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It’s an exciting time to be in the gut health market.
When it comes to the digestive health market, ingredient suppliers are doing more than just trusting their gut. They’re paying attention to market reports and gauging consumer interest, seeking to better understand the gut-brain connection, and exploring market expansion with new delivery methods, partnerships, and ingredients that complement the tried and true.
All in all, it’s adding up to a rosy post-COVID future for ingredients that may help comfort tummy woes, ease digestion, and play a role in general health and wellness.
“More people understand good digestive health is important for overall well-being, including immune function,” says June Lin, global vice president, marketing, health and wellness, ADM (Chicago). “Demand for digestive health products continues to grow, with a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 2.5% and a 100% increase in new product launches with digestive health claims from 2015-2020.”1,2
Rich Pelzel, business manager, Elemend Health LLC (Eden Prairie, MN), points to even better news for the market category from Grand View Research which, he says, shows that “the global dietary supplement market size was valued at $140.3 billion in 2020 and is expected to expand at a CAGR of 8.6% from 2021-2028.”3
It’s not just companies in the industry that have a growing appreciation for the impact that a healthy gut can have on so many other things happening in our bodies.
For example, Sam Michini, vice president of marketing and strategy, Deerland Probiotics & Enzymes (Kennesaw, GA), finds that “consumers are learning and accepting that a healthy gut can impact immunity, mood, energy, and even skin.” He adds that more people are turning to digestive health ingredients to help support their overall wellness. “Google Trends shows that interest in the search term ‘digestive health’ has risen steadily over the past five years,” Michini adds.
Granted, while the lion’s share of the digestive health supplements market is still rooted in probiotics, their popularity piqued consumer interest overall in the broader category and created an opportunity for companies to look at the market from a different perspective.
Anurag Pande, PhD, vice president, scientific affairs, Sabinsa Corp. (East Windsor, NJ), explains it this way: “The digestive system is one of the largest organs in the body. Products to support healthy digestive function constitute a major dietary supplements category.”
He says, “Over the years, probiotics have gained a lot of popularity. At the same time, our understanding that various lifestyle and dietary factors can affect the microbiome health, inflammation, and overall digestive health increased. With this knowledge, today we are better able to support digestive well-being, not only with probiotics but with a range of other ingredients.”
ADM’s Lin also sees the benefit that probiotics have had on the category and appreciates the expanding opportunities this affords suppliers and manufacturers. She advises that with greater awareness that the gut microbiome impacts overall health and wellness, more people are researching “biotics,” with online searches for postbiotics and prebiotics up by 91% and 83%, respectively, in comparison to a 41% increase for probiotics.4
That all represents good news for ingredient suppliers—including those who also sell probiotics—who are keen to push other digestive health ingredients out of the shadows and into the reflective glow from probiotics.
Sabinsa’s Pande notes that even though probiotics have been used for centuries, they alone cannot do the job without proper support from other ingredients, such as prebiotics and digestive enzymes.
Other suppliers, too, are happy to talk about the role of their ingredients in combination with probiotics. At Specialty Enzymes & Probiotics (Chino, CA), Reshma Rathi, vice president of operations, advises the industry to be on the lookout for ingredients that are complementary to probiotics, including prebiotics and postbiotics such as enzymes. “When these three types of ingredients are used together, they can make a profound impact on gut and immune health,” she says.
Samantha Ford, MS, director of business development, AIDP (City of Industry, CA), also has confidence in consumer interest beyond probiotics, calling them “just one piece of the pie when it comes to digestive health. Since so many food products from large manufacturers contain probiotics, there is strong consumer awareness around the concept and the benefits.” But, she adds, “Gut health is multifaceted, and prebiotics and digestive enzymes are other key pieces.”
The Other Biotics and Enzymes
Prebiotics feed the probiotics, says Rathi, but postbiotics—like enzymes—clear the way to make the gut a hospitable place for the probiotics, ensuring maximum absorption and effectiveness in promoting immune and gut health.
As an example, she points to one of her company’s most popular blends—ClenzSEB PB—which contains chitosanase and other enzymes and probiotics. This combination ingredient, she advises, breaks down chitin, a fibrous substance which makes up cell walls of fungi which can wreak havoc on the gut.
Supplemental enzymes target specific food components to augment the body’s own enzyme stores in disassembling nutrients, according to Deerland’s Michini. “Some people lack enough of a specific enzyme to target food compounds,” he says. “As more people become aware of what foods tend to cause bloating, gas, and fecal excretion inefficiencies, they cannot always be successful in avoiding these foods.” But they can find ways to help bolster healthy digestion.
That’s where enzymes step in. Michini’s company provides a cache of supplemental enzymes (e.g., Dairylytic, Glutalytic) especially designed to help people break down lactose or gluten peptides, as examples. He says insufficient breakdown of food or the micronutrient-binding compounds in food reduces the bioavailability of the food’s full nutrient, energy, and health benefits. He adds that “incompletely digested food macronutrients can react with the gut and the bacteria in the gut in negative ways that can lead to inflammation, gas, bloating, irregularity, and digestive discomfort.”
“Research shows that due to age, stress, and lifestyle, we produce fewer digestive enzymes,” says Rathi at Specialty Enzymes & Probiotics. “A lack of digestive enzymes can lead to a gut microbiome imbalance, leading to a slew of digestive issues and even possibly to chronic health problems. Supplemental enzymes have been shown to benefit digestive health, supporting relief from diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas, and mood changes, as well as promoting nutrient absorption.”
Both Rathi and Michini believe an important trend in enzyme formulation is to focus on specific consumer needs, whether it’s for those on a Keto diet, athletes requiring breakdown of large amounts of protein, people with dairy or gluten sensitivities, or those looking for certifications such as GMO, kosher, or halal, as examples.
AIDP also specializes in prebiotics, and according to Ford, her company looks for unique positions. For example, she says the firm’s Actazin and Livaux products are derived from New Zealand kiwis, providing prebiotics, enzymes, polyphenols, and fibers. Ford calls them “whole-food solutions with strong clinical evidence on their own and in combination with probiotics.”
Ford shares that her company recently conducted a study, not yet published, showing the synergies of Actazin, a green kiwi powder, and PreticX, a low-dose XOS prebiotic. “The double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicenter study evaluated the Bristol Stool Score and Complete Spontaneous Bowel Movements, plus other safety measurements,” she says. The findings, according to Ford, demonstrated that Actazin at a low dose and in combination with PreticX improved the normality of stool form of the participants throughout the study at a statistically significant level.5
She adds, “We believe these synergistic solutions will continue to be studied and gain consumer acceptance.”
Michini is also intrigued by prebiotics with lower doses providing efficacy. He says that “next-generation prebiotics overcome several of the limitations of many of the common oligosaccharide prebiotics on the market” that require high doses at 4-40 g for efficacy. He points out that some of the emerging prebiotics show efficacy at 1-2 g, adding that in the case of phage-based prebiotics, including his own company’s ingredient PreforPro, efficacy can be found at as little as 15 mg.
When it comes to postbiotics, ADM’s Lin explains that postbiotics have similar functionality and benefits as probiotics, but she says that “as inanimate microorganisms, they retain stability during harsh conditions, which increases application versatility.” That makes postbiotics ideal for incorporating into a range and variety of foods, beverages, and supplements, that, as Lin explains “would be otherwise unsuitable for probiotic inclusion.” ADM’s postbiotic HT-BPL1 is the heat-treated version of the company’s BPL1 probiotic and, says Lin, the postbiotic can withstand high heat and processing conditions such as pasteurization that many probiotics would not survive.
“As consumers continue to equate better digestive health with overall wellness,” says Michini, “we expect to continue to see growth in probiotics, prebiotics, synbiotics (a combination of probiotics and prebiotics), and digestive enzymes.” He says Nutrition Business Journal estimates that the prebiotic and synbiotic markets in 2021 will grow by 13% and 10%, respectively.6
Fiber at the Forefront
Despite the known health benefits of fiber, it’s been reported that an estimated 95% of Americans don’t consume enough7, leading to scientific and government concerns that because of its underconsumption, fiber is a dietary component of public health concern.8
Ingredient suppliers are enthusiastic about the potential for fiber in the digestive health market, with companies continuing to tout its benefits and explore ways to improve taste and convenience for consumers.
For example, Nicole Redini, category manager, nutrition, Tate & Lyle (Chicago), believes the understanding of how the gut impacts overall human health is advancing significantly and continues to be a topic of interest to researchers as well as consumers. “The gut microbiome is critical for the maintenance of gut barrier function, development of the immune system, and decreasing risk of infection from pathogens,” she says. Further, Redini adds, “research has established that certain dietary fibers act as prebiotics, selectively stimulating beneficial gut microbiota, conferring a health benefit.”
As Redini explains, “Dietary fibers resist digestion in the stomach and small intestine and are fermented to varying degrees in the human colon, many promoting laxation and demonstrating prebiotic effects.”
Interestingly, consumers seem to instinctively know they should want to get more fiber into their diet, even though they’re realistically falling short. Redini cites a survey from the International Food Information Council (IFIC)9 that positions fiber as the number one type of food that is perceived to be healthy, with approximately 80% of respondents recognizing fiber as a healthy food. In this survey, says Redini, “fiber outranks other ingredients such as whole grains, protein, and probiotics in terms of healthfulness.”
Her company is only too happy to help bring consumers aboard the fiber train.
This past May, Tate & Lyle expanded its Promitor Soluble Fiber line, adding two new liquid versions. According to the company’s press release10, “Promitor Soluble Fiber W contains a minimum of 85% fiber and less than 2% sugars” and “Promitor Soluble Fiber 90L is a liquid version of Tate & Lyle’s existing 90% fiber powder ingredient, which, depending on the end-product and manufacturing setup, can provide production efficiencies by avoiding the need to dissolve or handle powders.”
Sally Romano, category director, nutrition, Tate & Lyle, says, “Over the past few years, there has been a rise in the number of products that have launched in formats outside of traditional dietary fiber powders which include fiber gummies, cookies, wellness shots, functional beverages, etc., that deliver an enjoyable experience for consumers while still delivering on nutritional benefits. Consumers look to both food and supplements as a source for adding fiber to their diets, and products that can deliver on convenience, taste, and benefits will continue to see growth.”
ADM, too, is a big proponent of supplying fiber in ways that give manufacturers flexibility and serve consumers with options they’re seeking. Based on results of its own proprietary research11, Lin states that “tailored health solutions are increasingly important, with 49% of consumers believing every individual is unique and requires a customized approach to their diet.”
According to Lin, “Busy consumers are increasingly interested in foods and beverages containing functional ingredients as a convenient and delicious way to boost digestive health.”
ADM’s Fibersol line of prebiotic dietary fiber not only supports the gastrointestinal microbiome, says Lin, but it “easily incorporates into a variety of food and beverage applications without impacting the sensory experience, because it is highly soluble, low-viscosity, and heat-, acid-, shear-, freeze-, and thaw-stable.” She notes that more product developers are starting to incorporate the line into applications including sports drinks, nutrition bars, milk alternatives, supplements, and more.
Complementing the IFIC research, ADM’s research reinforces that more than half of consumers associate fiber with benefits like healthy digestion.11
Lin says, “Fiber is a key part of maintaining a healthy digestive system by helping to promote regularity and reducing the time waste spends in the body. Recognizing the importance of fiber for gut support, 56% of consumers say they are adding or increasing fiber in their diet.”12
In fact, Grand View Research projects a compound annual growth rate of 8.9% for the global dietary fiber market from 2020-2027, so it appears things are moving along smoothly for the fiber category.13
Colostrum, Mother’s First Milk
“Colostrum is a breast-fed baby’s first food,” says Lauren Crosby, MD, a Beverly Hills–based pediatrician and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She is also a scientific advisor for PanTheryx (Phoenix, AZ), a leading global supplier of bovine colostrum–based health and wellness solutions. “It is the fluid that a nursing baby receives during the first few days after birth before the breastmilk comes in…it has a truly unique composition of protective proteins, immune factors, growth and repair factors, and prebiotics,” she says.
And here’s where we get to gut health. Says Crosby, “As soon as colostrum is ingested, it makes its way to the intestines where the different factors start to work, and in addition, some are absorbed to circulate throughout the body. That process aids in the development of a balanced immune system and promotes a healthy microbiome.”
But sadly, as Crosby puts it, “colostrum production is fleeting.”
Still, suppliers seek to harness the power of “mother’s first milk” (as the ingredient is often referred to) by sourcing colostrum from animals such as cows. And with good reason. Global Market Insights (GMI) placed the colostrum market worldwide at $256 million in 2020, with the bulk of the market attributed to whole colostrum powder followed by nutritional supplement applications. GMI estimates a CAGR of 3.6% between 2021-2027 for the category.14
According to Crosby, “there are over 6,000 studies illuminating the science of bovine (or cow) colostrum and its applications for human health.” She claims that clinical studies have shown that colostrum from cows is almost identical to human colostrum. “Because it contains so many of the same components, the way it works in the body is highly similar as well,” states Crosby.
Pam Cebulski, senior vice president, marketing and general manager, corporate strategy, PanTheryx, says, “The health benefits of bovine colostrum have been studied for decades and for multiple areas of human health, including immunity, digestive health, and sports performance. The health benefits span early life nutrition to adulthood and include supporting the body’s digestive system.”
Elemend Health is also enthusiastic about the ingredient and earlier this year announced a partnership naming Stauber Performance Ingredients (Fullerton, CA) as the exclusive distributor of HlgGH Gold Colostrum. In a joint press release, Rob Sheffer, president and CEO, Elemend, stated, “Our background in colostrum has allowed us to create a product that helps with gut and immunity issues so that people can enjoy life more fully.”15
Peter Stark, PhD, global director, product development, Elemend, says, “The main components of colostrum are the antibodies (IgG, IgA, IgM),” and it’s these antibodies that “protect the gut by binding and removing pathogens,” thereby “protecting the gut barrier from pathogenic invasion.”
His Elemend colleague, Pelzel, says although colostrum is not a new ingredient, he’s witnessed that “more recently, colostrum is gaining increased attention for its beneficial gut health components. Similar to probiotics, colostrum helps balance the gut. With its binding proteins and antibodies, colostrum helps prevent the absorption of viruses and bacteria. It helps fill the tight gap junctions in the lumen to prevent a ‘leaky gut.’”
Cebulski explains that cow colostrum is not a probiotic; instead, it contains oligosaccharides which, she says, can act as prebiotics to feed beneficial microbes in the intestine. “While traditional prebiotics like galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) and fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) have simple structures that can improve gut health, they can be associated with side effects like bloating and gas,” she notes.
According to Cebulski, cow colostrum oligosaccharides have a more complex structure. “As a result,” she says, “they have the ability to increase the growth of several different strains of probiotics and increase the production of healthy metabolites, which feed the intestinal cells.”
Cebulski is impressed by the complexities of cow colostrum, pointing out that “unlike standalone probiotic and prebiotic products, colostrum is a unique, functional ingredient.” As she puts it, with more than 250 beneficial bioactive components including immunoglobulins (mostly as IgG), proteins, peptides, and more, colostrum is important for gut-barrier integrity and healing processes, as well as protecting against viruses and bacteria, and modulating the immune system.
In 2016, PanTheryx expanded its share of the market by acquiring APS BioGroup Inc. and La Belle Associates Inc., two of the world’s leading suppliers of bovine colostrum. Earlier this year, the company announced three new product formulations—extruded soft chews and soft-pressed and baked nutrition bars—for its high-quality bovine (cow) branded colostrum ingredient, ColostrumOne. According to the company’s press release, this launch was the first cow colostrum delivered in these formats in the U.S.16
Companies in the botanicals industry are strong supporters of combining history-of-use and modern-day science. DolCas Biotech Ltd. (Landing, NJ) and Sabinsa represent two of those companies now with stakes in the digestive health market—specifically, with turmeric and its curcumin constituent. Both companies co-authored and supplied ingredients for scientific clinical studies published this year.
“Turmeric’s role in management of digestive health is multipronged,” says Sabinsa’s Pande. “Its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities play important roles in maintaining a healthy digestive tract.” He adds that the ingredient also has an effect on modulating the microbiome, as well as prebiotic benefits.
“All of these discoveries are areas of interest to scientists, healthcare providers, and dietary supplement manufacturers,” Pande advises.
As for curcumin, Pande points to its “broad-spectrum anti-inflammatory activity, which is responsible for its benefit in colon-related health concerns.” Further, he says, “Another aspect of curcumin is its gut microbiome–modulating activity.”
Now, there’s a new area open to exploration of curcumin. Pande references a study published this year on the effects of curcumin—Sabinsa’s Curcumin C3 Complex—on the severity of functional dyspepsia, the main cause of upper abdominal discomfort.
Published in Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, the triple-blinded clinical trial17 was co-authored by Sabinsa’s founder and chairman, Muhammed Majeed, PhD. The study population of 75 patients with functional dyspepsia was allocated to an intervention group (treated with a combination of 500-mg curcumin and 40-mg famotidine daily), while the control group received placebo and 40-mg famotidine. This phase of the trial lasted for one month.
The Hong Kong questionnaire was used at baseline, after the one-month treatment, and again after a one-month follow-up to determine the severity of dyspepsia symptoms. The presence of H. pylori antigens in the stool samples was also investigated in all subjects. No significant difference was observed between intervention and control groups in biochemical indices, severity of dyspepsia, and rate of H. pylori infection. However, according to the study authors, “A significant decrease was observed in severity of dyspepsia (p < 0.001) and rate of H. pylori infection (p = 0.004) immediately after the treatment and follow-up in the curcumin intervention group,” leading the authors to suggest that “this study indicated that curcumin therapy could be a favorable supplementation in the symptom management of functional dyspepsia. Moreover, curcumin could help efficient eradication of H. pylori in these patients.”
Shavon Jackson-Michel, ND, director of medical and scientific affairs, DolCas Biotech, is a co-author of a new study18 published earlier this year in BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies that looked specifically at the effects of Curcugen, DolCas Biotech’s proprietary, branded curcumin extract, on gastrointestinal symptoms, mood, and overall quality of life in adults.
The study was intended to build on previous research that suggested curcumin could alleviate digestive symptoms in adults with self-reported digestive issues. This most recent trial relied specifically on Curcugen rather than multi-herbal combinations used in previous studies. The study further intended to determine the potential therapeutic mechanisms of action associated with curcumin.
The eight-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled study consisted of 79 adults with self-reported digestive complaints. The study participants were randomized to receive either placebo or 500 mg of Curcugen. The Gastrointestinal Symptom Rating Scale (GSRS) and intestinal microbial profile (16S rRNA) were among the outcome measurements used for the digestive health results, which were based on self-reported data from 77 participants.
The results were encouraging in that curcumin was associated with a significantly greater reduction in the GSRS total score compared to placebo, and the curcumin was well-tolerated with no significant adverse events, according to the study authors. In addition, there was also “subsequent improvement in mood dysregulation,” according to a press release from DolCas Biotech.19 The study authors also reported that no other significant between-group changes were identified based on the self-reported data.
As reported in the DolCas Biotech press release, “results showed an average 28% reduction in overall digestive symptoms in the Curcugen group, compared to only 18% in the placebo group. There was an impressive 52% reduction in anxiety levels with Curcugen, compared to only 16% reduction in the placebo group.”
The importance to gut health based on the anxiety level findings was not lost on Jackson-Michel, who stated, “According to scientific literature, negative life events, stress, and anxiety are known triggers for, and the exacerbators of, functional gut disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and functional dyspepsia.” She added, “The findings of this study on Curcugen offer an interesting botanical solution to dealing comprehensively with a potential causal link between these two factors.”
“Science investigations into the effects and mechanisms behind natural ingredients are very important,” says Jackson-Michel. “In particular, as it relates to curcumin, data such as what our study has developed helps to further the credence of turmeric/curcumin as a powerfully acting botanical as well as contextualize and provide answers to conflicting concerns that exist around its bioavailability,” she concludes.
“Many botanicals and natural extracts have centuries and even thousands of years of anecdotal medicinal use,” Jackson-Michel continues, “however, the ability of science to evidence these benefits in a controlled environment in a format and dose that could be found in the market and be liable by the regulations of our industry is the easiest path to customer and consumer confidence.”
Moving the Digestive Health Category Forward
With so many established ingredients already in the digestive health category, what does the industry need to consider in order for the category segment to continue its growth trajectory?
Elemend’s Pelzel says that “new ingredients must offer something unique, something different that is efficacious in improving the gut and overall digestive health. Because something is new does not make it better. To be a digestive health supplement, the product must survive to be active and useful in the digestive system.”
He adds that consumers should expect to feel some benefit while taking a digestive health supplement. At the same time, he warns that the product benefits can take some time to work.
“If a product claims to support digestive health but consumers do not feel the benefit, they will not continue to buy the product or pay more for a supplement that does not deliver on its functional benefits,” advises Tate & Lyle’s Romano.
But what about consumer expectations? How do companies clearly communicate their products’ benefits to the end user when regulation doesn’t necessarily allow them to do so? After all, supplements and functional foods are not drugs.
Jackson-Michel stresses the importance of science, urging that “published clinical studies on unique or complementary activity in improving digestive health above and beyond the benefits of pre/pro/postbiotics is always a good way to pique the interest of formulators.”
“As for consumers, education is key,” she says. “Focusing on getting the consumer to understand the why and how the active/formula will help them or contribute to their overall health, through the support of digestion, will build the strongest bridge to their confidence.”
PanTheryx’s Cebulski focuses on exploring more of what she calls “the second brain.” She explains that the gut is central to the body’s overall well-being and health through the gut-brain connection. There is growing awareness that immune health is optimized in the gut, as the intestines contain more than 70% of the entire immune system, she says.
“What is less known,” according to Cebulski, “is that the intestines are home to what some people call the ‘second brain,’ also known as the enteric nervous system. There are hundreds of neurons in the intestine which are similar to the cells that are found in the brain. These neurons control the movement and regularity of the digestive process and can communicate directly to the brain.”
Romano points to a growing trend that blurs the lines between food and dietary supplements. “Consumers look to products that are easy to mix into food and beverages without altering taste, texture, or color,” she says.
Jackson-Michel is thinking along the same lines, starting with the supplier/manufacturer relationship. She says that “having ingredients that can be offered in variable delivery options is another way into the doors of manufacturers.” Non-pill-oriented formulations are cutting-edge and interesting and in the case of digestive health support have the potential to stack the benefits by combining convenience benefits with pleasurable taste and texture.
It turns out that consumers really do expect—and want—to have it all. And the digestive health category—along with the rest of the dietary supplement and functional food industry—needs to be prepared to deliver.
ADM’s Lin sums it up this way: “Consumers are looking for dietary supplements that provide a functional benefit, reinforced by clinical studies that demonstrate the product’s efficacy and safety,” she says. But they also want solutions to fit their busy lifestyles, and that includes, according to Lin, the need for a variety of convenient formats, including tablets, capsules, gummies, and beverages. “Plus, these products are expected to taste great,” she adds.
It’s a lot to stomach but good food for thought nonetheless.