Gut health is a 'mega trend'

Digestive health is the single-largest area of the food and health markets in Europe, Japan and South America — and it is on the path to becoming the largest in the US, too, where the food industry is at last embracing an opportunity it had neglected.

Joysa Winter

August 20, 2010

7 Min Read
Gut health is a 'mega trend'

Just how big is the digestive health market? Julian Mellentin of New Nutrition Business, writing in 10 Key Trends in Food, Nutrition and Health 2010, dubs digestive health a "mega-trend" that is moving "beyond the tipping point."

"Digestive health is the single-largest area of the food and health markets in Europe, Japan and South America — and it is on the path to becoming the largest in the US, too, where the food industry is at last embracing an opportunity it had neglected until the sudden success of Danone's Activia probiotic brand forced food marketers to take notice," he said.

Activia, marketed with an explicit health message about digestion, raked in $130 million in 2006, its first year in the US market. Sales had rocketed to $327 million by 2008, and $345 million in 2009.

The recession has done little to slow this or any other digestive brand down. "Many well-supported digestive-health brands that deliver a clear benefit have recorded growth rates of 20 percent or more during the economic recession," he said.

Although probiotics have been the leading digestive ingredient, fiber is not far behind, Mellentin said, and in the case of solid foods, it is the clear digestive leader. "Certainly in solid foods, fiber has largely won the war on probiotics," he said. "Probiotics are not something that's seen as natural in solid foods — even when the technology allows it. Fiber has digestive-health benefits in solid foods all sewn up."

One novel fiber
Danisco has been busy banking on both of these digestive-health trends.

The company's novel soluble fiber, Litesse, has more than 30 clinical studies behind it. Litesse is a nondigestible, low-calorie, low-glycemic specialty carbohydrate that has been shown to increase fecal bulking and softening, decrease transit time, and lower fecal and colonic pH at doses as low as 4g per day.

"Recent human intervention studies, combined with in vitro and metabolism studies, have also demonstrated that Litesse functions as an effective prebiotic," said Michael Bond, Litesse business director. "It is able to improve the balance of the gut microflora by selectively stimulating the growth and activity of beneficial bacteria, while suppressing the amount of detrimental bacteria in the GI tract. Litesse has also been shown to have a sustained prebiotic effect throughout the length of the colon."

Unlike many other fibers and prebiotics, Litesse is extremely well tolerated with a mean laxative dose of 90g per day. In 2007, it was approved by the FDA for use in all foods except meat, poultry, baby foods and infant formula. It is now being used in thousands of products around the world.

Probiotics power
Danisco's HOWARU Dophilus probiotics (Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM) have become one of the more documented lactobacillus on the market, with studies dating back to the early 1970s.

"HOWARU Dophilus has over 75 publications of successful clinical studies in peer-reviewed journals focusing especially on digestive health," said Peggy Steele, global business director, HOWARU food and beverages. "On top of the evidence provided by in vitro tests, human trials have demonstrated that Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM survives GI transit and positively influences the microflora."

In addition to its unique ability to survive passage through the GI tract and extraordinary adherence to intestinal mucus, HOWARU Dophilus was the first probiotic strain to have a complete genome sequence published — something useful for regulatory, manufacturing and scientific purposes.

"It allows the assessment of safety, taxonomy (proper ID and classification) as well as phylogeny (origin and unique traits)," Steele explained. "This also provides the foundation for the improvement of manufacturing yields, product stability, shelf life and strain tracking."

Fish-oil supplier Nordic Naturals joined the probiotic bandwagon in June, with its launch of an EPA/DHA consumer product that adds 2 billion spores per serving of live probiotic.

"Our concentrated fish oil works in synergy with a unique spore-form probiotic, Bacillus coagulans, to deliver all the health benefits of omega-3s (EPA+DHA), while also supporting the immune system and promoting an optimal balance of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract," said Dr. Joseph Maroon, Nordic Naturals' medical advisor.

"Research shows that this unique spore-form probiotic delivers 10 times more live cultures than common probiotic yoghurt cultures. It also does not require special treatments, such as refrigeration."

The spores protect the probiotic from processing conditions — the only such probiotic on the market to do so. It is the BC30 brand from Ganeden. "We just issued our 101st patent for use and applications, we have a good IP position," said Mike Bush, vice president of business development at Ganeden. "We've also published nine studies in the last year alone, everything from supporting a healthy immune system when challenged with a viral or bacterial load to gut and IBS issues."

The probiotic's viability under processing assault makes foods clearly the ingredient's bailiwick. But Ganeden also has its own line of supplements, under the Sustenex line, in thousands of stores in the US.

"We really don't do supplements that compete head to head with our products, but the omega-3 project is an interesting product," said Bush. "It's rock-solid stable in the omegas."

Innovations in the category, from product combinations to more viable probiotics make probiotics a sure-fire growth category.

View chart.

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About the Author(s)

Joysa Winter

Joysa has been reporting on the healthy foods and dietary supplements industry for more than a decade. She is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism and has a master's degree in Hebrew Letters.

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