Bifidobacterium infantis vs bifidobacterium lactis: what’s the difference?

        When researching probiotics and probiotic foods, you’re likely to come across the species Bifidobacterium lactis. Like Bifidobacterium infantis, Bifidobacterium lactis is a member of the Bifidobacterium genus—meaning they’re closely related species of bacteria. 

        But while they’re closely related, they are different in important ways24,25

        One of the largest differences is in their ability to metabolize certain carbohydrates. Bifidobacterium infantis specialized in digesting HMOs and similar sugars. Bifidobacterium lactis, on the other hand, cannot metabolize HMOs but can metabolize lactose25

        Bifidobacterium lactis’ ability to digest lactose has made it a very popular ingredient in probiotic yogurts and milks that contain large amounts of lactose. In the presence of it’s preferred food source, Bifidobacterium lactis is better able to make a home in the gut. 

        For this same reason, Bifidobacterium infantis is able to take up residence in the infant gut much better than Bifidobacterium lactis—the former can digest HMOs, while the latter cannot. 

        Most probiotic dairy products will include Bifidobacterium lactis22,24

         

        Final Thoughts

        For many people, their relationship with Bifidobacterium infantis dates back to their first days of life. Bifidobacterium infantis is passed on from mother to child where it takes up residence in the infant gut, ultimately increasing the infant’s ability to get nutrition from milk while also preventing infection from harmful bacteria. 

        Overtime, the gut microbiome diversifies as many other species of beneficial bacteria move in. But all the while, Bifidobacterium infantis lends aid by fortifying the gut barrier, temporing the immune system, and creating building blocks that enable butyrate-producing bacteria to thrive. 

        Bifidobacterium infantis’ many beneficial qualities has made it an interesting subject for both researchers and the general public as a potential probiotic. 

        Foods containing live probiotic bacterial strains, probiotic foods, are increasing in popularity. Research into Bifidobacterium infantis suggests that it may do well in probiotic foods, and it has already been included in multiple probiotic supplements. 

        Supplementation with Bifidobacterium infantis has largely focused on treating irritable bowel syndrome. But a recent clinical trial with Pendulum Glucose Control—a probiotic containing multiple bacterial species, including Bifidobacterium infantis—suggests that this strain of bacteria may be useful in managing metabolic conditions, including prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. 

        Bifidobacterium infantis is an old friend from the gut microbiome. And, thanks to probiotics like Pendulum Glucose Control, it’s one that may be able to stick around to help us pursue a healthy future. 

         

        References

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        2. Underwood, Mark A et al. “Bifidobacterium longum subspecies infantis: champion colonizer of the infant gut.” Pediatric research vol. 77,1-2 (2015): 229-35. doi:10.1038/pr.2014.156 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25303277/ 
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        17. Perraudeau, Fanny, et al. “Improvements to Postprandial Glucose Control in Subjects with Type 2 Diabetes: a Multicenter, Double Blind, Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial of a Novel Probiotic Formulation.” BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care, BMJ Specialist Journals, 1 July 2020, drc.bmj.com/content/8/1/e001319.full. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32675291/ 
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        24. Jungersen, Mikkel et al. “The Science behind the Probiotic Strain Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis BB-12(®).” Microorganisms vol. 2,2 92-110. 28 Mar. 2014, doi:10.3390/microorganisms2020092 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5029483/ 
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        28. Yuan, Fuqiang, et al. “Efficacy of Bifidobacterium Infantis 35624 in Patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome: a Meta-Analysis.” Current Medical Research and Opinion, vol. 33, no. 7, 2017, pp. 1191–1197., doi:10.1080/03007995.2017.1292230.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28166427/ 
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        30. Gurung, Manoj et al. “Role of gut microbiota in type 2 diabetes pathophysiology.” EBioMedicine vol. 51 (2020): 102590. doi:10.1016/j.ebiom.2019.11.051 https://www.thelancet.com/journals/ebiom/article/PIIS2352-3964(19)30800-X/fulltext