Gut feeling: digestive health tops nutraceutical agenda

Published: 29-Jan-2018

Digestive health has hit the top of the nutraceutical industry’s agenda for the first time, a new survey shows

Experts have attributed the findings to growing consumer awareness of the importance of healthy gut microbiota, and of the potential of probiotics.

The organisers of Vitafoods Europe asked 220 nutraceutical industry professionals to choose the three most important health benefit areas for their companies.

Nearly a quarter (23%) named digestive health, with the same number identifying general well-being and healthy ageing. Another 22% named cardiovascular health, while 21% said immunity was a key area.

This is the third time the Vitafoods Europe poll has been conducted, but the first that digestive health has been a top concern for the industry.

Consumer awareness driving probiotic boom

The importance placed on digestive health reflects the current boom in the global probiotic industry, which is expected to reach a value of €53 billion by 2023.

In the US, the number of products promoting probiotic content grew from below 100 in 2002 to nearly 1800 in 2016.

Experts attribute this to growing consumer awareness and demographic changes.

“The rapid growth of the global probiotics market is driven by an increased interest in functional foods, as well as rising incidence of digestive and gastrointestinal disorders,” said Rosanna Pecere, Executive Director of the International Probiotics Association Europe.

“Consumers are becoming more aware that a well balanced microbiota is essential for the normal functioning of the body, and they’re looking for ways to ensure that the correct balance is maintained.”

“Growth in the functional food and beverage market has also been driven by consumer interest in healthy living,” said Dr Yiannis Kourkoutas of the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics at Democritus University of Thrace, who will be discussing the potential of probiotics at Vitafoods Europe 2018.

“This is particularly true among younger demographics, but population ageing has also been conducive to sector expansion.”

Research reveals importance of microbiome

The importance of the microbiome, and the potential of probiotics, are supported by increasing scientific evidence.

Dr Kourkoutas said: “Thanks to large-scale research efforts, we now know the composition of gut microbiota is associated with a growing number of diseases. There is a large body of evidence supporting the concept that the maintenance of healthy gut microbiota provides protection against a range of problems – not just local gastrointestinal disorders, but also neurological, respiratory, cardiovascular and even mental illnesses.”

He added: “The role of probiotics is unique in the development of healthy digestive function. Daily intake of dietary products fortified with probiotic cultures may stimulate the growth of preferred microorganisms, crowd out harmful bacteria, and reinforce the body’s natural defence mechanisms."

"Probiotics can be exploited to manipulate the gut microbiota with beneficial effects for health, including reduced symptoms of lactose intolerance and lower risk of certain cancers.”

Vitafoods Europe explores probiotic opportunities

This year’s Vitafoods Europe (15-17 May 2018 in Palexpo, Geneva) will have a particular focus on digestive health.

In the Education Programme, the Probiotics R&D Forum, sponsored by DuPont Health & Nutrition, will explore challenges such as ways to incorporate beneficial bacteria into a food matrix.

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