Probiotics, prebiotics, postbiotics: the revolubiome is under way

Published: 13-Nov-2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, we should keep in mind that times of crisis often accelerate trends such as transparency, sustainability and personalisation, which positively shape the way we consume food, beverages and dietary supplements, notes Grégory Dubourg, CEO and founder, Nutrikéo

Consumers are also taking a more holistic approach to health, which is fuelling a revolution in the microbiome space. According to Nutrikéo, solutions based on the microbiota will be to the 21st century what the vaccine was to the 20th century: a paradigm shift in human health.

Whether cause or consequence, it’s not yet known exactly how the microbiota influences the appearance, development or treatment of diseases. As such, the nutrition and health sector is innovating all over the place and it can be difficult to identify a niche application at the right time. In this era of microbial conquest, we choose to highlight four trendy themes.

Biotics: new partners for women’s health

What if this new decade is all about demystification? Intestinal, sexual, mental and female health issues were previously perceived to be too intimate or embarrassing to address. Now, though, the stigma is gone and we can talk about these problems openly. Female health awareness is also being driven by advent of global communication systems, access to education and free speech.

Rallied by consumer interest and, according to Lallemand, the women’s health and beauty supplement market reached $49.8 billion in 2019 with an estimated 4.75% CAGR for 2020–2026. Key probiotic women’s growth areas are vaginal health, urinary tract infections, pregnancy and skincare.

Although the female probiotic market used to be a niche market, it is now becoming a strong differentiation factor for new product development. For example, online consumer engagement is increasing: between December 2017 and January 2020, the number of searches for women’s intimate health probiotics increased by 804% on average in the 20 countries.1

Probiotics appear to be a natural alternative to the conventional over-the-counter solutions that mainly target existing symptoms.

Acting on the gut or vaginal microbiota, specific probiotics can help each individual woman at every stage of her life, from puberty to menopause. Indeed, a healthy vaginal flora comprises more than 90% Lactobacilli, which Lallemand describe as the “gatekeepers of feminine health” in a whitepaper.

During a recent webinar on the impact of COVID-19 on the probiotic market, Lumina Intelligence shared interesting data regarding probiotics; between January and July 2020, searches on social and digital media regarding women’s health increased by 100% compared with 25% for digestion or immunity. Skincare also showed an increase of more than 170%, which is possibly linked to the fact that wearing a mask can alter the local skin microbiome.2

Next-generation probiotics

Even when scientific data and efficacy claims are deemed to be controversial, consumers keep believing in the promise of probiotics, particularly regarding gastrointestinal health their ability to boost the immune system. Most of the currently characterised probiotic candidates target the gastrointestinal tract. Some strains have been widely studied and brought to light, such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus or Bifidobacterium breve.

But the underworld of “biotics” is revealing more and more each day. Now, science is looking towards the identification and use of commensal bacteria as probiotics as the natural way to restore healthy homeostasis.

Introducing the next-generation of probiotics, beneficial strains such as Akkermansia muciniphila, Eubacterium halii, Hafna alvei and Faecalibacterium prausnitzii are all being extensively researched and investigated.

Akkermansia, for example, may have applications in obesity, diabetes and inflammation. Furthermore, reduced numbers of Faecalibacterium prausnitzii have been associated with several intestinal disorders and, in particular, Crohn's disease.

All these next-generation probiotics appear to have a key role in maintaining microbial biodiversity, preserving the integrity of the gut barrier and enhancing specific metabolic or brain-related conditions. Using commensal bacteria, laboratories are discovering new opportunities for dietary supplements and/or novel drugs.

Exploring the gut-brain axis with psychobiotics

Even before the pandemic, mood/relaxing/sleep supplements were a booming category. In these health segments, microbiota modulation also has a crucial role. Our understanding of exactly how the gut microbiota communicates with the brain and vice versa is still under investigation. Still, there appears to be three main pathways of communication: endocrine, nervous and immune.

Our microbial fingerprint has been shown to affect both neurological and psychiatric conditions. Thus, we are all already witnessing the emergence of a novel class of supplements or drugs called “psychobiotics.”

Coined in 2013, psychobiotics are “live organisms that, when ingested in adequate amounts, produce a health benefit in patients suffering from psychiatric illness.”

These novel probiotic drugs are said to work by synthesising and delivering neuroactive substances such as serotonin and short chain fatty acids. The rise of the psychobiotics market derives from a growing understanding of the brain-gut axis among both the scientific community and consumers.

Research shows, for instance, that the predominance of some species and/or the lack of others appears to correlate with a significant number of conditions, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, depression, anxiety, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Parabacteroides distasonis is a low-prevalence species in multiple sclerosis patients whereas Methanobrevibacter smithii is more prevalent in anorexia nervosa. Figure 1: The growth of prebiotics and probiotics and their effects on health

Figure 1: The growth of prebiotics and probiotics and their effects on health

The rise of prebiotics

As yet, it can still be difficult to integrate probiotics into certain food matrices. As a result, researchers are turning towards simpler solutions with intrinsic benefits, such as prebiotics. In our opinion, prebiotics and fermented foods will therefore do well in the coming years in the food and nutraceutical sectors.

The awareness of prebiotics has grown significantly, with 35% of supplement users taking prebiotics at some level, according to Ingredient Transparency Center (ITC) Insights’ 2020 Consumer Survey.

Based on the foundation laid by probiotics, prebiotics are growing in popularity; indeed, the versatility and inherent stability of prebiotic ingredients make them ideal for food and beverage applications.

However, although many prebiotics are obtained from food, the foodstuff on its own is not a rich enough source of prebiotics. It can be difficult to consume an effective amount of prebiotics from food alone — which is a key reason for the rise in prebiotic functional foods and beverages alongside growth in supplements.

We believe that prebiotic fibres will play a central role in the rise of the microbiota (Figure 1). For us, it is these nutrients that are key to the development of certain beneficial bacteria and the production of metabolites at the origin of macro-scale biochemical cascades.

In the footsteps of FOS, GOS and XOS, the market is now interested in natural prebiotic fibres from fruits and trees such as kiwi and acacia, etc. And, beyond simple nutrition, we are now looking for other more scientific and sustainable added values.

With fibre sourcing set to become more premium, polyphenols and their prebiotic effects are yet to be fully exploited. These four trends, among others in the “revolubiome,” provide fertile ground for food and beverage innovation and functional solutions that address growing consumer requirements for prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics.



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