FACTS: Human prejudice against bacterial infections is understandably widespread. But fortunately, one of the most prevalent bacteria in the human intestinal tract is Bifidobacterium longum – and it’s good for you!
Bifidobacterium are one of a number of probiotic (“pro-life”) bacteria that perform a range of useful services such as improving digestion, revving up the immune system, and fending off their pathogenic cousins.
B. longum does its good works by converting sugars into lactic acid through fermentation. Lactic acid enhances the digestibility of milk products, helps the body use calcium, phosphorous, and iron, stimulates the production of gastric juices, and assists in moving food through the digestive system.
Among the first microbial inhabitants to take up its duties in the gut, it is commonly introduced shortly after birth when a child drinks its mother’s milk. As a result, formula-fed babies typically have fewer B. longum bacteria which can make them more susceptible to diarrhea, allergies, and chronic intestinal inflammation. Fortunately, there are plenty of stray Bifidobacterium looking for homes – eventually, just about everyone gets infected.
Of course, from time to time our populations of these friendly organisms can suffer: for example, antibiotics taken for illness are sometimes indiscriminate in their effects. But eating foods such as yogurt or taking dietary supplements can help restore Bifido populations – and keep one of man’s best friends on guard.
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