This complexity continues to be studied and our knowledge and understanding of the gut microbiome — encompassing all of the micro-organisms that reside in our gastrointestinal tract — is expanding at a rapid pace. Dr Richard Day, Vice President of Medical Affairs at ADM, reports.
New evidence within the vast ecosystem of the gut microbiota points to how the microbiome can positively affect host physiology. This research is crucial as it allows us to investigate the ways in which the gut microbiome contributes to overall well-being and to produce evidence-based products for both human and pet nutrition.
During the past decade, there has been a staggering increase in the number of scientific publications examining the gut microbiome. For example, in 2012, fewer than 300 such articles were published, whereas by 2022 these numbered more than 10,300.
As research continues to amass, advancements in product developments designed to support different aspects of physical and mental well-being are becoming increasingly available to consumers.
This growth in research has led to more public interest in the role of the microbiome in well-being. And although most research has focused on humans, a newer branch examining companion animals is now rapidly evolving.
From the gut to the brain and beyond
Currently, there is a greater breadth and depth of research for microbiome-supporting solutions that target digestive health and immune function.
These areas, which have perhaps been more intuitively linked to the gut microbiome, have set the foundation for knowledge in the field and driven both product innovation and growing consumer awareness.
Happening now are novel and exciting opportunities for research into other emerging areas in which the gut microbiome may play an important part, such as the “gut-brain axis” and the “gut-skin axis.”
Ongoing preclinical and clinical trials are adding to a growing body of evidence that links the gut microbiome to brain health, mood and behaviour.
For example, the University of Oxford recently conducted a study that found changes in psychological processing and measurements of low mood following the use of a 14-strain probiotic supplement.2
Building on that, a study published in June 2023 looked at the potential role of probiotic supplementation in aspects of mental well-being.3 The study — conducted by the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (loPPN) at King’s College London and led by ADM’s Dr Viktoriya Nikolova — involved 49 adults with major depressive disorders.
As well as taking their currently prescribed standard of care antidepressants, the participants’ diets were supplemented with either a 14-strain probiotic supplement or an identical placebo for 8 weeks. The study showed that greater improvements were seen with the 14-strain probiotic supplement throughout different aspects of mental health.3
Taken together, these two studies constitute an exciting advance in our understanding of how the gut-brain axis can contribute to mental well-being.
More trials are under way to explore how the use of gut microbiome-supporting solutions can influence mental health.
The gut-skin axis is another area of novel research. The skin microbiome represents an important microbial ecosystem for the human body and studies are demonstrating how the skin and gut microbiomes are interconnected.
There is also an increasing focus on ingestible skin health solutions, with studies showing that different oral probiotic strains have the potential to support healthy skin physiology.4,5
Emerging microbiome support for pets
Recent research has increased our appreciation of the complex nutritional needs of pets that, much like human nutrition, can impact various aspects of their physical and mental health.
As pets have been elevated to members of the family, the animal nutrition market segment has also seen increasing demand for scientifically studied ingredients to support their physiology.
The body of research that’s specific to pets is limited but expanding. Promising ingredients from human clinical trials provide a springboard for research into potential effects on the gut, skin and oral microbiomes of dogs and cats.
Focus areas of exploration include immune function and digestive, metabolic, oral, skin/coat and behavioural health.
From a shiny coat to weight loss or a return to normal bowel movements, visible results that the product is supporting the pet’s digestive wellness — or other concern — can help to demonstrate to consumers that microbiome-based solutions are useful and beneficial.
ADM’s portfolio of gut microbiome-supporting solutions is supported by extensive research; it demonstrates a variety of benefits associated with multiple areas of human health and well-being.
Plus, clinical trials with pets are ongoing. As this category develops further, solutions that will help people to support the health and well-being of their companion animals will become increasingly available.
Each year, more physiological systems and processes are being linked to the function of the gut microbiota. Studying and understanding the microbiome plays a key role in unlocking tailored health and wellness solutions for people and pets around the globe.
With a team of medical and veterinary doctors and scientists, ADM is leading more than 50 active clinical trials in a multitude of countries spanning five continents. Research this expansive is critical in terms of spearheading what’s to come, including new frontiers within the microbiome arena.
- R. Sender, et al., PLoS Biol. 14(8), e1002533 (2016).
- R. Baião, et al., Psychological Medicine 53(8), 3437–3447 (2023).
- V. Nikolova, et al., JAMA Psychiatry 80(8), 842–847 (2023).
- V. Navarro-López, et al., Acta Derm. Venereol. 99(12), 1078–1084 (2019).
- V. Navarro-López, et al., JAMA Dermatology 154(1), 37–43 (2018).