Nutrition Industry Executive (NIE) reached out to Melanie Bush, vice president of science and research at Fort Wayne, IA-based Artemis International, about ingredients for digestive health and the microbiome.
NIE: Early in the 20th century, health products for digestion mainly consisted of bitters and digestive tonics. What sub-categories or types of ingredients are the biggest today, and why?
Bush: Let’s look at four key subcategories:
1. Probiotics: A quality probiotic pill should contain a potent dose of friendly bacteria in different varieties. When consumed, probiotics will make their way to the colon, attach to the walls of the intestine, and begin to colonize.
Assuming consumers take the right strains of clinically studied probiotics, they can help improve digestion, absorb minerals and nutrients, produce vitamins, and rid the body of damaging toxins as they grow.
2. Prebiotics: Once probiotics make their way to the gut, they begin to feed off prebiotics, a fiber-based form of food needed to help them survive, grow and populate.
3. Postbiotics: Probiotics are what’s left at the end, once the “good” bacteria have fed on fiber (prebiotics). They include a number of substances and nutrients such as amino acids, vitamins and short-chain fatty acids.
4. Digestive Enzymes: Digestive enzymes help people break down and digest foods fast. For those who have food allergies, digestive enzymes can help them return to the foods they love without suffering. Top enzymes consumers should look for include protease, amylase, lipase, cellulase, bromelain and papain.
NIE: As to why a growing number of Americans do not produce enough of the proper digestive enzymes, there are several causes—from congenital genetic enzyme insufficiencies to diet-driven pancreatic/insulin dysregulation. To what do you attribute today’s digestive enzyme shortfalls?
Bush: Enzyme deficiencies can be caused by many factors, some more difficult to control than others. For instance, over time, enzyme production may slow due to age or certain medical conditions and there is little we can do to reverse that. However, other factors are controllable.
A poor diet, such as one excessively high in refined sugar or unhealthy fats, can cause inflammation in the digestive tract that can contribute to a reduction in the body’s normal enzyme production and function. While societal diet patterns have ebbed and flowed over the decades, our modern food supply today offers more highly processed foods that are often depleted of natural enzymes and gut-supporting nutrients that can support the body’s natural enzyme production.
Improving the overall balance and health of our gut is related to so many health conditions even beyond enzyme production that it should be a top priority for consumers.
NIE: Increased understanding of the gut-brain axis has led to what recent advances in product development and innovation?
Bush: The rise in issues related to mood, focus, depression, memory, anxiety, sleep and other brain-related issues has fueled increased research into the relationship between the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) and the brain.
Results of ongoing research have created a sizable market opportunity for product developers to create pre- and probiotic blends to help promote better gut microbiota to potentially benefit brain stressors.
NIE: Welcome to the age of biotics! Prebiotics, probiotics, postbiotics and synbiotics — in a nutshell, what tips should manufacturers keep in mind?
Bush: With all the gut health products on the market, brands need to be careful about consumer fatigue and confusion.
It used to be that probiotics were good bacteria for your gut. Then we added prebiotics for consumers to make sense of, and they did, sort of, reasoning that prebiotics feed the good bacteria. But now postbiotics? What am I doing after the fact? And synbiotics? Consumers are now perplexed.
It is on us to communicate the differences better.