We all hope to age with grace, joy, and most importantly, good health. The problem is that our microbiome—the ecosystem of bacteria living in and on our body—doesn’t always follow suit. In fact, the aging process itself can cause changes in the composition of our microbiome that can negatively impact our health as we get older.
From birth through old age, our microbiome changes to accommodate our stage of life and our state of health. As babies, we are born with nearly sterile guts that quickly begin to colonize as we make their way into the world. By age three, we usually have microbiome compositions that are similar to adults.
Levels of health-promoting Bifidobacteria in our body—most abundant in our colon—are very high in the first couple years of life but naturally decline as we age1. However, around age 50, our microbiome ideally undergoes another shift back to the Bifidobacteria-rich environment of infancy.
As we get older, we’re meant to have naturally higher levels of these probiotics to keep us healthy and vibrant, but things like diet, stress, medication, overzealous hygiene habits, and antibiotics in food and as medicine can deplete these important microbes.
What are Bifidobacteria?
Bifidobacteria are an anaerobic (don’t require oxygen) lactic acid bacteria that naturally inhabit our intestinal and urogenital tracts, and they are some of the first bacteria to colonize our bodies when we are born. In fact, Bifidobacteria species make up the vast majority (over 90%) of all bacteria in the guts of breastfed infants!
Bifidobacteria produce antibacterial chemicals, enzymes, vitamins B and K, lactic acid, and a short chain fatty acid called acetic acid, which reduces yeast and mold growth and is a source of energy for our body’s cells.
Why do we need Bifidobacteria?
As with all probiotics, Bifidobacterium assist with digestion, regulate the immune system, help us absorb nutrients, and work to crowd out undesirable bacteria. But, this particular species of probiotic also has several beneficial effects especially important for mature adults.
They coat the lining of our colon, protecting us from toxins and harmful bacteria that can make their way into our bloodstream if our defenses are low. With 80% of our immune system in our gut, we need these valiant bacteria working on our behalf!
Bifidobacteria can also reduce occasional inflammation, improve our bone and joint health, promote emotional wellbeing, regulate our weight and metabolism, and support colon and digestive health. These mighty bugs can even help to prevent temporary traveler’s diarrhea that we may encounter during our post-retirement travels.
What are the different types of Bifidobacterium?
Scientists have identified 32 species of Bifidobacteria, many with similar properties and effects.
These five strains are the standout players in vibrant health for older adults:
• B. longum: One of the most common strains in the gut, B. longum boasts a laundry list of health benefits, from improving lactose tolerance to creating an acidic environment in the intestine inhospitable to harmful bacteria. These helpful microbes also curb temporary inflammation and produce enzymes that work to digest proteins in the gut.
Research shows that B. longum may even have important anti-aging benefits. A nationwide survey of more than 23,000 Japanese men and women over age 50 showed that those who regularly consumed B. longum had fewer problems with regularity, better memory recall, and improved bone health2. In another study, 27 elderly subjects who took B. longum for five weeks had improved immune function, and the effects lasted for 20 weeks3!
• B. bifidum: This Bifidobacteria strain produces the enzyme lactase, which can help with lactose intolerance—a condition that affects around 30 million American adults and can increase with age4. B. bifidum also protects the cells lining our body’s mucous membranes from toxins and acts as an anti-inflammatory. Where B. bifidum really shines is in its role as a gastrointestinal soother. A 4-week trial of B. bifidum reduced abdominal discomfort, gas, and bloating, and improved quality of life for patients5.
• B. lactis: In addition to providing immune support and helping us to digest lactose, B. lactis is a superhero when it comes to promoting optimal digestion. A study of 1,248 subjects found that four weeks of B. lactis supplementation led to increased regularity6. Furthermore, B. lactis also seems to inhibit the negative, toxic effects of wheat gliadin, a protein found in gluten that can cause issues for people sensitive to wheat7.
• B. breve: This digestive champion ferments sugar, produces lactic and acetic acid, and can break down a huge variety of food molecules, even usually non-digestible plant fibers. Research also shows that B. breve can reduce the number of oral candida bacteria and increase the immune response to the yeast in older adults, controlling overgrowth before it becomes out of control8.
• B. infantis: As the name indicates, B. infantis is vital for babies. In fact, this strain of bacteria thrives on HMO’s, special sugars abundant in breast milk. The good news is that they will eat other sugars (such as glucose and fructose) as well because they are crucial for older adults. B. infantis bacteria produce bacteriocin-like inhibitory substances (BLIS) that fight harmful bacteria, along with b-vitamins for energy, mental clarity, and a host of other important benefits9. B. infantis bacteria also modulate temporary inflammation throughout the body10.
As we mature, Bifidobacteria play an increasingly important role in our overall health and wellbeing, but our modern lifestyles and the physical changes of aging make it harder to maintain an optimal balance of these good microbes. That’s why supplementing with a high-quality probiotic formula like Hyperbiotics PRO-Bifido is so essential to our health.
PRO-Bifido provides targeted support to adults ages 50 and up by supplying a proprietary blend of the top five Bifidobacteria strains for your health, along with two strains of Lactobacillus for full-spectrum support. Of equal importance, they are delivered into your digestive tract over an 8-10 hour period via a patented time release tablet. This makes the probiotics in PRO-Bifido fifteen times more likely to survive the harsh pH of your stomach acids than those delivered in standard capsules, so they can effectively colonize within your colon.
So many things in our lives get better with age—our wisdom, our capacity to love, and our acceptance of ourselves. By eating well, staying active, taking probiotics, and living a gut-healthy life, our microbiome can also mature as nature intended so we can live our happiest and healthiest days.References:
Julie Hays is the Communications Director here at Hyperbiotics. Health writer and mama of three little girls, Julie's on a mission to empower others to live lives free of the microbial depletion many of us face today. For more ideas on how you can maximize wellness and benefit from the power of probiotics, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.
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