Supplements for a Happy, Healthy Gut

Demand for prebiotics, probiotics, and other natural digestive health assists continues to soar. Here, industry insiders dish on the ingredients trending now and what’s likely to drive growth in 2023.

digestive health

$89.9B

anticipated size of
digestive health category by 2030

Consumers are prioritizing digestive health more than ever, and demand for digestive health aid supplements is soaring. A report from Grand View Research suggests sales in this category, which encompasses prebiotics, probiotics, enzymes, and more, is set to reach $89.9 billion by 2030, expanding at a CAGR of 8.2%. “This is a phenomenal growth and is—in no small part—due to the far-reaching effects improved gut health can have on people’s physical and mental well-being,” says Sophie Zillinger Molenaar, Global Marketing Lead, Biotis, FrieslandCampina Ingredients. “Consumers are increasingly seeking out proactive ways to improve their health. Data suggests two in three people already recognize that gut health is key to achieving overall well-being.”

Three main factors are driving growth in the category, according to Nena Dockery, Scientific Affairs Manager at Stratum Nutrition. “One is the general growth of interest in biotics—prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics—which are primary ingredients in a large percentage of digestive health products,” Dockery says. “The second factor is the increased awareness of the overall health benefits of improving digestive health, especially in boosting immunity. And, the third factor is the general decline in human digestive health.” This, she says, is due in part to rising rates of obesity and the aging population.

As we age, the gut microbiome changes, weakening the inner defense system. “Therefore, while the benefits of nutrition to support gut health and help strengthen the inner defense system are important for all ages, it is of increasing interest to older consumers,” says Kyle Krause, Product Manager, Functional Fibers and Carbohydrates, North America, Beneo, Inc. In a survey on behalf of Beneo, 85% of those aged 50 and older said they want to take charge of their health; 50% are extremely or very concerned about gastrointestinal/digestive problems, and 56% about immune health. “To help manage these issues,” Krause says, “half of the consumers polled said they already choose foods and beverages to aid their digestion and support their immune systems.”

Of course, it’s not just aging consumers seeking support. “Today there is conversation on how good gut health can strengthen immunity, play a role in sports nutrition and in cognitive health,” says Samantha Ford, MS, Director of Business Development, AIDP. “Some novel indications are also the gut-skin axis, which is driving growth in prebiotics for skin.”

There’s also huge market potential for natural products for specific digestive health complaints, adds Dockery. “The gastrointestinal drug market—including antacids, antiulcerants, antiemetics, antinauseants and antidiarrheals—grew exponentially during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and has continued the upward trajectory, projected to grow at a CAGR of 8.7% by 2026. However, increasingly more individuals are looking to more natural options to improve overall digestive health in lieu of treating symptoms with pharmaceuticals.”

The number of people seeking solutions for specific digestive issues is on the rise, notes Shakti Singh, Specialties Technical Engagement Manager, Active Living, Fonterra. “A 2021 study found that more than 40% of adults worldwide experience functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs).” Alarmingly, the pandemic has likely pushed those numbers higher, adds Singh. “Another study found that following COVID-19 infection, 29% of people experienced at least one new chronic gastrointestinal symptom, generating even more demand for digestive health products.”

It can be tricky to connect with customers experiencing GI issues, due to the embarrassing nature of symptoms, acknowledges Brian Kaufman, Vice President of Global Sales, Entera Health. Fortunately, it’s becoming easier to talk about these sensitive issues, but it’s important to approach them with compassion and understanding. “Top concerns for consumers include reduction of bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain,” he says. “The emergence of the internet, social media, and the ability to share with others that your digestive health is not ok has normalized this conversation, which may have historically been a private one. You no longer have to suffer in silence, and instead can reach out to others who may also be living the same life.”

Helping customers find the right products to address their issues can offer relief—and it’s likely to improve their quality of life, which will make them more likely to return for repeat purchases. “If you’re struggling with digestive issues, it is becoming more clear that it is affecting other aspects of your life, i.e. mood issues, sleep disturbances, immune health, and even whether you have the ability to travel without planning your trip around available bathrooms in the area,” says Dr. Stacey Smith, Marketing and Communications Manager NORAM, Gnosis by Lesaffre.

Making a point to stocking high-quality products with clinically proven efficacy claims can help ensure your customers are happy with the results of their purchases. “In fact, 82% of North American consumers and 81% of global consumers rank ‘clinically proven’ claims as important,” notes Vaughn DuBow, Global Director of Marketing, Microbiome Solutions, ADM.

Breakdown of -biotics

Probiotics: “Consumers are increasingly learning that probiotics can be helpful not only for the disruptions they feel in their digestive tract, but also for health and wellness concerns connected to overall digestive health,” says Singh. “In a nationally representative survey on U.S. adults 18+, conducted by Fonterra in May 2022, while 65% of respondents who regularly take probiotic supplements are using them for digestive health, many reported using them for other reasons as well: 35% for immunity, 20% for weight management, 19% for better skin, 18% for mood/stress, and 12% for feminine care.”

Increasingly, specific strains are being used to address certain health issues. “While probiotics have been around for a while, new research has shown that not all probiotics are alike,” explains Kaufman. “Specific strains that help manage specific symptoms, feed specific commensal bacteria, along with the emergence of spore-based probiotics, have been big drivers of understanding how to personalize the products we take to feed good bacteria.”

When stocking probiotic supplements,  pay attention to the quality of the formulations, including how many strains and colony-forming units are included and whether or not live, active flora can survive the harsh environment of the gut.“Innovation in this category is exciting and fast paced,” says Kaufman. “The emergence of new delivery systems that enhance the ability for certain products to withstand the digestive process is one of them. For instance, previously, there was no option for managing inflammatory bacterial overgrowth in the large intestine, especially the colon. Now, with the emergence of new long acting delivery systems, we can deliver specific strains of probiotics, enzymes, and antibodies with viable activity on the unique bacteria in the colon.”

A few science-backed strains:

HN019 and HN001: These patented strains from Nutiani have been extensively studied in humans, with 17 trials in digestive health and 45 trials in immune health, says Singh. “In addition to the 28 clinical studies supporting the value of Nutiani HN001 in digestive and immune health, a recent 60-day study showed that consumers who took HN001 experienced greater happiness.”

BPL1: This ADM strain is available as a live, active culture and as its heat-treated counterpart (BPL1 HT). “Both formats of this strain have been studied for target factors relevant to aspects of metabolic health,” says Dubow. “BPL1 HT contains nonviable microorganisms, meaning it can withstand harsh formulation environments like high heat in baked goods and snacks or pasteurization in dairy products or energy drinks.” .

BSCU1: This Bacillus subtilis strain is positioned to support immunity, says Dr. Smith. “BSCU1 stability allows it to survive extreme GI conditions, improving efficacy, along with a long shelf life, which is an important industry standard. In human clinical terms of efficacy, the research shows its ability to significantly increase the concentration of the immune system’s first line of defense, secretory immunoglobulin A (sIgA). This immunoglobulin catches toxins and other infectious agents, so there isn’t an opportunity to negatively interact with the respiratory or intestinal epithelium. BSCU1 proved a reduction of duration and frequency of upper respiratory infections by 45% in those taking just one dose a day. This is excellent for daily use, especially for times of the year you know you’re going to be exposed to a shift in the elements or increased stress.”

DE111: ADM’s spore-forming probiotic DE111(Bacillus subtilis) is shown to support immune function and children’s health, such as immune function and digestive support. “A groundbreaking study demonstrates that DE111 can germinate in the small intestine, as it can survive gastric transit and the harsh conditions of the stomach and bile salts,” notes Kristin Wilhoyte, Director of Global Product Marketing, Deerland. “DE111 also shows exciting results related to digestive health, regularity, and body composition, which indicate its versatility in support of consumers’ wellness goals.”

ES1: DuBow says, “We’re excited about preliminary evidence that suggests ES1 may help support gastrointestinal health in gluten-sensitive individuals, along with potential support of the gut microbiome and gut function.” 

Prebiotics: Probiotics are only effective if you provide sufficient fuel for these beneficial bacteria. Enter prebiotics, which act as food for probiotics (and beneficial flora already residing in the gut), helping beneficial microbes thrive and multiply. Prebiotics are often paired with probiotics in supplements—a combination known as symbiotics. Prebiotics can also be found in functional food and drinks.

Chicory root: Beneo offers two fibers (inulin and oligofructose) derived from chicory root that are ideal for fortifying food and drink products with prebiotic effects, says Krause. “They meet consumer trends for being natural, positively impacting digestive health, and providing weight and blood management controls by lowering the blood glucose responses of food and drink products. For example, manufacturers have the option of using oligofructose to help promote balanced blood glucose levels by partly replacing sugar or other high glycemic carbohydrates in food formulations and at the same time enrich those foods in fiber content, which helps to bridge the fiber gap.”

Fibersol: “Over 30 years of research has shown that Fibersol promotes the growth of gut microbes that have been positively associated with digestive health,” according to DuBow. “Fibersol is also shown to minimize blood sugar spikes after a meal in healthy individuals, and may delay hunger by stimulating appetite-regulating hormones.” Classified as a low-FODMAP ingredient by Monash University, Fibersol is suitable for individuals with digestive sensitivities, and can be added as a functional ingredient to baked goods, snacks, and beverages.

Galactooligosaccharides (GOS): Traditionally used in infant nutrition, this prebiotic has been shown to increase the relative abundance of beneficial bifidobacteria  in the gut, says Molenaar. “Our Biotis GOS has been shown to influence the balance of the gut microbiota, producing beneficial effects on gut health and mental well-being.”

New Zealand green kiwi fiber: AIDP offers two branded prebiotic ingredients derived from this superfruit: “Actazin supports gut motility, digestion, and gentle laxation with its unique enzyme and prebiotic activity. Actazin has been shown to increase stool frequency, improve stool form and maintain bowel integrity at 600 mg,” says Ford. And AIDP’s Livaux is clinically shown to increase the abundance of F. prau in the gut. Ford notes that this prebiotic is especially beneficial for those working to heal a leaky gut, because F. prau has anti-inflammatory and immune enhancing activities and supports the production of butyrate (a short-chain fatty acid that nourishes the gut lining).

Xylooligosaccharide (XOS): AIDP offers the prebiotic fiber XOS, branded as PreticX, which is supported by numerous studies in areas of microbiome reconditioning, digestive and metabolic support. “What’s most compelling is PreticX’s unique ability to alter gut composition by selectively feeding specific classes of good bacteria and inhibiting growth of the bad,” explains Ford. “In turn, this can help support healthy gut lining, mucosal barrier, anti-inflammation and other metabolic benefits.”

Yeast: Customers who have trouble with bloat or constipation from fiber-based prebiotics may have a better response to a yeast-based prebiotic, like Lynside Immunity Prebiotic for Gnosis by Lesaffre. This prebiotic, derived from Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast, supports microbiome diversity by stimulating the development of specific bacteria families, says Dr. Smith. “Because of the low daily dose and its ability to make it further in the GI tract, it is recommended for healthy comfortable digestive function, avoiding bloating and belly cramps.

Bacteriophages: Another smart ingredient for those looking for a non-fiber based prebiotic is ADM’s PreforPro, a prebiotic created based on a bacteriophage blend. In a human clinical study, PreforPro was shown to positively influence the microbial population of the gut without disrupting the global microbiota. When compared to the placebo group, results of the study indicated PreforPro positively impacted the growth of beneficial bacteria Eubacterium,” says Kristin Wilhoyte, Director of Global Product Marketing, Deerland. She notes that at just 15mg per serving, PreforPro can work in smaller quantities than other prebiotics, which makes it ideal for capsules, tablets or powder blends. “Plus, it goes to work in hours rather than days, unlike many traditional fiber and starch-based prebiotics, and it can also be incorporated into many cold-processed foods like yogurt and kefir.”

Postbiotics: “The ingredient type that has experienced the greatest growth in the digestive health category is postbiotics,” asserts Dockery. Postbiotcs are defined as a preparation of inanimate or dead bacterial as well as their beneficial metabolic byproducts. “Interest in this ingredient type has increased because they possess the beneficial effects on health of a probiotic, but without the concerns regarding loss of efficacy through gastric transit and the challenges related to shelf stability,” explains Dockery. “They also do not pose safety issues related to translocation in the body.”

To meet this growing demand, Stratum offers LBiome (Lactobacillus LB), a postbiotics derived from the heat-treated cells of the human indigenous bacterial species, Limosilactobacillus fermentum and Lactobacillus delbrueckii, along with the metabolites and by-products present in the source bacteria fermentation media. “LBiome stands out for its long history of safe and effective use,” says Dockery. “The initial studies and focus of LBiome’s research centered around benefits associated with common childhood diarrhea and LBiome’s benefits in diminishing the gastrointestinal effects of pathogens that cause diarrhea, including travelers’ diarrhea. These studies have now expanded and have revealed LBiome’s benefits in strengthening the brush border and tight junctions of the intestinal wall. LBiome has also now been shown to increase numbers of several species of beneficial Bifidobacteria.”

More gut-supporting ingredients

Antibodies: “You can take all the probiotics and gut barrier nourishing products on the market and still see no major reduction in digestive distress if you don’t target and remove the underlying cause: inflammatory bacteria. This is why antibody supplementation is crucial to gut and immune health,” asserts Kaufman. “Antibodies target, bind, and remove those pesky inflammatory bacteria that would otherwise wreak havoc on the digestive tract, causing diarrhea, bloating, and flatulence.”

IgY (hyperimmunized avian egg antibodies) and colostrum (dairy based IgG from cow’s milk) are two standard antibody options, but they can be troublesome for people who have problems with dairy or lactose (found in colostrum), or who need to watch their cholesterol. “IgY represents 40% of your cholesterol intake with just one serving,” cautions Kaufman. He notes that Entera’s ImmunoLin, a serum-based bovine immunoglobulin protein isolate (IgG), has been formulated with no dairy, double the antibody concentration, and double the protein concentration of other options. “ImmunoLin works to remove the bad bacteria,” says Kaufman. “New clinical data has just been released showing that the concentrated antibodies in ImmunoLin can even break down biofilm, a types of digestive plaque that reduces the pathway for bowel movement and increases inflammation.”

Enzymes: If your customers are struggling with symptoms of indigestion or heartburn, enzymes may offer relief. “Digestive enzymes are an effective approach to help the body break down and gain nutrients from food effectively, but it’s important to note that different enzymes break down distinct kinds of foods,” explains Dr. Kalyanam Nagabhushanam, President (R&D), Sabinsa. The body naturally produces three main types of enzymes: amylase (which breaks down carbs and starches), lipase (which digests fat) and protease (which breaks down protein). Sabinsa’s DigeZyme combines these three enzymes with cellulase (an enzyme that offers additional help breaking down starches and carbs), and lactase (an enzyme that digests milk sugar lactose). “The five enzymes composing DigeZyme,” notes Dr. Nagabhushanam, “are comprehensively address all food components, thus improving digestion.”

Licorice: Deglycyrrhized licorice (DGL) has been used for centuries as a natural acid reflux remedy. It is thought to increase production of protective mucus, which acts as a barrier to acid in the stomach and esophagus, says Ford. AIDP’s Gutgard is a branded extra of DGL that has been shown to support upper GI comfort by managing issues related to indigestion. WF