The vast majority of probiotics contain both lactobacillus and bifidobacteria species. While other bacteria are sometimes added to the mix, in general lactobacillus strains dominate among the wide variety of probiotics.
The steadily building scientific evidence points to the extensive benefits of probiotics and the importance of the gut microbiome. However, for one reason or another, some people cannot tolerate the traditional lactobacillus probiotics. For them, bifidobacterium probiotics may be the key to boosting intestinal health.
When it comes to probiotics there are a couple of different paths people can take when trying to heal gut issues without lactobacillus. One option is to try probiotics with soil-based organisms, while the other route is bifidobacteria probiotics.
I will address the subject of soil-based probiotics in another article; the present post is all about bifidobacteria. Bifidobacterium is one of the most prominent bacteria species when it comes to human health. In infants, bifidobacteria constitutes up to 90 % of all intestinal bacteria. The bifido amounts decline as we age, making up 3-6 % of adult fecal flora. (1)
This post is looking to be a long one as it is, so I’m not going to go over the vast impacts these bacteria have on our lives. You can read more about the significance of bifidobacteria not only for our digestive health, but also to the well-being of our entire bodies, in my article about prebiotics.
What makes lactobacillus probiotics unsuitable?
I am one of those people who do not do so well with lactobacillus probiotics. With high amounts of L. acidophilus my sleep suffers, I feel foggy, and I experience shortness of breath. The latter feels like I don’t get enough oxygen when breathing in. Air hunger is another term for this sensation – a sensation which I suspect has to do with D-lactate, which is produced by the L. acidophilus, not being metabolized as it should be.
It is wise to remember that we are all different. Our bodies, surroundings, genes and the composition of our intestinal microbiome are all individual. Several different conditions may lead to lactobacillus probiotics becoming unsuitable and perhaps even harmful.
1. Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth (SIBO)
One clear difference between lactobacillus and bifidobacteria is that bifidobacteria reside mainly in the colon while lactobacillus strains are also found in the small intestine.
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is a condition where the numbers of normal or pathogenic bacteria increase to harmful levels in the small bowel. SIBO has been shown to cause harm both to the structure and function of the small bowel. (2)
While lactobacillus is one of the good guys, and normally a beneficial bacteria, it can be part of a dysbiotic overgrowth in the small bowel, which causes adverse health effects. For this reason, lactobacillus probiotics may not be suitable in the presence of SIBO.
2. Histamine Intolerance
Histamine is a normal chemical released by mast cells in our bodies during allergic responses. In healthy people, the histamine is balanced and broken down by an enzyme called diamine oxidase (DAO). In people with histamine intolerance, the histamines accumulate, causing various symptoms around the body.
As well as producing an allergic immune reaction, histamine is also absorbed from histamine-containing foods and is produced by certain gut bacteria. This is why some probiotics are a bad fit for people with histamine intolerance.
In my view, the science is slightly insufficient in this regard, although the general consensus is that Lactobacillus casei and Lactobacillus bulgaricus are histamine-producing bacteria and should be avoided if histamine is a concern. On the other hand, Bifidobacterium infantis, Bifidobacterium longum and Lactobacillus plantarum may be beneficial for histamine intolerance because they can degrade histamines.
3. D-lactate Sensitivity
Probiotic species produce different acids in their fermentation process. Typically speaking, our bodies are well trained to metabolize L-lactic acid, but for some people the formation of excess D-lactic acid in the gut causes problems. This is usually in combination with overgrowth of one or more D-lactate-producing bacteria strains. It is thought that a certain degree of increased intestinal permeability, aka leaky gut, must be present for D-lactate to become a problem.
Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus plantarum are two species which produce high D-lactate. L. acidophilus is, of course, the most prominent bacteria strain in traditional probiotics. If these probiotics cause brain fog or chronic fatigue syndrome-like symptoms, then excess D-lactate absorbed from the gut may be the issue.
Top 3 Bifidobacterium Probiotics
Over the past four or five years I have mostly used probiotics that contain only bifidobacteria and no lactobacillus (with the one exception mentioned in the last paragraph).
Here are the top 3 bifidobacterium-only products that I have found to be the most effective and highest in quality.
The Align Infantis probiotic includes just one bifidobacteria strain: Bifidobacterium infantis 35624. The name infantis derives from the fact that B. Infantis comprises the majority of gut bacteria found in the digestive tracts of newborn babies
Don’t let the rather low bacteria count of one billion bacteria units per capsule fool you. Align Infantis is a very strong supplement.
In controlled study-settings, Infantis 35624 has been found to significantly decrease symptoms in people suffering from IBS and to reduce intestinal inflammation. In animal studies B. infantis has also been able to reduce depression and improve mood. (3) (4) (5) (6)
When I first took Align, around five years ago, I had to quickly stop as it was giving me die-off reactions such as headaches and disturbed sleep. This was probably a result of the infantis bacteria killing and displacing large numbers of unwanted microbes in my gut. At the time, my body was too stressed to handle the rapid shift in gut bacteria levels. Since then I’ve successfully used Align multiple times to correct digestive issues without adverse effects.
- Unique Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 bacteria strain
- 1 Billion bacteria units per capsule
- Room temperature stable
- A very popular supplement
ProBiota Bifido is another top-of-the-line bifidobacteria-only probiotic with an impressive count of 10 billion colony forming units per capsule. The selected strains are well researched and known to yield health benefits.
The manufacturer of ProBiota is Seeking Health, an American gut health-focused company. The company emphasizes that this combination of strains is useful to those for whom histamine issues are a concern.
Let’s take a closer look at the strains contained within this bifidobacterium probiotic.
ProBiota has a large amount B. bifidum, which was able to reduce IBS symptoms in a recent placebo-controlled study. B. longum is a profound bacterium in human guts and is similar to the previously mentioned infantis-strain. B. breve has been able to treat eczema and inflammatory intestinal diseases in study settings. And last but not least, B. lactis helps with constipation and may even combat the effects of celiac disease. (7) (8) (9) (10) (11)
- 10 Billion bacteria units per capsule
- B. bifidum 4+ billion units
- B. longum 3+ billion units
- B. lactis 2+ billion units
- B. breve 1+ billion units
- The capsules include a small amount of inulin prebiotics
- People with histamine intolerance have reported this probiotic to be particularly useful
- Room temperature stable
Jarrow Bifidus Balance
Jarrow is a large supplement manufacturer with a reputation for high quality products. Its probiotic line is strong. Jarrow’s regular multi-strain probiotic is the most popular probiotic in iHerb and the company also has a good Saccharomyces boulardii probiotic.
Bifidus Balance is Jarrow’s take on a bifidobacterium probiotic. It contains an impressive number of colony forming units – 5 billion to be precise – with a little added FOS prebiotics. The bifidobacterium strains are the same in Bifidus Balance as in the ProBiota probiotic.
With this said however, the subspecies of the bacteria strains might be different. In a sense, Bifidus Balance, as well as Align Infantis, could be seen as higher quality probiotic products compared to ProBiota and many others; this is because the exact subspecies of the bacteria strains are defined on the label.
In the image above you can see that the bacteria subspecies are marked after the names of the bacteria strains in Bifidus Balance. The statement of these exact subspecies might be interpreted as Jarrow having a more standardized product and manufacturing process. On the other hand, leaving the subspecies out of the label might just be a marketing decision.
Another similarity between ProBiota and Bifidus Balance is that they both contain a small amount of prebiotics. Jarrow’s bifidobacterium probiotic capsules contain 210 mg of fructooligosaccharide (FOS). Prebiotics are soluble fibers which feed the actual beneficial bacteria in the intestines.
- 5 Billion CFUs per capsule
- The capsules include a small amount of FOS prebiotics
- Refrigeration recommended
And just one more extra bifidobacterium probiotic…
All three of the previous probiotics have contained only bifidobacteria species without the traditional Lactobacillus strains. But as long as we are talking about bifidobacteria probiotics, I want to add one more product to this article.
The probiotic is Renew Life’s Ultimate Flora. The reason I didn’t include it in the top 3 bifidobacteria probiotics is that this probiotic also contains lactobacillus bacteria, and a lot of it: 20 billion colony forming units in a capsule. BUT, it has even more bifidobacteria in it: 30 billion CFUs per capsule.
I have often used Ultimate Flora myself with good results and I’ve seen a lot of people having reported positive experiences about it all around the interwebs. And I don’t know of any other probiotic to have this high amount of bifidobacteria in it.
- 50 billion CFUs per capsule
- 3 bifidobacterium strains and 7 lactobacillus strains
- Refrigeration recommended
- Many people have reported relief to IBS symptoms
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The writer or writers of this blog are not doctors. The content in this blog is not meant to treat or diagnose any disease. If you make any changes to your diet or lifestyle, you do so at your own risk. Consult your doctor before making any changes to your lifestyle.
Good information Lauri! I had some sort of histamine intolerance begun when I got lyme disease a few years back. I think the antibiotics took care of the lyme but the histamine issue remained. I take zinc, quercetin and probiotics. I’m now on Life Extension’s bifido probiotic. Have you got experience with it?
Thanks Kerri! I think that the LE probiotic that has 2 billion CFU’s of B. longum is probably a good quality product too. If it works, stick with it!
Which would add more bifidobacteria to the colon, eating prebiotics or bifidobacteria probiotics?
Probably prebiotics! Probiotics don’t colonize as efficiently as is often thought. They seem to provide health benefits through other mechanisms such as regulating the immune responses.
I really appreciate you outlining the problems with lactobacillus probiotics when a person has a histamine intolerance. So many general articles rave about probiotics which I believe to be a crucial role in health & immunity but they fail when it comes to the fact that different bacteria affect different roles in the system to begin with. I have taken so many different brands & have failed again & again…I believe it is due to the histamine intolerances and I had been aggravating my intolerances with lactobacillus probiotics.
Just read your post about probiotics when you have a histamine intolerance. Have you found a probiotic that works yet? I have been struggling for a long time with symptoms that I now know are largely due to very low DAO enzyme.
Anytime I have ingested inulin or chicory I get the most intense gut pain that is unbearable! It feels as if I have a blockage when that happens & I have almost gone to the emergency room. I am not constipated when it has happened. Have you ever heard of this? It lasts for hours so I have learned to check labels as it is in a lot of health foods. I have to stay far away from it!
When intestinal bacteria ferment inulin or the prebiotic fibers in chicory, gas is produced rapidly. This might be the cause for pain. If the pain occurs soon after eating the inulin, you might have some sort of bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine or in the stomach. If the pain comes along 6-10 hours after ingestion it points more to a possible dysbiosis in the colon.
If you are otherwise healthy I wouldn’t stress about it. Just avoid strong prebiotics.
I have the same issue–chicory and inulin are both on the list of high-FODMAP foods that some people with gut dysbiosis need to avoid. I have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, and avoiding FODMAPs has been life-changing!
My doctor recommended against probiotic supplements with these kinds of prebiotic additions, but I’m considering trying them anyway because it’s so hard to find a bifido supplement without them. 🙁
Mr. Salmi. Thank you for all explanations. What about lactobacillus gg, is this strain like the rest of lactobacillus strains. Can you give us some information about this strain? appreciate it.
Hey Aleksander! Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG is considered to be one of the best colonizing probiotic strains. Among other findings, studies have shown that it may reduce intestinal permeability and prevent diarrhea. But again, probably not a good choice for those who can’t handle lactobacillus probiotics.
I noticed that Pro Biotic Bifido contains polysaccharides as a propriety blend for the capsule. The Jarrow product also contains FuctoOligoSaccharides. These Saccharides would not be recommended on a Fodmap diet.
Are you able to elaborate? What do you think?
Sorry but align isn’t close to the best. I know from experience.
Actually I’m reading on line lately that there is a class action suit regarding Align. They want to hear from people that used it & apparently doesn’t work. I scratched that one off my list. I used it once or a short time . After reading that I’ll never use again.
I am so glad I read this article! It makes sense to me now, what I suspect happened to me back in the Summer of 2015! That summer I began taking Probiotics because I read it may help get rid of eczema, which I had on my right hand for about 5 years.
A few weeks after starting them, I started to get very full after eating and SUPER short of breath (it was like an asthma attack that wouldn’t let up and I looked like a diabetic in DKA, kussmaul breathing). I went through the ringer of tests! Lung, heart tests, then onto GI tests. I was found to have gastroparesis after doing a gastric emptying study and they just told me to eat that type of diet.
My GP doc said it was anxiety and put me on Klonopin (which did not help my breathing it just made me not care that I couldn’t breathe!). I asked the GI NP why I would have gastroparesis and she was stumped, then suggested a breath test for SIBO. (I also had a colonoscopy and EGD, treadmill stress echo, X-rays, labs, CT angio… You name it). I could not breath and it was making the back of my throat raw as it felt like I was breathing off chemicals).
I did the breath test and was super high on the hydrogen for SIBO. I was told to continue the probiotics while taking Xifaxim to treat the SIBO. I told the NP I felt worse when taking them and she thought I was nuts. I then took 2 rounds of those antibiotics and still couldn’t breathe and the gastroparesis didn’t improve.
Through research, I tried digestive enzymes and quit the probiotics as they made me constipated and my SOB worse. I did get better in time but what a horrible 10 months I went through. I still struggle with diarrhea when I eat dairy or gluten so I try to avoid them if possible.
Your article just summed up what I went through, or what you believe happens from the lactobacillus type probiotics in the presence of SIBO (which I didn’t know I had originally). UGH! What I thought was helping me, spinner me in a cycle of horrible times (the air hunger was the worst and I thought I was going to die many times).
Kristin, thanks a lot for sharing your experiences! The shortness of breath can truly be a crippling and scary symptom. It is also difficult to find help for it as the causes for it are unclear and the condition is obscure to most doctors.
Shortness of breath may also be associated with sulfur foods and additives. It feels like you can’t get enough air and it is scary. I didn’t have this symptom until my gut dysfunction reached a certain level, which was initially confusing because I failed to understand that I had multiple extensive food intolerances.
I am on a low everything diet (low histamine, salicylates, oxalates, gluten, etc), but I must increase sulfur because the body needs it. Now as my gut slowly heals, I am finally able to take glutathione to help and I can use a Ventolin inhaler if really needed, which is rare. I do believe that histamine can also cause breathing problems. Don’t know if this will help but it seems prudent to point this out.
I am trying to find a product that only contains B. bifidum,longum and Infantis . Or just bifidum and longum. Do you know of a probiotic that only contains these strains?
Gutpro is a d-lactade free, histamin free, prebiotic free containing only probiotics such as b infantis, b longum, b lactics, b breve and l gassari.
What do you think of ImmuProbio? It also has Lactobacillis but more units of Bifidobacterium (breve, longum, bifidum). Plus FOS.
Also what do you think of eating products like sourdough which are resistant starches and their potential to act as prebiotics in the large intestine?
Actually, I take that back — counting up in detail, the amounts seem equal. Works fairly well for me though. I wonder if supplementing with infantis would be a good idea.
This is a caution about Jarrow Bifidus Balance w/FOS. I have gone through about a half a bottle so far (50 caps at 1 a day). Because my body has trouble with capsules, I empty the capsule contents into a tablespoon’s worth of applesauce and eat it this way. Something in this formulation is causing a histamine reaction. Maybe the FOS or other ingredients? I know it’s not the applesauce because I was taking Align in this way and had no reaction. I just didn’t feel that the Align was doing enough and wanted to add more bifidus strains. Any one here have the same experience?
Just wanted to add what I discovered about Align. I was about to purchase a bottle but discovered the ‘other ingredients’ they add. They include, dairy, sugar, and many other unnessacry fillers.
Here’s the list:
sucrose, magnesium stearate, sodium caseinate, titanium dioxide (color), trisodium citrate dihydrate, propyl gallate (antioxidant preservative), gellan gum. Contains: Milk
If anyone finds a brand without sugar, milk, and fillers please let me know! 🙂
As an FYI to anyone purchasing the high-priced Seeking Health ProBiota Bifido, this actually is a private labeled Klaire product that Ben Lynch claims to have formulated, which he did not.
Hello, I have trouble swallowing pills. Can the bifidus Balance and Probiota bifodo and Align Infantis be opened up and put in a smoothie?