The ’Biotics Business: Postbiotics and probiotic spores go big at Natural Products Expo West 2022

At Expo West, companies discussed how their ingredients stand out in a market that’s growing more competitive.

Postbiotics and spore-form probiotics were headliners for companies at March’s Natural Products Expo West trade show in Anaheim, CA. These ingredients not only boast clinical evidence of efficacy for microbiome, digestive, and immune health, they also provide key formulating benefits thanks to their hardiness and stability. At Expo West, companies discussed how their ingredients stand out in a market that’s growing more competitive.

Postbiotics

Postbiotics, the health-promoting byproducts of probiotic activity, are gaining market share in the functional nutrition market.

Stratum Nutrition (Carthage, MO) discussed how the postbiotics field is more crowded now with different postbiotic ingredients. A year ago, Stratum began distributing LBiome, a postbiotic ingredient from Adare Biome, in North America. LBiome, or Lactobacillus LB, is a heat-treated postbiotic resulting from the combination of fermented culture medium and two bacterial strains, L. fermentum and L. delbrueckii.

Stratum calls LBiome a “pioneer in postbiotics” for several reasons. First, Lactobacillus LB has already been used around the world for more than 100 years to aid digestive health. The LBiome ingredient itself already has 12 published clinical studies to its name, including studies in both adults and children demonstrating its digestive health benefits. (The pediatric research especially stands out, as many postbiotic ingredients do not have the five published human clinical trials in children that LBiome does.)

But most critical, Stratum says, is the fact that the extensive research already done on LBiome was on the ingredient in its postbiotic form. LBiome has always been studied as a postbiotic, said Alexis Collins, Stratum’s director of product and brand strategy, at Expo West. This might differ from other companies currently looking to bring postbiotic ingredients to market and now trying to determine now whether their existing probiotic ingredients have postbiotic benefits, she said.

“Our postbiotic has been used and researched in the postbiotic form since its creation 100 years ago,” she said. “I think there are ingredients that are now looking into their efficacy in a heat-treated, heat-killed format now, but the majority of the research [on those ingredients] was done in the live organism form.”

Another group of postbiotic ingredients coming to market are yeast-derived probiotics that are not derived from human bacterial strains, she added. LBiome stands on that front as well, as it stems from human-derived Lactobacillus strains.

Finally, she pointed out, LBiome is considered a whole ingredient because its fermentate remains in the ingredient. “We are a whole ingredient, so nothing’s centrifuged out,” she explained. “There are other postbiotics out there where it’s just centrifuged-out cells, and they don’t keep the fermentate. I know the fermentate makes things a little messy because you can’t standardize every single little item inside a fermentate, but there are active metabolites in our fermentate…[and we know] there’s activity in that fermentate.”

Unlike some other postbiotics coming to the market for immune health, LBiome focuses primarily on its benefits for digestive health. According to Stratum, clinical research shows that LBiome cells adhere to the gut lining—even if they are not live organisms—thereby enhancing the gut microbiome environment and strengthening the intestinal lining “by providing beneficial support for a healthy brush border and tight junctions.” In this way, the ingredient can quickly help ease lower gastrointestinal upset.

“We see competitors coming out,” Collins said. “Most of them are focused on immune health…They’re marketing toward immune health claims. LBiome is in a totally different arena. We are not in the immune space at all. We’re not looking at any effects on the respiratory system. We are literally just all about digestive health—and experiencing digestive health benefits rather quickly because you don’t have to wait for colonization.” She added: “A lot of the studies on LBiome were done on people who had digestive distress and needed a quick solution, which is why it was a pharmabiotic in Europe.”

Kyowa Hakko USA Inc. (New York City) made headlines with its recent postbiotic launches. First, in late 2020, the company began offering Immuse, a heat-killed probiotic—also called a postbiotic—derived from a unique, patented strain of Lactococcus lactis. Developed by Kirin Holdings Co., the ingredient supports immune health by activating plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDC).

At Expo West, Maria Stanieich, Kyowa Hakko USA’s marketing manager, explained that Immuse’s ability to activate pDC cells is unique to the ingredient. The company explains that “pDC, the ‘commander in chief’ of the immune system, has been shown to activate pivotal cells such as NK, killer-T, helper-T, and B cells, providing broad-range immune support.”

Stanieich said Immuse “is the first and only postbiotic” to activate pDC cells, “which provides more comprehensive immune support.” She added: “No other postbiotic on the marketplace right now can claim that they activate pDCs.” Backed by 11 published human clinical trials, Immuse is a new ingredient to the U.S. but is already featured in several finished products on the market, including a new gummy supplement from BetterBrand called BetterLungs Immunity with Immuse.

Also unique, last year Kyowa Hakko launched what it calls the first postbiotic ingredient for eye health, called Eyemuse, which was also developed by Kirin Holdings Co. This ingredient is said to support the immune cells in the eye, provide anti-inflammatory benefits, and help reduce eye strain and fatigue that result from exposure to stressors like blue light.

Stanieich spoke about the ingredient’s “gut–eye health connection.” She added that studies show that Eyemuse alleviates problems like neck and shoulder stiffness resulting from eye strain, especially when looking at digital screens or when playing esports.

Postbiotics like Eyemuse have the potential to make a big splash in the eye health market. “In the eye health market, we really haven’t seen a lot of innovation,” she said. “We know lutein and things of that nature, which people expect, but this is very different, novel, and can really elevate an existing eye product.”

Spore-Form Probiotics

On the probiotics end, Deerland Probiotics & Enzymes (Kennesaw, GA), which was recently acquired by ADM (Chicago), discussed its new spore-forming probiotic strain for immune support introduced last year, called MuniSpore. Backed by more than 20 in vitro studies, with more to come, the firm says, MuniSpore is derived from the probiotic strain Bacillus clausii CSI08.

Deerland’s other flagship spore-forming probiotic, meanwhile, is its Bacillus subtilis DE111 strain. DE111 continues to rack up the science, including a first-of-its-kind in vivo study published last year showing that DE111 survives and germinates the human gastrointestinal tract.

The spore-forming-probiotic category is more established than the postbiotic or paraprobiotic category. And as with all probiotic strains, it’s important to remember that different spore-form ingredients act in unique ways and offer different benefits. For instance, said Kristin Wilhoyte, Deerland’s director of marketing communications, at Expo West, “MuniSpore’s differentiating characteristic is its antioxidant properties, which really lend it to support for immune health…By supporting more of the antioxidant function than some other typical probiotics, it’s able to help support the immune system.”

Formulating Friendly

While postbiotics and spore formers have their differences, one thing they have in common is that they make formulating easier for certain products and in manufacturing conditions that might be more challenging for live probiotic strains to thrive in.

For instance, spore-form probiotics like Deerland’s MuniSpore and DE111 “can stand up to the heat or the pressures of food and beverage processing,” allowing them to remain stable during manufacturing of food and drinks as well as supplement forms like gummies, Wilhoyte said.

These spore formers can also provide benefits when combined with other spore formers or even live probiotics. “A variety of strains in one dose can be beneficial,” she explained. Because different probiotics, whether spore-form or non-spore, offer unique benefits, you can combine them depending on the health benefits a product seeks to offer. She even added that one benefit “of having a spore within a formulation of non-spores is that you have the variety of strains there and the stability that a spore can bring to a probiotic product to be able to guarantee that CFU count at the end of shelf life.”

A postbiotic like Stratum’s LBiome offers the same type of formulating advantage. As the company says, “LBiome provides the digestive benefits of a probiotic and the formulation flexibility of a spore, with none of the stability or manufacturing concerns.”

Postbiotics broaden the options for formulators who, until now, might have only been able to rely on spore-form probiotics in the probiotic category when working with more challenging delivery systems, said Stratum’s Collins. “Spore formers can go into any delivery system as well, but that’s really your only option with probiotics. So, it’s nice to see postbiotics coming in to give another option in those delivery formats that require really high heat or high acidic levels or water activity.” These benefits will become more important “as the end consumer is increasingly looking for non-pill delivery formats for their functional ingredients,” she added.

As for Kyowa Hakko’s postbiotics, Immuse is already included in foods like yogurt and beverages, as well as in gummies and tablets. “Being that it is heat-treated, it’s very easy to work with, and shelf stable, so it can go in a variety of applications,” Stanieich said.

Their ability to combine easily with other ingredients—such as Kyowa Hakko’s Setria ingredient for immune health or its Cognizin ingredient for brain health, as well as ingredients like melatonin, ashwagandha, and L-theanine—opens the door for “multi-action products” that simultaneously address mood, stress, and sleep support, said Stanieich. This is the next big frontier for immune health products, she added.

Will consumers understand what these newer “biotic” ingredients are? It might take some education, but with certain ingredients, like Stratum’s LBiome, which is derived from the probiotic genus Lactobacillus that consumers are already familiar with, the journey might be easier if you start by emphasizing the ingredient’s probiotic origins first.

Said Collins: “Educating the consumer about what a postbiotic is—I think it’s more going to be, ‘You didn’t want a pill. You wanted a gummy for your digestive health claim. I’ve got a gummy with a digestive health claim. You can look on the back and you can see something called Lactobacillus that is standardized to something that refers to live organisms that were once live, when it’s standardized to cells.’ And I think that will probably be the progression.”