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Propionibacterium freudenreichii: benefits of a propionic bacteria

What is Propionibacterium and where is it found? What does Propionibacterium produce in the gut? ¿How does it act on the microbiota? ¿Why can Propionibacterium ferment be taken by persons with dysbiosis, metabolic problems or overweight?



Probiotics are part of our personal care routine because of the actions they have on our body: digestion, immunity, inflammation.

Lactobacilli and bifidobacteria are the best known probiotics, but in recent years experts have focused their attention on Propionibacterium freudenreichii. This is because it acts as a probiotic, a postbiotic and also has a prebiotic effect.

What is Propionibacterium?

Propionibacterium freudenreichii is a type of bacterium (ferment) that is unique in its function. Propionibacterium freudenreichii is a non-motile gram positive bacterium. It is chemoheterotrophic, which means that it needs complex carbohydrates to survive. It is also called a propionic bacteria because it has the particularity of producing a large amount of propionic acid in the colon. Propionic acid is a short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) of vital importance to our microbiota as it is the natural substrate for the bifidobacteria that form part of our microbiota.


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What does Propionibacterium produce in the gut?

The main function of Propionibacterium freudenreichii is to regulate our microbiota. Once ingested, it is able to survive digestion and attach itself to cells and the intestinal mucosa. It then ferments complex sugars (lactose, glucose, galactose and fructose) generating acetate, propionic acid and carbon dioxide.
  • Acetic acid or acetate is metabolised into glutamine and ketone compounds (Rowlands 2017), which reach the small intestine and peripheral tissues such as muscles. Glutamine is an essential component of the gut as it acts both as a nutrient and as a gut protector.
  • Propionic acid is metabolised in the liver, acting as a precursor in gluconeogenesis and blood sugar control, and in lipogenesis and triglyceride control (Escudero Álvarez, 2006). In addition, the presence of propionic acid in the intestine helps to prevent the formation and proliferation of pathogenic flora that can cause infections (Hernández Hdez, 2015).

Propionibacterium also produces B vitamins: B2, B12 and B9, commonly known as folic acid. (Hugenholtz, 2002)


Where is this ferment found in food?

The Propionibacterium freudenreichii ferment is naturally present in dairy products. Today, it is a well-known lactic ferment used in the food industry. Indeed, it is traditionally used in the ripening of Swiss cheese and is involved in the formation of the "eyes" in the cheese.


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Properties of Propionibacterium freudenreichii:

  • Propionibacterium freudenreichii has a prebiotic effect because it stimulates the growth of healthy bacteria such as bifidobacteria colonies. (Bouglé, 1999; Cousin, 2010)
  • it has an essential function as a probiotic: as its name indicates, they are highly productive strains of propionic acid in the gut.
  • It also has a postbiotic effect: during the fermentation process, these bacteria are able to generate a large number of very interesting metabolites, including propionic acid.

Benefits of Propionibacterium freudenreichii

  • Cardiovascular health: it modulates lipid metabolism (cholesterol, triglycerides) by inhibiting HMG-CoA reductase, thus reducing endogenous cholesterol synthesis.
  • Immune system: helps strengthen the intestinal barrier by promoting the growth of bifidobacteria colonies, thus supporting the immune system and providing protection against infections. (Seki, 2004)
  • Anti-inflammatory action: it has been found that people supplemented with Propionibacterium show a decrease in the production of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation. In addition, the probiotic effect of Propionibacterium has been shown to reduce the synthesis of tumour necrosis factor (TNF-α), which is a pro-inflammatory cytokine. (Kekkonen, 2008)
  • Bowel frequency - Intestinal transit: clinical studies show that Propionibacterium supplementation improves bowel movements (constipation) and stool frequency, even in elderly people, who suffer more frequently from constipation. (Hojo 2002; Kaneko, 1994; Seki, 2004)


It is a product recognised as safe and validated by the EFSA (European Food Safety Agency) and by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).


Dietary supplement based on Propionibacterium

Optim Propionibacter is a food supplement based on lactic ferments: Propionibacterium freudenreichii sp. shermani Propionibacterium freudenreichii sp. shermani is a strain of propionic bacteria that contributes to the balance of the microbiota and the regulation of intestinal transit.


Not to be confused with Propionibacterium Acnes...

Within the genus of bacteria Propionibacterium, there are different species. The probiotic effect is given to the species Propionibacterium freudenreichii, which is found in dairy products and has nothing to do with the bacteria Propionibacterium acnes, which is part of the normal microbiota of the skin and which, when it colonises the pore, causes hypersecretion of sebum by the sebaceous glands, which leads to acne.



Bouglé D et al. Effect of propionibacteria supplementation on fecal bifidobacteria and segmental colonic transit time in healthy human subjects. Scand J Gastroenterol. 1999 Feb;34(2):144-8.

Escudero Álvarez E., González Sánchez P.. La fibra dietética. Nutr. Hosp. . 2006 Mayo ; 21( Suppl 2 ): 61-72.

Hernández Hdez et al. Microbiota, Probióticos, Prebióticos y Simbióticos. Pediatr Integral 2015; XIX (5): 337-354

Hojo K et al. Effect of Ingested Culture of Propionibacterium freudenreichii ET-3 on Fecal Microflora and Stool Frequency in Healthy Females, Bioscience and Microflora, 2002, Volume 21, Issue 2, Pages 115-120

Hugenholtz J, Hunik J, Santos H, Smid E (2002) Nutraceutical production by propionibacteria. Lait 82:103–112.

Kaneko T et al. Growth stimulator for bifidobacteria produced by Propionibacterium freudenreichii and several intestinal bacteria. Journal of Dairy Science. 1994 Feb;77(2):393-404.

Kekkonen RA et al. Probiotic intervention has strain-specific anti-inflammatory effects in healthy adults. World J Gastroenterol. 2008 Apr 7;14(13):2029-36.

Rowlands BD, Klugmann M, Rae CD. Acetate metabolism does not reflect astrocytic activity, contributes directly to GABA synthesis, and is increased by silent information regulator 1 activation. J Neurochem. 2017 Mar;140(6):903-918.

Seki K et al. (2004) Effects of fermented milk whey containing novel bifidogenic growth stimulator produced by Propionibacterium on fecal bacteria, putrefactive metabolite, defecation frequency and fecal properties in senile volunteers needed serious nursing-care taking enteral nutrition by tube feeding. J Intest Microbiol 18:107–115