What is it?
Bifidobacteria are commonly used for diarrhea, constipation, an intestinal disorder called irritable bowel syndrome, for preventing the common cold or flu, and lots of other conditions, but there is no good scientific evidence to support many of these uses.
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): There is no good evidence to support using bifidobacteria for COVID-19. Follow healthy lifestyle choices and proven prevention methods instead.
How effective is it?
Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.
The effectiveness ratings for BIFIDOBACTERIA are as follows:
Possibly effective for...
- Constipation. Most research shows that taking bifidobacteria can increase bowel movements by about 1.5 stools per week in people with constipation. But not all strains of bifidobacteria seem to work.
- A digestive tract infection that can lead to ulcers (Helicobacter pylori or H. pylori). Taking bifidobacteria plus lactobacillus along with standard H. pylori therapy might help get rid of H. pylori infections about twice as well as taking standard H. pylori therapy alone. It can also reduce side effects such as diarrhea and bad taste from H. pylori therapy.
- A long-term disorder of the large intestines that causes stomach pain (irritable bowel syndrome or IBS). Most research shows that taking bifidobacteria for 4-8 weeks can reduce IBS symptoms such as stomach pain, bloating, and difficulty having a bowel movement. It might also reduce symptoms such as anxiety and depression in people with IBS. But not all strains of bifidobacteria seem to work.
- A complication after surgery for ulcerative colitis (pouchitis). Taking a combination of bifidobacteria and lactobacillus, with or without streptococcus, by mouth seems to help prevent pouchitis after surgery for ulcerative colitis.
- Infection of the airways. Most research shows that using probiotics containing bifidobacteria helps prevent airway infections such as the common cold in otherwise healthy people, including school-aged children and college students. But taking bifidobacteria does not seem to reduce the risk of airway infections in hospitalized children and teens or in older adults in care.
- Diarrhea caused by rotavirus. Giving bifidobacteria to infants with rotaviral diarrhea can shorten the duration of diarrhea by about one day.
- Travelers' diarrhea. Taking bifidobacteria helps prevent travelers' diarrhea when used with other probiotics such as lactobacillus or streptococcus.
- A type of inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis). Research shows that taking probiotics containing bifidobacteria along with lactobacillus and streptococcus can help increase remission rate by almost 2-fold in people with active ulcerative colitis. However, most research shows that bifidobacteria is not beneficial for preventing relapse.
Possibly ineffective for...
- Decline in memory and thinking skills that occurs normally with age. Bifidobacteria does not seem to improve thinking and memory skills in older adults with a normal decline in thinking skills.
- Infection of the gastrointestinal tract by bacteria called Clostridium difficile. Most research shows that taking bifidobacteria along with other probiotics does not prevent diarrhea caused by Clostridium difficile infection.
- Infant development. Giving formula containing bifidobacteria plus lactobacillus does not improve growth in infants.
- Obesity. Most research shows that taking bifidobacteria for up to 6 months does not improve weight loss in people who are overweight or obese.
- Blood infection (sepsis). Adding bifidobacteria to infant formula does not prevent sepsis in premature babies.
Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for...
- Diarrhea in people taking antibiotics (antibiotic-associated diarrhea). Research shows that taking bifidobacteria along with antibiotics can reduce the chance of diarrhea by about 45%. But some conflicting results exist. It is possible that bifidobacteria might prevent diarrhea caused by some antibiotics but not others. Also, bifidobacteria might work better when used in certain combinations with lactobacillus and streptococcus. But not all combination seem to work.
- Athletic performance. Early research shows that taking bifidobacteria helps trained athletes to run farther in the same amount of time.
- Eczema (atopic dermatitis). Some research shows that giving bifidobacterium to infants can help TREAT eczema, but conflicting results exist. Other research shows that giving bifidobacteria plus lactobacillus to pregnant women during the last 2 months of pregnancy, and then giving to the infant for the first 2 months after birth, can help PREVENT eczema. But conflicting results exist. Giving bifidobacteria plus lactobacillus to only at-risk infants during the first 6 months of life does not prevent eczema.
- Celiac disease. Early research shows that taking bifidobacteria as part of a gluten-free diet does not improve stomach and intestinal symptoms compared to diet alone in children with newly diagnosed celiac disease.
- Decline in memory and thinking skills in older people that is more than what is normal for their age. Some research shows that taking bifidobacteria improves memory in people with a decline in thinking skills, but it doesn't seem to help with language or the ability to pay attention.
- Tooth plaque. Early research shows that eating fruit yogurt with bifidobacteria for 2 weeks does not reduce tooth plaque in children.
- Diarrhea. Early research found that adding bifidobacteria to Saccharomyces boulardii is linked to further reduced diarrhea in children with sudden onset of diarrhea.
- Allergy to Japanese cedar pollen. Some research shows that taking bifidobacteria during pollen season reduces nose and eye symptoms of Japanese cedar pollen allergy. But conflicting results exists. Bifidobacteria does not seem to reduce sneezing or throat symptoms associated with Japanese cedar pollen allergy.
- A serious intestinal disease in premature infants (necrotizing enterocolitis or NEC). Research shows that giving bifidobacteria alone to preterm infants does not prevent this condition. But giving bifidobacteria with lactobacillus might have a small benefit.
- Serious illness caused by radiation exposure. Early research shows that antibiotic-resistant bifidobacteria can help improve short-term survival in the treatment of radiation sickness. In combination with antibiotics, bifidobacteria appear to help prevent dangerous bacteria from growing and causing a serious infection.
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
- Infections of the kidney, bladder, or urethra (urinary tract infections or UTIs).
- Breast pain, possibly due to infection (mastitis).
- Bipolar disorder.
- Infections in people treated with cancer drugs.
- Child development.
- Growth and development in premature infants.
- Reduced or blocked flow of bile from the liver (cholestasis).
- Lactose intolerance.
- Liver problems.
- Lyme disease.
- Muscle soreness caused by exercise.
- High levels of cholesterol or other fats (lipids) in the blood (hyperlipidemia).
- Swelling (inflammation) and build up of fat in the liver in people who drink little or no alcohol (nonalcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH).
- Swelling (inflammation) and sores inside the mouth (oral mucositis).
- Diarrhea caused by radiation therapy.
- Replacing beneficial bacteria removed by diarrhea.
- Stomach problems.
- Other conditions.
How does it work?
Are there safety concerns?
Special precautions & warnings:Pregnancy and breast-feeding: A specific strain of bifidobacteria, Bifidobacterium bifidum, is POSSIBLY SAFE when taken by mouth appropriately for 6 weeks while pregnant. There is not enough reliable information about the safety of taking other bifidobacteria strains if you are pregnant or breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.
Children: Bifidobacteria are LIKELY SAFE for heathy children when taken by mouth appropriately. Although there have been cases of blood infection with bifidobacteria in critically ill infants, these cases are rare.
Weakened immune system: There is some concern that "probiotics" might grow too well in people with a weak immune system and cause infections. Although this has not occurred specifically with bifidobacteria, there have been rare cases involving other probiotic species such as Lactobacillus. If you have a weakened immune system (e.g., you have HIV/AIDS or are undergoing cancer treatment), check with your healthcare provider before using bifidobacteria.
Blockage in the intestines: Two cases of blood infections have been reported for infants given bifidobacteria probiotics. In both cases, the infants had had stomach surgery. It's thought that the blood infections resulted from intestinal blockage caused by the stomach surgeries, which allowed the bifidobacteria to cross into the bloodstream. In one case, taking bifidobacteria after the intestinal blockage was corrected did not cause another blood infection. Therefore the risk of blood infections is not a concern for most infants taking bifidobacteria. But bifidobacteria should be used cautiously or avoided in infants with stomach or intestinal blockages.
Are there interactions with medications?
- Antibiotic drugs
- Antibiotics are used to reduce harmful bacteria in the body. Antibiotics can also reduce friendly bacteria in the body. Bifidobacteria are a type of friendly bacteria. Taking antibiotics along with bifidobacteria might reduce the effectiveness of bifidobacteria. To avoid this interaction, take bifidobacteria products at least two hours before or after antibiotics.
Are there interactions with herbs and supplements?
- There are no known interactions with herbs and supplements.
Are there interactions with foods?
- There are no known interactions with foods.
What dose is used?
- For constipation: 100 million to 20 billion colony-forming units of bifidobacteria have been used daily. In most cases, bifidobacteria are taken daily for 1-4 weeks. In some cases 5-60 billion colony-forming units of bifidobacteria plus lactobacillus have been taken daily for 1 week to 1 month.
- For a long-term disorder of the large intestines that causes stomach pain (irritable bowel syndrome or IBS): For improving stomach and intestinal symptoms, 100 million to 1 billion colony-forming units of bifidobacteria has been used daily for 4-8 weeks. Also, 5 billion colony-forming units of bifidobacteria plus lactobacillus plus streptococcus has been used twice daily for 4 weeks. For improving depression and anxiety in people with IBS, 10 billion colony-forming units of bifidobacteria has been used once daily for 6 weeks.
- For infection of the airways: 3 billion colony-forming units of bifidobacteria have been used daily for 6 weeks.
- For a complication after surgery for ulcerative colitis (pouchitis): a dose of up to 3 trillion colony-forming units of bifodobacteria plus lactobacillus plus streptococcus has been given once daily for up to 12 months.
- For a digestive tract infection that can lead to ulcers (Helicobacter pylori or H. pylori): 5 billion colony-forming units of bifidobacteria plus lactobacillus daily for 1 week during H. pylori treatment plus one week thereafter has been used.
- For a type of inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis): For increasing remission, 3 grams equivalent to 900 billion colony-forming units of lactobacillus plus bifidobacteria plus streptococcus has been used once or twice daily.
- For constipation: 1-100 billion colony-forming units of bifidobacteria daily for 4 weeks has been used in children aged 3-16 years.
- A long-term disorder of the large intestines that causes stomach pain (irritable bowel syndrome or IBS): 10 billion colony-forming units of bifidobacteria daily for 4 weeks has been used.
- For infection of the airways: 2-10 billion colony-forming units of combinations of bifidobacteria plus lactobacillus have been used twice daily in children ages 3-13 years.
- For diarrhea caused by rotavirus: Bifidobacteria, along or along with streptococcus, has been used in children up to 3 years-old. Also, bifidobacteria plus lactobacillus has been used twice daily for 3 days.
- For a type of inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis): Up to 1.8 trillion colony-forming units of bifidobacteria plus lactobacillus plus streptococcus has been used daily for up to 1 year in children 1-16 years-old.
To learn more about how this article was written, please see the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database methodology.
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