The gateway to wellness: understanding the microbiome to meet consumer trends

As our knowledge of the human microbiome increases, so does our understanding of its contribution to overall health and well-being, reports June Lin, Global Vice President of Marketing, ADM

As scientists gain greater insight into the workings of these complex ecosystems of micro-organisms, consumers are learning more about the importance of a healthy microbiome and how it affects their overall health and wellness.

The gastrointestinal microbiome increasingly looks to play a key role in immunity as well as metabolic, mental health and digestive health.

Although the way consumers approach well-being is constantly shifting, the global pandemic has redefined how they view their health and wellness. Many now take a more holistic view on the impact of metabolic, immune and mind health on their overall feelings of well-being.

With more than 900 peer-reviewed clinical trials examining the role of the microbiome in human health published to date, much of the published research underlines the microbiome’s role in these wider aspects of health and well-being.1

The potential of the microbiome

The overall health of the gut microbiome is implicated in multiple physiological systems and processes. Amongst many other functions, the microbiome is shown to support a balanced immune system by directly helping to fight infections and maintaining intestinal barrier function, as well as modulating the cells of the immune system.

New research also demonstrates the role of the microbiome in other physiological systems that are distant from the gut, including metabolic and even mental health.

The term “probiotic” has steadily trended upward during the last 5 years, whereas searches for “prebiotics” and “gut biome” took off in 2018 and have risen sharply ever since.

This is transforming the supplements market, with many consumers turning to products that can help them to care for their own microbiome. However, to stand out in an increasingly busy market, not only do manufacturers need to understand trends, every product and claim should be supported by cutting-edge clinical research and science-led solutions.

June Lin

Managing metabolic health

With numerous reports linking obesity to poorer COVID outcomes, it isn’t surprising that, in the wake of the pandemic, nearly 42% of European consumers want to lose weight.2

With rates of metabolic syndrome often mirroring rates of obesity, and emerging clinical research showing that the microbiome plays an important role in maintaining a healthy weight, the importance of good metabolic health is moving rapidly into the spotlight.3

What’s more, one fifth (22%) of European consumers already take supplements to aid their weight management, highlighting the potential for supplement manufacturers to maximise their appeal with an already engaged audience — such as by incorporating clinically proven solutions into their products.4

With this is mind, many researchers have been focusing on identifying the kinds of ingredients — such as pre-, pro- or post-biotics — that might support the management of weight and weight-related conditions.

One such solution showing positive effects on multiple markers linked to metabolic health is ADM’s proprietary probiotic strain: Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis CECT 8145 (BPL1).

In two clinical trials, positive effects were shown on waist circumference (heat-treated BPL1), abdominal fat mass proportion (live BPL1 in children older than 4.5 years of age with Prader-Willi Syndrome) and Body Mass Index (live BPL1).5,6

In addition, ADM has done studies on the strain’s mechanism of action, which, in a preclinical model, identified a specific molecule that promoted fat reduction: lipoteichoic acid (LTA).7

Immune-boosting benefits

The human gut microbiome plays a critical role in determining the susceptibility to, and outcomes of, infectious diseases. Long before the pandemic, awareness of this was growing and consumers were already beginning to take a more proactive, preventive approach to their immunity.

In 2019, 55% of consumers had made changes to their diet and lifestyle to improve their immunity.8 By 2020, 64% reported being more conscious about their immunity as a result of COVID-19; and, by early 2021, 81% of US consumers said they’d like to improve their immune health, with 17% citing it as an urgent need.2,9

Almost 90% of consumers are interested in products with immune-boosting ingredients and 78% already associate probiotics/cultures with immune health, demonstrating an open and engaged market.2

Indeed, 15% of global consumers and 10% of Europeans are already turning to supplements to boost their immune health. One such strain identified by ADM is Lactobacillus rhamnosus CNCM I-4036.

In a clinical study, this bacterium demonstrated beneficial effects on anti-inflammatory markers and levels of pathogenic organisms appeared to decrease.10

Maintaining mind health

Just as research has focused on the microbiome’s ability to promote benefits associated with metabolic health areas, there is also a rapidly growing evidence base that suggests a role in neurological and psychiatric diagnoses.

For example, ADM is currently engaged in two clinical trials to better understand the role of the microbiome in low mood and depression. These are being conducted in partnership with the University of Oxford and with King’s College London, respectively.

With almost half of consumers reporting heightened anxiety as a result of the pandemic and 24% citing more frequent feelings of depression, there is increasing demand for solutions that can help to support mind health in a non-medical way — and probiotics may be one such solution.

Meeting changing consumer needs, today and tomorrow

With nearly half of all global shoppers willing to pay more for products that have superior functionality, the next step is for supplement manufacturers to create science-backed solutions that offer proven benefits.11

However, as consumers continue to become better informed and take a more holistic approach to their wellness, brands must also take the same approach to product development — looking beyond ingredients as standalone entities to ensure that an in-depth understanding of both the latest scientific research and consumer trends is being considered.

In doing so, and by partnering with experienced ingredient suppliers and formulation experts, brands can gain the insight and expertise they need to stay ahead of the curve … and keep their customers coming back for more.

References

  1. www.pubmed.gov (search term = [microbiome] and [health] filtered by [clinical trial] and [humans]).
  2. FMCG Gurus, How Has COVID-19 Changed Consumer Behavior? (2020): https://fmcggurus.com/reports/fmcg-gurus-how-has-covid-19-changed-consumer-behaviour.
  3. M.G. Saklayen, “The Global Epidemic of the Metabolic Syndrome.,” Curr. Hypertens. Rep. (2018): www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5866840.
  4. FMCG Gurus, Top Ten Trends for Functional Lifestyle Explored (June 2020): https://fmcggurus.com/reports/top-trend-8-functional-lifestyle-explored-2020.
  5. A. Pedret, et al., “Effects of Daily Consumption of the Probiotic Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis CECT 8145 on Anthropometric Adiposity Biomarkers in Abdominally Obese Subjects: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” Int. J. Obes. (Lond.) 43(9), 1863–1868 (2019).
  6. M. Amat-Bou, et al., “Effects of Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis (BPL1) Supplementation in Children and Adolescents with Prader–Willi Syndrome: A Randomized Crossover Trial,” Nutrients 12, 3123 (2020): doi: 10.3390/nu12103123.
  7. https://sfamjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/1751-7915.13769.
  8. FMCG Gurus, Top Ten Trends for 2020 (2020): https://fmcggurus.com/top-trends-2020.
  9. The Hartman Group, Health & Wellness 2021: Reimagining Well-Being Amid COVID-19 (https://store.hartman-group.com/health-wellness-reimagining-well-being-amid-covid-19).
  10. J. Plaza-Diaz, et al., “Safety and Immunomodulatory Effects of Three Probiotic Strains Isolated from the Feces of Breast-Fed Infants in Healthy Adults: SETOPROB Study,” PLoS One 8(10): e78111 (2013).
  11. https://nielseniq.com/global/en/insights/analysis/2020/quality-and-efficacy-may-beat-out-price-sensitivities-amid-coronavirus-concerns.
  12. Companies