Poor digestive health is a growing concern that supplement makers are eager to solve

Nutritional OutlookNutritional Outlook Vol. 26 No. 3
Volume 26
Issue 3

Their approach? Improving the health of the microbiome.

© Anatomy Insider / Stock.adobe.com

© Anatomy Insider / Stock.adobe.com

For many years when it came to digestive health, the focus was on treating symptoms and the issues that caused them. The tide has turned. Currently, there’s greater emphasis on improving digestive health and promoting a healthy digestive system from the start.

Where is the digestive health market headed today in terms of consumer interest? Are there particular ingredients or product types garnering more demand? We asked experts to weigh.

Digestive Health and Consumers: Where’s the Market Headed?

A decade ago, consuming probiotics and fiber, or eliminating particular foods like gluten and dairy from one’s diet, were standard approaches to digestive care. So, what’s changed most in the past 10 years? What’s changed is the level of consumer awareness of digestive health.

What consumers do know is that digestive health problems haven’t changed. “Individuals are becoming more and more aware that they have chronic gut health issues, and they know they don’t feel as good as they really could,” says Nathan Price, PhD, chief scientific officer at wellness company Thorne. These days, he says, this awareness is boosting the desire to try natural health products to improve gut health.

Between 60 and 70 million adults in the U.S. are affected by digestive health issues, Price estimates, and many aren’t seeking help from the medical or pharmaceutical industries. Instead, they are looking for natural solutions. Currently, the global digestive health market, spanning products like probiotics, prebiotics, digestive enzymes, vitamins, and dietary supplements, is expected to reach $72 billion by 2027, at a CAGR of 7.9%, according to statistics from Fortune Business Insights.

What’s Causing Digestive Problems?

“Several factors today contribute to poor digestive health,” notes Irfan Qureshi, ND, vice president of product development and quality assurance at supplement and health company Healthy Directions. These include health conditions like inflammatory bowel disease and similar issues.

Processed foods that lack nutrition, as well as a glut of sugary foods, can negatively impact the microbiome, too, Qureshi says. “Disruptions in the health of the microbiome can lead to chronic digestive issues as well as an increase in food intolerances,” he adds.

Stress is another significant factor in poor digestive health. “Taking these factors into consideration,” says Qureshi, “it’s not hard to see why so many individuals suffer from poor digestive health.”

Price adds that modern-day living, where most time is spent indoors in comparatively sterile environments, doesn’t help the microbiome, nor does the overuse of antibiotics, which decimates this complex structure.

Ingredients and Products Trending Now

Probiotics continue to see the lion’s share of growth in the digestive health space, Qureshi says. “Condition-specific or benefit-specific strains continue to be researched and commercialized and are leading the charge from a category standpoint,” he notes.

Another area of growth is probiotics that support specific bodily functions—such as probiotics that also support metabolic health, he notes. Probiotic companies are now focusing on targeting specific symptoms, or offering particular benefits to the GI tract.

Prebiotics are also growing. “There are several offerings in this space, including prebiotics that are fiber-based, as well as non-fiber-based ingredients with prebiotic benefits,” Qureshi says. He expects good growth in this category over the next several years.

Botanical extracts—ingredients like licorice, turmeric, ginger, triphala, fennel, and others—are other popular ingredients in the digestive health market, too.

Lastly, digestive enzymes are still a key component of digestive health. “A fundamental concern many people have is the ability to properly process and digest foods,” Qureshi says, “Enzymes can help with this issue and alleviate common symptoms such as bloating and feelings of fullness.”

The Future Is Customized

Consumers are more proactive about tackling their digestive health problems. One trending practice, Price points out, is microbiome testing. Thorne—and other companies—use gut health tests to help pinpoint individuals’ digestive issues so that they can seek out customized care.

“It’s only become possible over the last few years to dive in and understand the microbes that exist in our guts,” Price says. “Based on extensive work from scientists across the globe, it is now possible to deliver relevant insights from the gut microbiome that can be tied to personalized recommendations to optimize gut health.”

The research into digestive health continues, and the insights and emphasis on improving gut health it provides are sure to be exciting.

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