In a previous post I wrote about strains of probiotic bacteria that improve “brain power,” Bifidobacterium Longum (B. Longum) was featured prominently.
Certain strains of B. Longum have indeed been shown to enhance cognitive performance and boost mood.
But beyond that research, B. Longum is a strain of bacteria with many potential applications in human health more broadly. In this post, we examine the research to help you decide whether this is a strain you want to add to your probiotic stack.
I originally wrote my probiotics and brain health post a few years back, so when I dug in to freshen my research, I was heartened to see that new commentary has emerged which looked at the benefits of B. Longum specifically.
That research jives nicely with my N=1 experiments when using B. Longum supplements.
For a primer on the difference between Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus strains of bacteria, see this post.
My favorite strain of B. Longum – BB536
The Journal of Functional Foods paper evaluated the benefits of a specific strain of B. Longum, called BB536. This is the strain that I took and noticed tangible benefits from.
Why do I notice subtle benefits from supplementing with B. Longum Moringa BB536?
When I first started supplementing with B. Longum, I was interested in three primary purported benefits associated with the strain, many of which impact on mental health, and all of which tie into my genetic profile.
- Histamine clearance
- Ammonia clearance
- Butyrate and short chain fatty acid production
B. Longum may help clear histamine
I’ve written previously about issues I had with histamine intolerance while living in Austin, Texas, and I carry one SNP in the AOC1 gene associated with lower levels of diamine oxidase (an enzyme that clears histamine from the body).
As a neurotransmitter, histamine levels affect the central nervous system, and there is evidence that B. Longum is one of the probiotic strains that helps break down histamine.
For more on histamine, check out our recent podcast – The Histamine Leaky Gut Connection.
When I started to feel a sense of calm after taking B. Longum, I thought back to my histamine research. The case for B. Longum as a histamine degrader is, to date, only based on research in rats, but there is one study on record which found B. Longum helpful in reducing histamine levels when paired with B. infantis, another helpful probiotic strain commonly found in probiotic blends. 2
B. Longum helps clears ammonia
Little known fact, but ammonia is a byproduct of protein metabolism. if you can’t metabolize protein well, ammonia can build in the system. 3
Pathogenic bacteria and fungus (Candida) can also release ammonia into the body.
Interestingly, the exact strain of B. Longum I use, BB536, has been shown to degrade ammonia. 4 This is interesting to our conversation about probiotics and brain health because ammonia is a neurotoxin that readily crosses the blood brain barrier. 5
Whether ammonia levels are elevated due to gut dysbiosis or genetics, or a combination of both, a strain of probiotic that can lighten this load is potentially valuable for some of us.
The best study I found showed BB536 to be effective at reducing ammonia focused on lowering levels of ammonia released from pathogenic bacteria, such as E. Coli. 4
Due to widespread antibiotic use, as well as the prevalence of glyphosate in food, gut problems are a major issue for millions of people in America. Even if the digestive problem isn’t acute, a concert of factors, including genetic mutations in regions associated with higher ammonia levels such as CPS1 or CBS, could act together with pathogens to equal ammonia levels that are too high.
In those cases, BB536 could be just what the doctor ordered to bring levels within a healthier range, benefiting cognitive performance as a result.
B. Longum increases short chain fatty acid production
This is the big prize.
Butyrate is a short chain fatty acid that the colon makes when complex carbohydrates ferment in the gut. Butyrate helps protect the lining of the gut, helping to prevent chronic conditions like leaky gut. 6
Studies in mice show BB536 as an effective agent for increasing production of butyrate. 7 And guess what? Scientists are starting to recognize that short chain fatty acids, like butyrate, protect the brain and impact on mental health as well. 8
Key takeway: the strain matters
In my post on probiotics on brain health as well as my post today, the research highlighted looked at very specific strains of B. Longum, both B. Longum 1714 and B. Longum BB536, the strain I have benefited from taking.
It’s not clear to me whether the generic strains of B. Longum listed in so many probiotics confer the same benefit as the strains mentioned above.
There have been at least 8 strains of B. Longum studied for their potential health benefits 9 , so when choosing a probiotic, it’s probably a good idea to know which strain of B. Longum is included.
Most of the commercially available probiotics, including some I like, list the species of bacteria generically. However, I did find two products that have taken the time to source B. Longum BB536 – this probiotic blend by Jarrow (which I am currently taking) and this one by Pure Encapsulations.