A new era in strain-specific digestive support – article

A growing body of science on strain-specific, food-friendly biotics are changing the landscape in new microbiome health products.

May 8, 2024

7 Min Read

“You are what you eat.” It is an axiom that has been around for a long time, and given the emerging science on gut health, it is more relevant to people now than ever. But good health owes a debt of gratitude to the friendly microbiota and supporting characters present in the digestive system — prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics.

More than half of consumers globally are aware of the benefits that gut microorganisms can have on their overall health.[1] This has been a boon for the emerging global microbiome market, which is currently estimated at $6.97 billion and expected to reach $9.1 billion by 2026, with a compound annual growth rate of a solid 8.6 percent.[2] Probiotics have historically been the star ingredients in this category, but as science advances, a new era of digestive support products is in the making.  

As consumers better grasp how microbiome balance impacts health and wellness, they are now linking their gut health to a wide variety of benefits, from digestive support to more nuanced benefits like immune system or mental health support. They are beginning to recognize the microbiome as pivotal to wellness.

 

Moreover, consumers are not just turning to pills and capsules alone to support their guts; they are now leaning into the idea that their food and beverage choices can carry a significant impact. In fact, nearly 1 of every 2 consumers believe that foods and beverages with health benefits bring added value;[3] 76% of global consumers between the ages of 26 and 55 believe that healthy aging starts with what they eat and drink and nearly 8 in 10 Millennials are interested specifically in digestive health benefits from food.[4]

Dairy products and digestive health

A case in point is dairy and alternative dairy products. Products like yogurt and milk are naturally functional, providing a solid starting point for most consumers. Dairy products are easy to incorporate into existing eating and drinking habits, but in a highly competitive market these inherent product attributes may no longer be enough to increase product usage by today’s discerning consumers. Opportunities do exist, however, to highlight new novel use cases to attract new consumers and expand market reach.

“Dairy and dairy alternatives are becoming an ideal format for functional ingredients with health benefits due to the fact that so many people already associate dairy with various different aspects of health,” said Vaughn DuBow, global director of marketing microbiome for ADM. “This immediately makes it a space that ingredient manufacturers want to play within.”

He added, “Dairy offers a unique medium where ingredients like certain types of probiotics can easily remain stable.”

ADM proprietary research indicates that when consuming healthy dairy and alternative dairy options, consumers are looking for increased protein, calcium and fiber content, while also seeking products that support improved digestion and immune function, as well as healthy weight management.

The digestive health segment is evolving with awareness and purpose, moving toward a new era in which products touting gut microbiome balance are the focus and where various biotics are easily aligned. According to a recent report from Mintel, “What’s next for probiotics,” digestive health products like those that incorporate probiotics and fiber have long made links to the gut microbiome on their packaging. But this strategy is exploding, with the number of consumer packaged goods (CPG) featuring microbiome terminology and claims on pack up 208% since 2018, according to the report. Currently, the majority of launches with on-pack microbiome terminology are within the beauty category, and in top food and drink categories including dairy, kombucha and breakfast cereals.

“With microbiome-based benefits trending with their on-label claims lately, we anticipate that dairy and dairy alternatives will continue to follow that route of promotion, with digestive health and immune health taking top spots in future product releases,” DuBow noted.

 

All this interest and activity has created fertile ground for the development of products featuring the next generation of prebiotic, probiotic and postbiotic ingredients. They offer well-studied strains and blends for specific health benefits and also have the functionality to work in a variety of products.

But taking advantage of these opportunities is complicated. It involves working with an ingredient partner that has deep expertise in the nuances of digestive and microbiome science as well as science-backed strains that support trending health benefits.

Advancing science

As a leader in this area, ADM has a research team focusing on the forefront of advancements in microbiome science along with a broad portfolio of prebiotics, probiotics, postbiotics and enzymes, all supported by critical methodologies and clinical research. The company uses a four-step process to identify, screen and verify a strain to prove (or disprove) its efficacy in the body.

“Clinical evidence is almost always the most important criteria for developers, as this alone can show how and if an ingredient truly works,” said DuBow. “The more clinical substantiation behind an ingredient the more confident the formulator can feel in choosing it for use in an upcoming product.”

Strain specificity is an important part of this picture. “Strain specificity has always been of utmost importance when it comes to probiotics and postbiotics,” DuBow noted. “However, it’s only recently that the general public has become more aware of the fact that not all probiotics or postbiotics are created equally,” he said.

“When looking at a probiotic, it’s easy for one to see the genus and species such as Bifidobacterium longum or Bifidobacterium lactis and assume that all of them are the same. The reality, however, is that the specific strain (in these instances, ADM’s Bifidobacterium longum CECT 7347) is different from all other Bifidobacterium longum products on the market.

“The strain specificity being important is akin to asking why being tall is an important factor in being a good basketball player,” DuBow said. “The strain itself dictates how the ingredient works and ultimately the final effects that will be experienced by the user.”

Take ADM’s DE111® probiotic. It is a shelf-stable strain of Bacillus subtilis, which has been consumed in fermented foods like natto for centuries and is found naturally in the gut. But DE111 also has nine human clinical trials with documented results in different aspects of health and wellness. Evidence has shown that DE111® may help support healthy immune function and it may also help support digestive health in adults and young children.

ADM’s BPL1 Probiotic (Bifidobacterium lactis) CECT 8145 is a probiotic strain that has been documented to support metabolic health, with emerging and in vitro evidence suggesting that in combination with diet and exercise it may help support weight management, a healthy body mass index and metabolic health pathways.

Beyond strain and scientific evidence, an ingredient’s stability is also a crucial consideration because not all ingredients are suitable for every product type. “Even the most impressive biotic in the world cannot be effective if it doesn’t remain stable within a given delivery format,” DuBow explained. “For example, if one finds a probiotic which features acceptable stability in a capsule or tablet, but it dies off quickly in high moisture environments, it wouldn’t be suitable to use it in a food or beverage application.”

 

In this case, a prebiotic like DE111 with demonstrated abilities to withstand different manufacturing processes like flash pasteurization, hot fill, hot mix or short baking, or a postbiotic ingredient might be a better choice. ADM’s ES1 Postbiotic Bifidobacterium longum CECT 7347 has been shown to support digestive health, may help reduce bloating, and has the added stability of a postbiotic, which can be easily used in nearly any formulation.

These capabilities are changing the landscape in functional food product development. The next market frontier is blends that will work synergistically to target a particular health benefit, like sports performance or recovery. “ADM now offers certain blends of probiotics, such as the AD Blend and the Athletic Lifestyle Formulation, that combine multiple probiotic strains into one formulation due to the specific qualities of the probiotics found within them,” DuBow added. For example, the active lifestyle formulation includes strains like BPL4 (Lacticaseibacillis casei CECT 9104) and BPL15 (Lacticaseibacillus rhamnosus CECT 8361), and ES1 (Bifidobacterium longum CECT 7347). This blend has clinically documented results in reducing measures related to oxidative stress in healthy people practicing prolonged, intense exercise. “These strains mixed together provide the perfect scenario to support post-exercise recovery and repair in exercising adults,” he said. 

As the gut health category evolves, understanding of changing attitudes toward health and wellness will be essential. ADM is ready to help with those insights and the formulation and manufacturing expertise needed for innovative, science-backed solutions.

This communication is intended for B2B use and no statements are meant to be perceived as approved by regulatory authorities. Local regulations must be reviewed to confirm permissibility of ingredients and claims for each food category.

[1] ADM Outside VoiceSM in partnership with FMCG Gurus. August 2021.

[2] Mordor Intelligence, “Global Prebiotic/Probiotic Ingredient Industry Reports,” 2020.

[3] FMCG Gurus. Healthy Aging Series: Women’s Health. October 2022.

[4] FMCG Gurus Raw Data. August 2021.

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