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Chew on That! Opportunities in the Digestive Support Space

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Digestive Support Digestive Support

Digestion is on the minds of millions and for good reason. When it is not a smooth operation, it can ruin the day or night.

Borborygmus. Funny word, but when it occurs, it can either be embarrassing or very uncomfortable, and often, it is both. Stomach gurgling beyond the occasional “bweerk” is cringeworthy. And thanks to high-stress lifestyles and gulping down of meals, that singular sound turns into a cacophony and often sends the GI (gastrointestinal) tract’s owner to the bathroom—and then to the dietary supplement marketplace.

The State of the Market

The market research that makes the case to develop sound digestive-support products is compelling. For example, Grand View Research data shows that in 2020, this market globally reached $4.4 billion and is on a fast track to bloom to nearly $90 billion by 2030.

“As we all know, the pandemic brought health and wellness to the forefront, however, especially in the early stages, it also brought the not-so-great eating habits,” commented Rob Brewster, president, Ingredients by Nature, California. He observed that during this time, many people indulged in comfort foods loaded with additives and empty calories, creating numerous cases of “COVID-15,” the average 15-pound weight gain during quarantine. “This stark awareness of how food impacts your gut and digestive health, which then impacts one’s immune health, helped drive the growing market as consumers began to purchase more digestive health products,” he said.

Research FMCG Gurus in 2022 has found that eight in 10 consumers recognize the link between digestive health and overall health, up 10 points since 2018. “This heightened awareness likely explains why a quarter of consumers say digestive health is the most important aspect of their overall health,” asserted Jenna Nelson, EpiCor channel lead – functional food & beverage, Cargill.

Further, Nutrition Business Journal’s 2022 Consumer Survey, 27 percent of consumers feel that gut health is one of their top experiential concerns. According to Mark Walin, senior vice president-business development & marketing, Virginia-based BIO-CAT, Inc., when experiencing frequent bouts of irritating borborygmi, consumers have turned to the drug market to help with these concerns (e.g., antacids, proton pump inhibitors, laxatives). “But new dietary ingredient research and natural product development has helped grow the appeal of non-drug digestive health solutions,” he stated.

Vaughn DuBow, global director of marketing, microbiome solutions, ADM, Illinois, pointed out that today’s consumers are increasingly prioritizing their digestive health, which is one of the top three areas of wellness considered to be a priority for consumers, according to FMCG Gurus’ Nutritional Supplements Global Report 2022. On top of that, DuBow added, 64 percent of global consumers want to improve or address their digestive health by using dietary supplements, which is up significantly from 49 percent in 2020. “A major driver of this focus is the growing consumer awareness of the link between digestion, the gut microbiome and overall well-being. Our research (ADM Outside Voice) shows that 58 percent of global consumers perceive a connection between the function of the bacteria in the gut to wider aspects of well-being.”

A caveat, he said, is that “with this evident interest in digestive health increasing, the marketplace is beginning to become saturated.”

Emerging Marketplace Opportunities

However, DuBow noted, health and wellness brands can break through the noise with tailored nutrition solutions. He commented, “Consumers are defining wellness differently, understanding their needs are unique, and they’re motivated to purchase products that reflect their specific, personal goals.”

According to FMCG Gurus’ 2021 Personalized Nutrition Report, 63 percent of consumers are interested in food and beverage products that are customized to meet their individual needs. As an example, provided DuBow, nutra-solutions that support the microbiome such as specific microbial strains may help consumers achieve their unique digestive wellness goals.

Personalization also includes delivery formats that can easily fit into consumers’ daily lives, meeting sensory preferences; these solutions, said DuBow “are more likely to capture and retain shoppers’ attentions.” Research shows that, of the 89 percent of global consumers who prefer functional food and beverages over supplements, 47 percent say these forms are easier to fit into their daily routines, 54 percent said they’re more readily available, and 80 percent said they’re tastier, according to FMCG Gurus’ Nutritional Supplements Global Report 2022. “This is encouraging manufacturers to embrace the convergence between dietary supplements and functional foods, bringing more convenient and enjoyable formats to the forefront, such as ready-to-drink beverages, gummies, bars and stick packs, all of which are helping pave the way for greater growth and innovation in the digestive health arena,” he observed.

Vishal Shah, whole-time director, Nutriventia Limited, Mumbai, India, believes that “The opportunities in the segment are immense, as consumers today are more informed than ever and are going the extra mile to maintain and improve overall digestive health.”

He sees three major categories with opportunities for successful product development—products for the gut microbiome, pre- and probiotics, and digestive-support beverages.

These product development opportunities are stimulated by several key drivers, Shah explained. Eating too much processed foods can harm the gut microbiome. Consumers are aware of changing dietary patterns and are looking for supplements that provide digestive support. In addition, too much sodium is problematic on the digestive system, as high-sodium foods negatively impact the efficiency of the digestive system. Finally, high and sustained stress is causing many severe digestive issues, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and peptic ulcers. “These factors can lead to gastrointestinal and digestive problems, creating demand for supplements that support digestive and overall gut health,” he commented.

The GBA-Support Opportunity

In digestive health, a factor relatively unheard of only a decade ago, is now a critical driver for on-target new product development—the gut-brain axis (GBA).

Sean Garvey, PhD, director of R&D at BIO-CAT, explained that the GBA consists of the two-way communication between the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal system. People understand the term about having “butterflies in the stomach” and now they are understanding that anxiety and stress can lead to gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and lack of appetite. “The latest GBA research aims to identify specific molecules released by gut microbes that affect feelings of fullness, stress, anxiety, depression and more,” he related.

Brewster added that the term “gut-brain-axis” is no longer foreign among consumers, and more are learning how gut health can affect nearly the entire body. For example, social media is a significant incubator of this concept. “The use of #GutBrainAxis has just over 76k posts on Instagram, where #GutBrainConncetion has over 149k posts, many of which are accompanied by #GutHealth, with 4.5 million uses,” he said. TikTok has 4 million views on videos with the #GutBrainAxis and 29.4 million on #GutBrainConnection.

According to Shah, Google trends show that the number of searches for the term “Gut-Brain Axis” has increased by 33 percent since January 2020. “I believe consumers have started to understand the concept of the Gut-Brain-Axis and are convinced of it,” he remarked. They realize that gut health is an essential pillar of holistic health. And supplements that improve gut health have a direct effect on GBA. Hence, categories such as prebiotics, probiotics, and botanicals that have shown to improve overall gut health would also influence GBA.”

Zac Sniderman, director of business development, North America, OptiBiotix Health Plc, commented, “With the gut microbiome and the gut-brain axis interlinked, there is ample room for health food manufacturers to explore ingredients that promote good digestive health. Metabolites like short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) are also known to play a key part in the gut-brain axis. Dietary fibers and prebiotics like chicory inulin are a good example here, as they stimulate the growth of bifidobacteria and lactobacilli in the gut, which help to boost immunity and digestive health.”

DuBow observed that research into the GBA is expanding, and microbiome research and supplement solutions for the GBA is an emerging area of exploration. Interestingly, he noted, a recent study at the University of Oxford examined changes in psychological processing and measurements of low mood using the 14-strain Bio-Kult formulation. “This preliminary research adds to the growing body of evidence pointing toward a link between specific microorganisms, the gut and the brain,” he said. Overall, there is still much to be learned, as well as communication shared to better support consumers’ understanding of how digestive-supporting offerings can also provide support for cognition and mental well-being.

AnaMaria Cuentas, director of probiotics, California-based Nutralliance, believes that GBA research “is still in its infancy stage and additional clinical trials should be performed to show consumers physically perceivable benefits that go beyond metabolic changes that are often difficult to recognize.”

Upper Digestion Support

Chew and swallow and down the hatch … and while digestion begins in the mouth with saliva (amylase), as the food lands in the stomach, we will either not feel it (desirable) or we will (not desirable). This is the realm of enzymes.

Garvey explained that once food lands in the high-acid, low-pH environment of the stomach, macronutrients go through acid-mediated hydrolysis, kicking off the break-down process. “The breakdown is then augmented by the introduction of gastric and pancreatic enzymes in the upper gut in a secondary process known as enzyme hydrolysis,” he said.

However, he emphasized, often the body is not able to produce the necessary enzymes to promote complete digestion. For example, a deficiency in lactase results in lactose intolerance (65 percent of the global population has this). Garvey elaborated, “The lactase enzyme supports lactose digestion by hydrolyzing lactose into absorbable glucose and galactose components, resulting in less lactose fermentation in the lower gut.

“Another more complicated class of carbohydrate-breakdown enzymes is not produced directly by the body, but instead by our gut microbes. These enzymes are skilled at breaking down specific plant fibers that are associated with gastrointestinal intolerances, but they also serve as fuel for healthy gut microbes,” he said.

BIO-CAT’s OPTIZIOME P3 HYDROLYZER is a proprietary blend of enzymes that helps optimize protein digestion. Under simulated in-vitro gastric conditions, OPTIZIOME P3 HYDROLYZER released 100 percent more amino acids from whey protein, and 228 percent more BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) from plant protein compared to other enzyme products, according to Walin.

In response to the heightened awareness of non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), Walin added that BIO-CAT launched OPTIZIOME GluteAX to support gluten digestion. GluteAX is a patented mixture of three microbial proteases and one plant enzyme which helps digest alpha-gliadin, a gluten protein associated with the gastrointestinal symptoms of NCGS.

“There is quite a lot of activity in the digestive system, with an estimated 90 percent of nutrient absorption occurring in the intestine,” commented Kristin Wilhoyte, global director of product marketing, Deerland Probiotics and Enzymes, Georgia. “In addition to the intestines, the mouth, stomach, pancreas, liver and gall bladder are also producing various enzymes that support the breakdown of food as it makes its way along the gastrointestinal tract,” she described.

Wilhoyte explained that insufficiently digested food entering the intestines can lead to sensitivities to the intestinal lining. “Certain enzyme supplements have the potential to support the breakdown of proteins, carbohydrates and fats, aiding the digestion process in the stomach and potentially enabling more efficient nutrient absorption in the intestine,” she explained. “Essentially, this helps lessen contact time with the gut, supporting the reduction of gastrointestinal issues.”

Deerland’s ProHydrolase and Glutalytic are enzymes that support the ease of digestion of proteins like whey and gluten. She suggested that pairing enzyme solutions like these with probiotics can make for effective, multifunctional offerings, which may help support consumers’ gut health and digestive support needs.

Probiotics and prebiotics don’t stand much of a chance in the churning cauldron of the stomach. According to Cuentas, probiotics’ health benefits are minimized greatly by the abrasive and caustic stomach environment, which essentially kills viable organisms. “The importance of having protected probiotics here comes into play,” she said. Ildong probiotics patented quadruple coating technology protects the viable probiotic as it travels through the acid and bile to break down right as it reaches the duodenum where most nutrient absorption is taking place.

Another issue affecting upper digestion health is common—Helicobacter pylori. According to Shah, research has shown that one-third of the global population carries H. pylori bacteria with varying levels of severity.

Nutriventia’s bsRx 25n is supported by in-vitro studies that we have done wherein we have observed a very significant impact of bsRx 25n against H. pylori. Initial Nutriventia study results indicate that smaller doses (as low as 200mg) would effectively control and manage H. pylori and prevent aggravation of the symptoms over time, according to Shah.

Supporting Microbiome Balance

Research about the microbiome continues fast and furious, as does development of ingredients, chiefly -biotics (pre, pro, post and syn) that are aimed at restoring balance to it for improved digestion.

For example, according to Cuentas, Ildong Bioscience Research Institute research has shown that its strains target microbiome balance and support by improving intestinal adhesion—competitively excluding certain pathogenic bacteria as well as producing strong antimicrobial activity against pathogenic bacteria.

Cargill’s EpiCor postbiotic has more than a dozen published studies including human clinical trials demonstrating its support of the gut microbiome, according to Justin Green PhD, director of scientific affairs for Cargill’s health technologies business. Cargill’s human clinical research has shown EpiCor postbiotic helps positively modulate beneficial bacterial populations and, in model studies, may support short chain fatty acid production, “which are effects that highlight how the ingredient can play an important part supporting the gut microbiome,” he said.

In one published pilot human study, for example, researchers found EpiCor postbiotic offered statistically significant benefit for GI health, including an increase in beneficial bacteria over six weeks and a reduction in gastrointestinal discomfort symptoms among constipation sufferers with mild discomfort.

OptiBiotix’ GRAS (generally recognized as safe) prebiotic ingredient, SlimBiome, blends fructooligosaccharides, chromium and glucomannan to stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract. Sniderman noted that this balance additionally helps regulate the appetite and maintain the body’s glucose levels. “This further regulates the insulin response by contributing to carbohydrate, lipid and protein metabolism and, as a result, consumers crave less sweet and savory foods,” he said.

According to Shah, alterations in the structure and composition of the microbiota in the gut microbiome have been implicated in various GI tract disorders, including IBS. Nearly 10 percent of IBS cases begin after gastroenteritis and leads to post infectious IBS (PIIBS), a condition where the microbial signature closely resembles diarrhea predominant IBS (IBS-D), he explained. Furthermore, a recent study has shown that symptom severity in IBS is negatively associated with microbial richness and a distinct microbial signature.

A clinical study gave subjects with IBS bsRx 25n for 12 weeks. Gut microbiota testing using 16s rRNA sequencing technique was included as an exploratory endpoint in the study to understand the relationship between microbiota and IBS and the impact of study medications on gut microbiota. According to Shah, “the individuals who consumed bsRx 25n showed significant improvement in the gut microbiome—Lactobacillus salivarius and Coriobacteriaceae at end of the study and a significant decrease in the gut microbiome—Sutterella and Veillonella parvula.”

Lower GI Support

Cuentas explained that lower GI issues include a “heterogeneity of symptoms such as global symptoms of IBS, abdominal pain, bloating/distension, flatulence, diarrhea, constipation to name a few.” She reported that Ildong completed a gold standard placebo controlled clinical study which included 112 participants and showed the significant improvement in lower gastrointestinal symptoms after eight weeks.

The Nutriventia clinical study for bsRx 25n in IBS subjects reported significant improvement in IBS symptoms as assessed by the Gastrointestinal Symptom Rating Scale (GSRS) and IBS quality of life (IBS-QoL). “We can conclude that bsRx 25n is beneficial for managing IBS symptoms and supports lower GI/bowel function,” Shah asserted.

PreforPro, from Deerland, is “a prebiotic created based on a bacteriophage blend—and has been shown to work in smaller quantities (15 mg) than other prebiotics, which makes it ideal for supplements,” described Wilhoyte. When combined with probiotic strains, PreforPro has been shown to have the potential to support the GI tract.

Deerland’s spore-forming probiotic, DE111 (Bacillus subtilis), is supported by numerous studies showing that it supports factors relevant to digestive regularity, Wilhoyte added. A key study showedthat DE111 can germinate in the small intestine, surviving gastric transit and the abrasive conditions of the stomach and bile salts. Additionally, the spore-forming characteristic allows DE111 to retain functionality through challenging processing conditions that may otherwise damage conventional lactic acid-bacteria probiotics. “This makes it a great option for dietary supplements like gummies, as well as foods and beverages,” she noted.

“Research also suggests that PreforPro and DE111 work exceptionally well together. Each solution has characteristics to help modulate the microbiome,” she added. “Combinations like this signify new opportunities to incorporate multiple biotics into one offering for more targeted support.”

Indeed, validated Jessica Spears, PhD, director of R&D, BIO-CAT Microbials, “spore formers are being recognized as the next generation of probiotics. The company’s OPTIBIOME BCSC 08-47 Bacillus subtilis is shown to support gastrointestinal health. In a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled clinical trial, BCSC 08-47 significantly increased the proportion of participants showing an improvement in abdominal bloating, belching, and flatulence, compared to placebo control, she reported.

ADM’s ES1 (Bifidobacterium longum subsp. longum CECT7347) probiotic is supported by preclinical and early clinical studies for markers associated with gut health, according to DuBow. In in-vitro trials, ES1 has shown supportive effects on the gut barrier integrity. “Interestingly, preliminary evidence suggests ES1 may help support gastrointestinal health in gluten-sensitive individuals, in addition to gut function support. ES1 also shows potential to support the growing focus on the GBA.

Fiber solutions are also especially important to supporting the gut and digestive health, including promoting healthy regularity. ADM/Matsutani LLC’s Fibersol stimulates the growth of desirable gut microbes that have been associated with digestive health, according to DuBow. A clinical study found that a serving of 3.75 grams of Fibersol nourishes the intestinal microbiota and supports the lower intestinal tract environment. Studies also show that Fibersol ferments more slowly in the large intestine causing less gastric discomfort compared to dietary fibers that ferment more rapidly, he added.

Digestive support will likely continue to be a hot topic and goal for an increasing number of consumers worldwide as they recognize that we are not just what we eat but what and how we digest. NIE

For More Information:

ADM, www.adm.com
BIO-CAT, Inc., www.bio-cat.com
Cargill, www.cargill.com
Deerland Probiotics & Enzymes, www.deerland.com
Ingredients by Nature, www.ingredientsbynature.com
Nutralliance/Ildong, www.nutralliance.com
Nutriventia Limited, www.nutriventia.com
OptiBiotix, www.optibiotix.com

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