Are Probiotics Moving Beyond Gut Health?

October 20, 2015

Mental and hormonal health may be the future of the probiotics market, but is the research there yet?

Thanks in large part to a history of positioning around digestive and immune health, probiotics have become one of the most successful ingredient categories on the market today. The global probiotics market is currently valued at approximately $35 billion, and Euromonitor International anticipates it will reach $48 billion by 2020.

But for companies looking to set themselves apart on the probiotics market, the key may be to go beyond traditional areas for probiotics and explore new health concerns, such as cognition, hormonal health, and sports nutrition.

At a presentation titled “Bugs, Biomes and the Brain,” Sunita Kumar, industry consultant and functional nutritionist, presented on a few of the areas with the most potential for probiotic market expansion. Kumar’s presentation took place as part of the Probiotics Workshop at SupplySide West 2015.

“The more you really understand areas outside of digestive health and you can start to think about probiotic applications and potential, the more you can better position yourself for how you are really going to stand out in the marketplace,” said Kumar.

 

Gut-Brain Axis

Brain health may be one potential growth area for the probiotics market, driven by mounting research behind the so-called gut-brain axis. Kumar advised probiotic companies to look closely at the ongoing research into the “intestinal brain,” and the ways that gut health may influence cognition.

“There is increasingly more and more research and understanding that we actually have two brains in the body, they are connected, and they affect each other in large ways,” said Kumar.

Mood, motivation, learning ability, memory, hyperactivity, and even autism have shown some sort of link to the health of the gut microbiome, said Kumar, although research into the possible effect of probiotics on these health areas is still very early.

Nonetheless, some probiotic suppliers are already moving in on the brain health space. In 2010, Lallemand (Montreal, QC, Canada) launched its ProbioStick, a combination of probiotic strains Lactobacillus Rosell-52 and Bifidobacterium Rosell-175 that is marketed for stress relief. But even with two clinical studies behind ProbioStick, “it was a hard sell at the beginning,” said Leonid Coloma, key account director, private label, Lallemand Health Solutions.

“I think we were too soon to the market,” said Coloma. “It was kind of like nobody was getting it.”

In 2015, however, it’s a different story. More and more people are aware of the gut-brain axis and Lallemand has seen its ProbioStick start to gain more traction in the market, according to Coloma.

“Maybe 15 months ago, more and more people started asking more about it,” said Coloma. “The momentum is now.”

At SupplySide West, Lallemand promoted its probiotic for stress relief in a new chocolate bar from Barry Callebaut (Zurich, Switzerland), which had only launched a few weeks before the show.

Not all probiotic companies are as ready to jump into the mental health space, though. Ganeden Biotech (Cleveland) has considered the gut-brain angle for its Ganeden BC30 probiotic strain in the past, but “it’s not a current active research area,” according to Mike Bush, senior vice president, Ganeden.

“We’re a bit of a ways away, globally in the probiotic space, from that-from being able to make good claims [relating to the gut-brain axis],” said Bush. He added that part of the hold-up is that mental health trials can be difficult to design effectively for subjective criteria such as mood. Mood trials also tend to be longer-term studies than with immune health, and tend to be very expensive, said Bush.

During her SupplySide West presentation, Kumar said psychobiotics offer “a potential that may or may not come to fruition, but it’s just something to think about as an opportunity in the marketplace.”

 

Hormones and Insulin Resistance

Hormonal health areas may also offer new territory for the probiotics market, with recent studies suggesting gut health may have a big impact on the body’s hormones, said Kumar. She pointed to health concerns such as estrogen dominance, polycystic ovary syndrome, or thyroid conditions as potential areas to watch

Although some of these health areas may fall in the pharmaceutical probiotics space, noted Kumar, there may still be implications for the food or dietary supplement market, depending on future research findings.

Likewise, health areas involving insulin resistance, such as obesity, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes, have also shown potential links to gut health, said Kumar.

“Really, understand how the gut-brain axis affects other axes, such as the hormonal axis, can help you start to think about other opportunities for this marketplace,” she said.

 

Sports Nutrition

Putting aside the possible expansion areas that may be on the horizon, where is the probiotic market moving right now? Sports nutrition has been one of the most promising areas for probiotic growth, and with enough research to support a new health claim, Ganeden is hoping to continue capitalizing on that growth.

Earlier this year, Ganeden announced its customers could now carry the claim “supports protein utilization” on appropriate products containing Ganeden BC30. The company is confident in the claim after 11 studies on the relationship between BC30 and protein.

“We know that with BC30 and protein combined, the BC30 allows the protein to be more used by the body by about 10%,” said Ganeden’s Bush. He added that the effect seems to be the same regardless of whether it’s a plant or animal protein source.

Also at the show, Ganeden showed several new finished products featuring BC30, including XyloBurst PURE probiotic chewing gum, Probiotics MELT Organic buttery spread, and the microwaveable Flapjacked MightyMuffin.

 

Read more:

Crackdown on Probiotic Health Claims Costs Billions for EU Yogurt Industry

Probiotics May Improve Mood

Microbiome and Emerging Research to Unlock Probiotic Mysteries?

 

Michael Crane
Associate Editor
Nutritional Outlook Magazine
michael.crane@ubm.com