The term ‘symbiotic relationships’ refers to an interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association. These symbiotic relationships between the gut microbiota and the human host confer benefits to the host in many key aspects of life. However, alterations of the microbiome, through environmental changes (infection, diet or lifestyle), may disturb this symbiotic relationship and promote disease. An unhealthy microbiome has been shown to play a role in many chronic diseases, including obesity and heart disease [i] [ii]. Increasing evidence also indicates a key role for the bacterial microbiota in the formation of cancerous growths [iii].
The intestinal microbiota is formed in the first 1000 days of life, when it is particularly sensitive to various factors, such as the composition of the mother's microbiota, type of delivery, infant's diet, number of siblings, contact with animals, and antibiotic therapy [iv].
Bifidobacterium was first isolated in 1899 from the faeces of breast-fed infants. The genus includes 32 species, of which Bifidobacterium bifidum is the most common species, followed by Bifidobacterium longum, and Bifidobacterium breve [v]. Probiotic products are increasing in popularity due to their potential health benefits. Today, there are over 70 bifidus-containing products produced worldwide, including sour cream, buttermilk, yoghurt and powdered milks. These products commonly contain Bifidobacterium longum, and Bifidobacterium breve and Bifidobacterium bifidum. In order to incur health benefits, the suggested level for Bifidobacterium is > 106 viable cells/g of a product [vi].
Bifidobacterium bifidum has been assessed for use in gut disorders such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial showed that B bifidum substantially alleviates IBS and its symptoms in a real life settings [vii].
For infants, Bifidobacterium bifidum is particularly important as it forms part of the core microbiota of healthy guts where it may form biofilms on the cells if the intestinal lining. The development of a healthy microbiota in infants is crucial for health in later life [viii]. Since the gut microbiota undergoes substantial changes in early life, healthy gut microflora is essential to an infant's immune system. It is proposed secretory immunoglobulin A (SIgA), an immune defence in the gut, may be enhanced with supplementation of Bifidobacterium bifidum.
The gut-brain axis refers to the physical and chemical connections between your gut and brain. It represents signalling that takes place between the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) and the central nervous system (CNS). A link between the gut microbiota and the brain has long been surmised.
A pilot study in patients with irritable bowel syndrome, found probiotic bifidobacterium longum to reduce depression scores and alter brain activity. Specifically, the probiotic reduced limbic reactivity. The limbic system is the part of the brain involved in our behavioural and emotional responses. Therefore an overreactive limbic system is heavily implicated in cases of depression [ix].
A review outlined the importance of Bifidobacterium breve in regards to its actions in the modulation and control of anti-allergic processes. In addition, it was proposed that Bifidobacterium breve strains and certain prebiotic carbohydrates may be useful in allergy management in non-breastfed infants [x].
Additionally, Bifidobacterium breve was seen to maintain remission in ulcerative colitis patients [xi], is believed to have the potential to prevent cases of high blood pressure and its therapeutic potential has also been discussed in relation to the prevention of cognitive impairment in Alzheimer's disease [xii] [xiii].
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