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Something to Chew On: Revitalizing the Digestive Health Category

Albion Minerals®
Digestive Support Digestive Support

Digestive health is emerging as a powerful focus for consumers. There is growing opportunity for products that are easy to digest—physically and educationally.

Gut feelings, on people’s minds today, are not just about the physical sensation felt in one’s abdomen in response to a situation, it’s also about figuring out how to combat digestive issues.

“‘Listening to your gut’ has taken on new meaning for consumers around the world as they gain understanding of the connection between their gut health and overall well-being,” underscored Pam Stauffer, global marketing programs manager, Cargill (Minnesota). She cited a 2018 HealthFocus survey “Global Gut Health: Understanding Shopper Attitudes Towards Digestive Health Around the World,” HealthFocus International 2018 Global Topic Report, which found more than 70 percent of consumers believe their digestive health contributes to their overall physical health, with six in 10 shoppers linking gut health with immunity, energy, weight management, mood, healthy aging and stress. The report also showed that digestive health is now a top priority for nearly eight in 10 consumers globally, and more than half are now choosing products that help support their digestive health.

“Broadly there are three factors driving growth in the digestive health space—interest, awareness and proactivity,” observed John Quilter, vice president of global portfolio, proactive health, Kerry (Ireland).

Interest is demonstrated via two key statistics, he cited: over the past five years, the number of Google searches for “Gut Health” has more than quadrupled (as of Dec. 3, 2020). “This is linked to increasing awareness of the potential of particular ingredients.” For example, Kerry’s 2019 Global Survey Digestive & Immune Health found that approximately eight in 10 (79 percent) Americans know that probiotics provide digestive health benefits.

“Finally,” he pointed out, “consumers are willing to act on that interest and awareness by buying probiotics. This is partly because of an increasingly proactive approach to health and wellness generally.” Globally, according to GlobalData’s TrendSights: Overview Health & Wellness 2018, 42 percent of consumers say they actively seek out products that can improve their health, and 47 percent say they react to health problems when they arise.

According to Mariko Hill, product development executive, Gencor (California), a primary cause of increasingly common poor digestive health is inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract commonly caused by dysbiosis, stress and poor diet, along with eating too quickly. Left unaddressed, this can lead to leaky gut and/or small intestinal bacteria overgrowth (SIBO).

“Digestive health is increasingly being recognized as a key factor influencing all manner of biological functions, from inflammation and immune function right through to brain and heart health,” elaborated Kevin Krail, business development manager, Marinova Pty Ltd., Australia. “Recent market research indicates that nearly half of all consumers now believe that a healthy gut is key for overall wellbeing, and in the U.S. alone the digestive health market is reported to have nearly tripled in size over the last decade.”

The pandemic has spawned many new habits and behaviors, as well as trends. One health concept that has been brought further to the forefront is that of balance or reset. Said Hill, “Both these words gained more traction once consumers began to understand that there were two types of bacteria—the ‘good’ and the ‘bad.’ By re-colonizing the gut from consuming anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, pre-biotics and probiotics, individuals are able to ‘reset’ their health and build a stronger digestive system.”

Justin Green, PhD, director of scientific affairs, Cargill Health Technologies, believes this is a fertile area for product development opportunities. “Digestive balance and reset products are becoming more abundant in the gut health space,” he stated.

On a more immediate basis, observed Krail, products that can help reduce feelings of gas, bloating and other gastrointestinal symptoms are a key focus for consumers in this sector. For example, he pointed out, the “free from” movement continues to lead the way in digestive support, with gluten-, lactose- and dairy-free products often perceived as healthier, more natural and easier to digest. This is also expanding the consumer base beyond those who are intolerant and allergic to certain ingredients.

In 2020, high, constant stress has invaded even the hardiest of folk. And stress is causing millions of consumers to seek out digestive support. According to Reshma Rathi, vice president of sales, California-based Specialty Enzymes & Probiotics, California, people first notice the impact of stress on their digestive system. Stress-instigated turmoil can impact the body’s ability to digest food, or can lead to binge eating or other eating problems, which also impact digestion. “Both can result in digestive discomfort, gas, bloating, cramping, diarrhea and other issues. Long term, stress can wreak havoc on the digestive tract and cause chronic issues,” she said.

Emerging Ingredients

As one would expect, anything “-biotic” is prominent in the digestive health space, and exciting developments continue at a rapid clip.

Postbiotics are a new, emerging health ingredient category that is starting to gain momentum in the gut health space, according to Green. Postbiotics are bioactive compounds produced by food-grade microorganisms during a fermentation process. Postbiotics include microbial cells, cell constituents and metabolites. During fermentation, probiotics consume prebiotics, thus creating the postbiotic metabolites. “As an alternative or complement to prebiotics and probiotics, postbiotics give formulators a new, science-based option to add gut and immune claims to their products,” he said. “It is becoming clear that conversion of nutrients by the microbiota changes these molecules into metabolites that may be more bioavailable and/or more bioactive. A phytonutrient that is not normally absorbed may still be important in nutrition or supplementation if it is converted into a factor that is absorbed and can have a beneficial effect.”

EpiCor, from Cargill Health Technologies, is a whole food fermentate and a postbiotic ingredient clinically shown to positively modulate the gut microbiota. A dozen published studies show EpiCor helps support a healthy immune system and modulate gut microbiota.

GanedenBC30 (Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086) is Kerry’s patented spore-forming probiotic ingredient supported by more than 25 published studies, according to Quilter. “These have demonstrated benefits not just for digestive health, but also immune health,” he said. Last year, for example, research reported that a randomized study found supplementation with GanedenBC30 may help support the digestive and immune health of healthy children. Most recently, a new randomized human clinical study has shown that GanedenBC30 can support protein absorption.

A new study from Deerland Probiotic and Enzymes, Georgia, shows the synbiotic nature of bacteriophages (PreforPro) with a probiotic to promote healthy gut flora balance as well as improved digestive function. In this study, 66 participants consumed either placebo; Bifidobacterium animalis BL04 (B. lactis BL04) 1 billion CFU; or B. lactis BL04 (1 billion CFU) plus PreforPro (15mg) for four weeks.

Those in the B. lactis plus PreforPro group had five attributes over those in the other two groups: improvements in self-reported GI (gastrointestinal) inflammation symptoms; reduction in colonic cramp discomfort; greater increase in the presence of Lactobacillus vs. placebo; decrease of strains Citrobacter and Desulfovibrio, which are associated with gut inflammation and GI disorders, and reduction in E. coli. “This study demonstrates the opportunity and capability of phages in the robust support of healthy microflora balance and the associated physiological benefits. Phages are clearly up-and-coming supplements in the rapidly burgeoning arena of microbiome support,” summarized John Deaton, vice president of science and technology.

A 2017 study showed Deerland’s spore-forming probiotic, Bacillus subtilis DE111 promoted healthy bowel movement regularity in individuals who have occasional irregularity. In this study, 50 participants consumed either DE111 or placebo for 105 days and had their stools evaluated during the course of the study. Statistically significant results showed a reduction of alternating constipation and diarrhea for the participants taking DE111 compared to placebo. The proportion of normal stools (types 3 and 4) increased from 54 to 64 percent in the DE111 group, while the proportion of normal stools decreased from 56 to 48 percent in the placebo group.

“Bacteria make up more than 50 percent of the composition of a healthy person’s stool, and play a major role in the quality and frequency of bowel movements,” said Deaton. “Determining specific strains, such as DE111, that support regular and healthy bowel movements is beneficial in developing a probiotic formulation for digestive health.”

Specialty Enzymes & Probiotics also provides a Bacillus strain, SEBiotic (Bacillus coagulans LBSC). “Studies on SEBiotic have shown it supports recovery from diarrhea and symptoms of IBS, and promotes microbiome modulation,” Rathi said.

The company also provides SEB Gluten Relief, an enzyme blend that is shown to promote gluten digestion effectively. In sports nutrition, the proteolytic enzyme blend Pepzyme AG is shown to support the breakdown of protein to smaller peptides, promoting digestion and nutrient absorption while reducing digestive discomfort. Deerland, too, provides enzymes for specific macronutrient breakdown resulting in more efficient digestion.

Of course, there are other innovative ingredients with research demonstrating digestive regulation and support attributes.

Aquamin, the seaweed-derived mineral complex containing calcium, magnesium and numerous trace minerals, has approximately a dozen studies showing its efficacy in supporting digestive function, according to David O’Leary, commercial manager for Marigot Ltd. of Cork, Ireland, the manufacturer of the ingredient distributed exclusively in North America by Stauber. O’Leary noted that the studies show benefit in areas as diverse as reducing discomfort associated with colitis, reducing inflammation in the GI tract, supporting maintenance of a healthy stomach lining and even reducing polyp formation in mice fed a high-fat diet.

Dolcas Biotech, New Jersey and Olene have jointly innovated a patented highly concentrated ginger root extract called Ginfort. According to KG Rao, president and CEO of Dolcas, the ingredient delivers 26 percent total gingerols and shogaols, the highest available gingeroid polyphenol content and the active compound that provides the effects of modulating upper digestion. It was the subject of a 28-day double-blind, randomized controlled trial in individuals with functional dyspepsia; this study, said Rao, will be published in early 2021.

For digestive health, noted Hill, Gencor’s curcumin and palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) are two strong ingredients that support gut inflammation. Curcumin is a widely known potent regulator of inflammation and is also shown to increase the abundance of anti-inflammatory bacteria including bifidobacteria and lactobacilli while simultaneously decreasing the abundance of pro-inflammatory bacteria, such as enterobacteria and enterococci. This leads to better intestinal barrier integrity to prevent “leaky gut.”

“Palmitoylethanolamide, an endogenous fatty acid amide with anti-inflammatory properties, is another ingredient that influences the gut microbiota,” she explained. PEA has different mechanisms of action than curcumin. PEA may relieve inflammatory symptoms of gut disorders through its action on PPAR-α in the colon, which helps prevent unwanted changes of the gut microbiota.

PEA’s mechanism of action illustrates how tightly knit together the digestive and immune systems are. Hill elaborated, “Gut microbiota are necessary in the development of the innate immune system and are essential in shaping adaptive immunity. Therefore, PEA is potentially a beneficial endogenous biodome mediator that can contribute to correcting the effect of dysbiosis and shape the immune system.”

Similarly, Cargill’s Oliggo-Fiber chicory root fiber is a prebiotic fiber is backed by more than 20 years of research showing its positive effect promoting beneficial bacteria in the gut, also helping to correct dysbiosis, according to Stauffer. “Studies have shown that 5 grams of chicory root fiber per day not only add fiber to the diet but can also help feed normal beneficial bacteria in the gut and supports a healthy microflora in the digestive tract.”

When enzymes are insufficient in amount or action, the body’s ability to digest macronutrients becomes impaired, causing several symptoms of upper GI discomfort (such as gas, bloating).

Asdamarin is a new herbal compound from Vidya Herbs USA, an India-based company with U.S. headquarters in Florida. The blend of milk thistle seed and asafoetida (an ayurvedic herb) is targeted for the upper digestive supplement market to provide support of digestive enzyme activity. “With a daily dose of just 500 milligrams, Asdamarin may assist digestion by supporting the movement of food through the digestive tract,” said Christopher Bailey, PhD, director of scientific affairs.

In a new, soon-to-be-published study participants with upper digestive disturbances consumed Asdamarin (250 mg, twice per day after food) or a placebo for seven days. Bailey reported that those in the Asdamarin group exhibited significant improvements in various parameters including the Gastrointestinal Symptom Rating Scale (GSRS) compared to the placebo.

Marinova’s Maritech organic fucoidan is, according to Krail, a trending ingredient in the gut and digestive health category. “Comprehensive research has shown a range of gastrointestinal benefits including protecting gut flora from antibiotics, maintaining the balance of good and bad bacteria, reducing gut inflammation, reducing the growth of yeast and fungus, inhibiting viruses and bacteria, and protecting against liver disease,” he explained.

Fucoidan initiates a combination of direct anti-inflammatory action and favorable changes to the microbiome providing a beneficial role in common inflammatory conditions of the gut, he added. Fucoidan has been shown to help manage colitis, a chronic inflammatory gut condition, as well as to be an effective inhibitor of Helicobacter pylori—a pathogen that can cause stomach ulcers.

Maritech fucoidan has relevance for gut health in athletes, according to Australian researchers. The study measured key markers of immunity and inflammation, including fecal lysozyme, an antimicrobial enzyme considered an indicative marker of mucosal immune function. There was a 45 percent increase in fecal lysozyme in a group of elite athletes who supplemented with Maritech fucoidan. The researchers noted that lysozyme levels in the elite athletes normalized and were restored to levels consistent with those of a healthy control group. “The significant increase in the lysozyme concentration certainly suggests that Maritech fucoidan could be beneficial in supporting a healthy gut and enhancing immune function in high performance athletes,” Krail reported.

Market Snapshot

Digestive support for consumers can be delivered beyond traditional capsules, tablets or soft gels. In the probiotic market, for example, said Quilter, a significant recent change is that consumers now expect to see probiotics in a wide range of everyday foods and beverages—it’s no longer just about supplements, or products traditionally associated with probiotics, like yogurt. “According to Kerry’s MENAT Proactive Healthy Proprietary Consumer Research (July 2020), nearly three in 10 (28 percent) consumers say they would be more interested in purchasing hot beverages if they contained ingredients promoting digestive health,” he cited.

Krail agreed, observing that the rapid growth of the functional beverage market during recent years is notable and worth considering. “For example, The delivery of digestive products in a drink or gel format expands the consumer market considerably,” he suggested.

The top benefits influencing consumers’ functional beverage and food choices are immune and digestive support, Green pointed out. “Those priorities extend to the supplement space as well; for growing numbers of consumers, ‘gut health equals good health.’” NIE

For More Information:

Cargill Health Technologies, https://epicorhealth.com
Deerland Probiotics & Enzymes, www.deerland.com
DolCas Biotech, LLC, www.dolcas-biotech.com
Epicor, www.epicoringredient.com
Gencor, www.gencorpacific.com
Kerry, www.kerry.com
Marigot Ltd./Stauber, www.stauberusa.com
Marinova Pty Ltd., www.marinova.com.au
Specialty Enzymes & Probiotics, http://specialtyenzymes.com
Vidya Herbs. www.vidyaherbsusa.com

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