NCFM® & Prebiotics for Gut Health

Kathy Wheddon Nutritional Therapist DipION

A new study1 from Denmark and Finland shows that a combination of Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM® and the prebiotic cellobiose boosts the numbers of certain beneficial bacteria in the gut, such as Lactobacilli, Bifidobacterium, Colinsella and Eubacterium.

microscopic bacteria
Relatively little is really known about the Colinsella and Eubacterium genera in contrast to Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria, however it is understood that low levels of them can be associated with IBS.

The study gave L.acidophilus NCFM® in combination with the cellobiose prebiotic, or a placebo, to 18 study participants for a period of 3 weeks. After a ‘wash-out’ period of a further 3 weeks, the groups were then switched over.

In addition to increased numbers of probiotic bacteria in the gut, results also showed that branched chain fatty acid (BCFA) levels increased following the combination synbiotic supplementation, whereas there was no effect in the placebo group. Short chain fatty acid (SCFA) levels however did not change in either group.

Branched chain fatty acids (BCFA) are mostly saturated fatty acids (SFA) with one or more methyl branches on the carbon chain. They are found in breast milk, and also in infant meconium, however relatively little is understood about their effects on physiological function, other than to say that low levels have been reported in IBS and IBD patients.

The strain of acidophilus used in this study (L.acidophilus NCFM®) is thought to be the most researched strain of acidophilus in the world, and has been proven to survive gastric acidity and biliary salts and to adhere to the intestinal wall and colonise there. Perhaps we can now add the fact that, in the presence of a prebiotic, this strain has been shown to increase BCFA levels in the gut, to its impressive array of beneficial functions!

The fact that this study did not show any increase in short chain fatty acid levels following the synbiotic supplementation can be explained by the fact that SCFAs are predominantly secreted by anaerobic bacteria, such as Bifidobacteria (rather than Lactobacilli) as they ferment prebiotic fibres in the colon.

As we know, probiotic bacteria are not all created equally. We need bacterial diversity to benefit from the full array of health promoting properties that they collectively bring. As we always say, different strains are used for different conditions, and it is always a question of finding the right one for you.

For further reading, see:

Do our gut bacteria play a part in metabolic conditions and obesity?


  1. 'Synbiotic Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM® and cellobiose does not affect human gut bacterial diversity but increases abundance of Lactobacillus, Bifidobacteria and branched-chain fatty acids: a randomized, double-blinded cross over trial'. FEMS Microbiology Ecology.