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What Does Gut Health Really Mean?

Albion Minerals®
gut health gut health

At first, it seems like an obvious question. When most people think of gut health, they think of freedom from traditional stomach issues—bloating, cramping and discomfort, for example. What many of us don’t realize is that gut health encompasses more—way more—than all of that. In fact, when it comes to gut health, the digestive organs function like a miniature city, with interrelated parts contributing to the overall functioning of the whole.

Once you delve deeper, you find that there is a population within this miniature city that can change the way it all functions—the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome refers to the microorganisms (microbiota) living in our intestines. Gut microbiota play a role in gut health and management of several gastrointestinal disorders. The composition of the gut microbiome is affected by dietary intake and can be changed by dietary carbohydrates, prebiotics and probiotics.

What’s more, researchers are learning that the gut microbiome is responsible for more than just freedom from digestive disorders. Over the past few decades, an expanding body of research has demonstrated links between gut health and the immune system, mood, mental health, heart health and even oral health.1 Most recently, a gut microbiome-brain connection has been identified, meaning the different populations of bacteria in our gut can even impact how our brains work.2

There is an entire neural network, the enteric nervous system (ENS), linked to the digestive tract, which we are learning remarkable things about. The ENS has been called the “gut brain” due to producing the majority of the body’s serotonin, which people typically associate with the central nervous system and human brain. The vagus nerve links the central nervous system to the ENS, or “gut brain,” and allows the two to talk. As an example of this communication, the digestive tract might produce hunger hormones to let our central nervous system know the body is hungry. In a stressful situation, the CNS might reduce blood flow to the digestive tract so that blood is more available to the rest of the body. For these reasons, emotional or stressful events can cause a physical reaction in the gut for some people.

With so much at stake, maintaining gut health is increasingly on the mind of health-conscious consumers.

How Does the Gut Microbiome Work?

Within our gut microbiome, there are types of bacteria that are helpful for our health. These bacteria have several beneficial functions:

• Digesting fiber. Although humans aren’t able to directly digest and absorb carbohydrates from fiber, the microbes that live in our large intestine can. This creates byproducts like short-chain fatty acids that are thought to be linked to health benefits.3
• Producing vitamins like vitamin K.
• Supporting immunity.

Not all bacteria in our gut have a beneficial role, though. As knowledge of the microbiome has expanded, key goals of gut health have been revealed:

• Decrease the number of harmful bacteria.
• Increase the number of beneficial bacteria in our gut.

There are a few ways to accomplish these goals. One way is to eat foods that contain fibers that the harmful bacteria already living in our gut use for energy. These foods are often called prebiotics. Prebiotic fibers are naturally found in foods like garlic or onions, but you might be used to seeing isolated versions on product ingredient labels, such as fructooligosaccharides or inulin. By eating these foods, we can help the “good bacteria” survive and thrive.

Another way is to add more beneficial bacteria in our gut by consuming them directly. This is done by eating probiotics, or fermented foods containing probiotics. These are bacteria found in food that are shown to be linked to certain health benefits, survive the digestive process and take residence in our gut. Yogurt is a common example, although continuing innovation has helped to expand the breadth of foods and beverages with probiotic benefits.

Awareness Among Consumers

With food and beverage a top driver for wellness, today’s consumers are both more aware of, and more interested in, the impact of nutrition on the microbiome. Reflecting this, the global probiotics market is projected to grow to $64 billion at a CAGR of 7 percent from 2017 to 2022. Functional foods and beverages are by far the biggest segment for probiotics, currently standing at $38 billion and representing more than 80 of the total market.4 And nine in 10 global consumers believe that eating healthily is important in creating a feeling of well-being/wellness.5

When it comes to probiotics, consumers show quite a bit of understanding of their benefits. A recent consumer survey fielded by Kerry6 in 14 markets asked health-conscious consumers about their awareness and usage of healthy lifestyle ingredients, including probiotics. In the U.S., 62 percent of consumers are aware of them, while 33 percent have used them in the last six months. Levels of awareness are even higher in China, where 67 percent of consumers are aware of probiotics and 49 percent have used them in the last six months. Among American consumers who are aware of probiotics, the promotion of good digestive health is the most important health benefit (79 percent).7

Trending Foods on the Market

Taking advantage of emerging interest in probiotics, many manufacturers are bringing “new” foods to the market. Drawing on the health halo of the foods of ancient cultures, exotic spices and flavors are becoming part of everyday foods we can easily purchase at the grocery store. Probiotic bacteria, produced via fermentation, are a natural ingredient solution for digestive and immune health, which are both in demand with consumers. In some cases, the benefits of these products are related to how the food is created. Kombucha, for example, relies on fermentation to provide probiotic benefits. As these types of foods and others explode into consumers’ consciousness, the connection between food and health is made. While some probiotic benefits are unique to a particular type of food, rising consumer interest, tastes and lifestyles have driven the demand for probiotics in many new formats.

Opportunity for increasing product offerings comes from understanding consumers’ interest in product formats. When asked if they would be interested in purchasing products in particular categories if they contained ingredients that promoted digestive health, consumers responded with the top four categories, including:

• Yogurt and yogurt-based drinks
• Fruit and vegetable juices
• Cereal, granola and breakfast bars.
• Snacks

It’s not surprising that consumers are most interested in digestive benefits in refrigerated dairy products, as this is the category where, traditionally, they have been most likely to be found. This way of thinking is being disrupted, however, with the growth of healthy food trends, and the increasing types of foods that can now be formulated with probiotics.

Transparency Drives Purchases

One of the top motivators to buy healthy lifestyle products is transparency. For example, the consumer research found three reasons people would be more encouraged to purchase a particular healthy lifestyle products included:

• They recognize active ingredients.
• They did their own research on ingredient/product benefits.
• They saw research or data claims for the product.

Probiotic Innovations for More Product Applications

Another influence on the rise in interest in healthy foods and beverages is due to developments such as the emergence of spore-forming probiotics. It’s important to know that not all probiotics are created equal. Not all probiotics have the same benefits or are supported by documented scientific benefits. There are important variations in quality, related to levels of performance in areas such as survivability, health benefit efficacy and formulation flexibility. Meeting consumer demand for digestive health benefits can therefore be difficult, particularly when benefits need to be delivered in an increasingly wide range of categories.

Simply put, quality means the probiotic:

• Is non-pathogenic and non-toxic.
• Contains a defined active dose, and is supported by published, peer-reviewed clinical studies.
• Survives manufacturing processing conditions.
• Is stable over the shelf life of the product.
• Survives transit through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract in efficacious quantities.

Think of spore-forming probiotics like a plant seed. Spore-formers are naturally dormant probiotics that can withstand many conditions such as heat, pressure and extreme acid or alkaline conditions, any of which may kill vegetative bacterial cells (of which many common probiotic strains are). When conditions are favorable, such as in the human gut, the spore will germinate. This means spore-formers:

• Can be incorporated into a wider range of products than just yogurt, including baked and frozen products.
• Remain viable throughout most manufacturing processes and digestive transit.
• Are extremely stable, with a shelf life of up to five years.

A spore-forming probiotic can be incorporated into most everyday foods and beverages. It remains viable throughout most manufacturing processes and the low pH of the stomach. This makes it ideal for formulation in many novel types of foods, including:

• Juices and smoothies, because the bacteria can survive most manufacturing processes.
• Teas and coffees, because the bacteria can survive high-temperature variants such as the high heat of boiling water.
• Dry powdered beverages and shelf-stable liquid beverages where the bacteria can be delivered through technologies such as push caps and straws.
• Snacks, bars and baked goods, because of the bacteria’s ability to survive most processing conditions (e.g. dough-based bars).

GanedenBC30, (Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086) is a patented, spore-forming probiotic. Studies show GanedenBC30 may help support digestive and immune health, as well as protein utilization, with more than 25 published studies demonstrating its efficacy, safety and functional benefits. Because a large majority of the body’s immune system is located within the intestines, GanedenBC30, when consumed daily, creates a healthier intestinal environment, supporting both digestive and immune function. Similarly, research indicates that probiotic supplementation in combination with protein tended to reduce indices of muscle damage, improves recovery and maintains physical performance subsequent to damaging exercise.8


Clearly, a link exists between gut health, brain health and overall well-being. As consumers’ awareness and increasing interest in health benefits derived from a wide variety of foods and beverages continues to grow, the opportunity to supplement with beneficial probiotics is wide open. Most important, however, is ensuring that the probiotic chosen for supplementation offers survivability, health benefit efficacy and formulation flexibility. NIE


1 https://khni.kerry.com/news/blog/are-fermented-foods-the-same-as-probiotics/.

2 https://khni.kerry.com/news/blog/what-does-digestive-health-really-mean/.

3 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29231905.

4 Markets and Markets Probiotic Market, Sept. 2017.

5 GlobalData – Ingredient Insights: Digestive Health, August 2018.

6 Kerry Global Consumer Survey – Digestive & Immune Health, 2019.

7 Kerry Global Consumer Survey – Digestive & Immune Health, 2019.

8 https://peerj.com/articles/2276/.

Nathan Pratt, PhD, RD completed his doctoral studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where his research focused on weight management, nutrition labelling and consumer behavior. He is a member of Kerry’s nutrition science team and is responsible for supporting internal and external scientific communications and innovation.

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