The realm of probiotics has grown so expansively; research and development are likely going to continue to accelerate. Here’s how to keep this category lively.
Ah, utopia … a community of diverse entities that work synergistically together, with each individual performing specialized functions for the greater good and sustenance of the whole; and a community that bonds together, to fight any invaders who dare darken the threshold.
This is not a new cable TV show. It’s what the gastrointestinal (GI) systems’ probiotic communities should be like. And this is the goal of many researchers, suppliers and brand marketers to help people of all ages achieve. The prevailing theory is that when that community (also often called the microbiome) is wholesome, healthy and thriving, so too will its host.
In 2015, Ashley Harris, founder and CEO of LoveBug Probiotics in New York, cited that the U.S. retail probiotic supplement market was $3.8 billion. It is expected to grow by 37 percent by 2020, “which is very impressive.” With increasing frequency, more research is published and discussed, focusing on linking imbalances in the microbiome with various health conditions.“ In the last few years, there have been major advances in our understanding of the benefit of certain probiotic strains and improved scientific delivery systems for more effective results,” she commented.
Unlike other categories, probiotics are relevant for all people of all ages.
Natalie Lamb, technical advisor of Florida-based Bio-Kult (Protexin), explained that “balanced gut flora is imperative throughout life to help support healthy digestive and immune function.” Newborns’ gut flora is impacted by that contained within the mother, and human mode of delivery (feeding) is important to help the baby develop a strong immune system in his or her first two years of life. From there, an individual’s gut flora is continually shaped and influenced by diet, environment and lifestyle.
“The balance and diversity of gut microbes has been shown to be very different in elderly individuals living in indigenous communities compared to those in the modern world,” she pointed out.
Harris agreed, elaborating that research has shown that giving fetuses a head start on gut health by exposing them to various probiotic strains in utero leads to stronger immune systems, better digestive health and other benefits as they grow up. Further, she noted, “During birth, babies are exposed to even more of their mothers’ helpful bacteria as they travel through the birth canal.”
Unfortunately, Harris continued, many obstacles stand in the way of young children’s gut health. C-sections can negatively impact the baby’s balance of good bacteria; and 33 percent of U.S. births are C-sections. On top of that, many expectant moms are dosed with antibiotics (which kill good as well as bad bacteria) while in the delivery room, which can further disturb a baby’s microbiome and create an imbalance. And in today’s society more than ever, toddlers and older children receive more antibiotics than any other age group, just when their bodies should be working on building a good gut-health foundation.
Research over the past decade has shown the importance of foods fermented by probiotics contribute powerfully to building and maintaining gut health, according to Dustin Huff, vice president of sales and marketing with White Mountain Foods in Texas. “Historically, as societies age and mature, fermented foods become more prevalent. This is a direct result of the trace minerals that probiotics provide during their life cycle, which are no longer available from the regular food supply due to the gradual depletion of the soil, a result of continuous planting and the row crop/chemical fertilizer growing method.”
Several sources asserted that an imbalanced or incomplete microbiome (the totality of probiotics in the gut) is now being understood by medical science to be a causative factor in many digestive issues, food allergies and sensitivities, inflammation, autoimmune disorders, autism spectrum disorders and chronic infections. The healthy bacteria world in the gut creates overall good health, notably a more resilient and protective immune system.
“Did you know that the World Health Organization (WHO) did a comprehensive study that found older people require a very unique set of micronutrients that are not met by conventional multivitamins?” asked Kiran Krishnan, formulator of Probiogen in Arizona. Two spore-forming strains, for example, help support good health in seniors (younger and older). Bacillus coagulans HC is shown to reduce gas, bloating and digestive discomfort, while Bacillus subtilis HU58 has the ability to fight off harmful and opportunistic bacteria. This strain also produces nattokinase, and supports healthy immunity. These are both in the new Probiogen Adults 55+ Probiotic with Multivitamin.
Further studies, said Harris, are currently being conducted to examine the role probiotics play in treating and preventing common ailments including diarrhea, constipation, dermatitis, eczema and respiratory problems, to name a few.
For Lamb, the most exciting development in the probiotic category is the sheer increase in the number of probiotic studies in conditions outside of the digestive system. “New probiotic sales have been increased for use in those with obesity and neurological problems in particular,” she observed.
And as more good reports about specific probiotics supporting specific health areas are reported favorably in mass media and news, probiotics are now understood by consumers to be “good for you.” Sky Garmon, marketing associate with Jarrow Formulas in California, observed, “As probiotics transition from the natural foods sector into the mainstream, there is obviously going to be a large number of potential consumers learning about them. This transition has not been without its drawbacks, however. The use of the term ‘probiotic’ has expanded beyond traditional dietary supplements and is being promoted in food and drink products that in reality may not confer a health benefit.”
Most consumers are aware of probiotics, knowing that they are beneficial to the body. This is a great start, but there remains a lot of facts they don’t know and should, and there are also several rather persistent misconceptions that should be cleared up.
Garmon said that first, consumers should know the “official” definition of probiotics, as per FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)/WHO Probiotics are “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” It’s short and simple but most important, serves as the basis of understanding what can certainly be an extremely complex category.
Probiotics, as with some supplements, are also naturally occurring in foods such as yogurt, kefir and fermented foods; so therefore, said Huff, are also available in many forms for retailers to sell. Consumers should learn to zero in on the amount of living bacteria present in the product (food or supplement), he advised, and should understand what CFU represents. “White Mountain’s most recent test by a third-party lab revealed a probiotic content of over 100 billion CFU per 8-oz. serving,” he commented. “Foods that have been fermented by microbial action (yogurt, beer, bread, pickles, soy sauce, fish sauce, tempeh, vinegar, wine, etc.) become what are known as “superfoods” as they are much more nutritious than their ingredients.”
Why probiotics should be a must for all consumers, Huff added, is that all human beings must have a sufficient and well-organized community of gut bacteria to efficiently and properly digest and absorb food and maintain an adequate B vitamin and trace mineral source (the bacteria provide these nutrients during their lives, and thus serve as the body’s major and steady source). Consumers should also know that their gut bacteria population can be depleted through antibiotic therapy, extended illness and, of course, aging.
In Lamb’s view, the most common misconception is that “probiotics re-inoculate the gut continuously, whereas in fact probiotics are generally considered transient.” The strains contained within Bio-Kult probiotics are considered transient colonizers; they have been shown to have a beneficial effect in the intestines during consumption, which creates an environment favorable for the growth of resident beneficial bacteria. Several of the strains in Bio-Kult, she described, have been shown in vitro to have “good” colonizing capabilities.
The second most common misconception Lamb pointed out is that all probiotics need to be kept refrigerated. “Some modern techniques mean refrigeration may not always be required,” she emphasized. “High-quality probiotic products should guarantee viability to the end of the shelf life, as opposed to ‘at the time of manufacture.’”
Krishnan’s consumer research found several misconceptions consumers have about probiotics that retailers can clear up. First is that more strains and higher doses is better. “There are no studies that show that 20 billion is better than 10 billion or 50 billion is better than 20 billion,” he stated. “Unfortunately, those are marketing tricks and huge scientific assumptions. Most probiotic studies are done on a single strain at doses between 5 and 7 billion CFUs per day.”
Another is that refrigerated probiotics are better than non-refrigerated. “I hear this all the time, but it is completely false,” he said. Echoing Lamb, he underscored that if the strains cannot survive at room temperature on the shelf and must be refrigerated to maintain viability, how will they survive human in vivo temperature of 98 degrees and a pH of 1 (very acid) in the body?
All probiotics survive and land in the gut to colonize, happily ever after. “This is a big assumption,” Krishnan stressed. “Large-scale studies on the most common probiotic strains on the market have shown that 95 percent or more of probiotic products do not contain strains that can survive the passage through the stomach acid, then bile salts and pancreatic enzymes to get to the site of action and colonize there,” he explained. He advised that retailers (and consumers) should look for products that have been verified by a third-party lab to survive gastric passage.
Although not a misconception more than an obscure fact, generating, supporting and/or sustaining a healthy community of good bacteria is not just about taking extra probiotics than what can be consumed in the diet—it’s about knowing what to avoid that will help decimate part of the population, chiefly sugar. “Sugar is a key factor in creating an imbalance in the microbiome,” Harris said. “Sugar feeds the bad bacteria in our guts so it is important to take probiotic without sugar.”
Knowing what to look for and how to understand the label is important to curtail confusion, according to Garmon. “Some manufacturers want you to believe that the best probiotic supplements are measured by how many billions of CFUs (colony-forming units) of bacteria they’ve managed to stuff into a capsule. It’s much more important to have the right balance of clinically documented strains,” she asserted. “It’s important for the strains in a probiotic product to have been sufficiently characterized and clinically studied. Some probiotic manufacturers sometimes list only the genus and species names in the supplement facts panel, leaving out the specific strains that are actually present in the product.”
Bio-Kult, said Lamb, is a unique multi-species, multi-strain probiotic with 14 strains of beneficial bacteria. Each strain has unique properties and health benefits, a multi-strain probiotic should therefore exert more positive benefits on a wider range of gastrointestinal complaints. All the formula’s strains have shown in vitro that they are able to work synergistically together. A recent review by Chapman et al concluded that “multi-strain probiotics appear to show greater efficacy than single strains, including strains that are components of the mixtures themselves.” We, therefore, believe that it is the greater number of strains in a product that are more important than the dosage. Bio-Kult probiotics have a guaranteed count until the end of the two-year shelf life, they don’t need to be kept refrigerated and are backed by data to show they are able to survive the harsh acidity of the stomach.
White Mountain Bulgarian Yogurt is a traditional, immune system-supporting food, described Huff. The yogurt is fermented a full 24 hours, which greatly reduces the lactose content of the milk and results in a very high live-culture count. “The bacteria help break down food, making nutrients more available for absorption through the intestinal walls as well as fight infestation by other possibly harmful bacteria, yeasts and viruses,” he said.
Jarrow Formulas’ probiotics feature high-quality and clinically documented strains that have been developed through years of research, according to Garmon. Its Jarro-Dophilus brand has numerous product options, for women, pets, children and digestive support.
LoveBug Probiotic formulations for adults, babies, children and pre-natal, contain multi-strains including L. rhamnosus GG (the top studied strain with 800 publications, according to Harris). “What sets LoveBug apart from the competition is our main product feature: BIO-tract, a patented delivery technology scientifically developed to get the microorganisms past the stomach acid barrier and to their final destination in the digestive tract, where they do their health-boosting work. This makes it 15 times more effective than standard capsules, chewables and powders,” she stated.
The Probiogen line is comprised of seven formulas, each offering specialized blends of herbs, vitamins and minerals that are targeted to different needs. They include: Daily Digestive Balance, Women’s Vitality Probiotic, Men’s Vitality Probiotic, Adult’s 55+ Probiotic with Multivitamin, Weight Management Probiotic, Allergy Defense Probiotic, as well as Stress & Mood Balance Probiotic. Each Probiogen probiotic formula uses Smart Spore Technology and DNA-verified spore probiotics, and are dairy, soy and gluten free, vegetarian and non-GMO (genetically modified organism).
According to Krishnan, spores have several strengths, chiefly, “Spores are nature’s true probiotics. They can survive the harrowing journey to the gut … the site of all the action. Further, they are stable and can be stored at room temperature without effecting viability. They are also capable of surviving the low pH of the gastric barrier. Spores are less concentrated in the gut than many other strains, so a lower CFU (colony forming units) is needed to be effective.”
As consumers continue to learn about probiotics and the microbiome, they will be motivated to seek out the types of probiotic products they need. And research continues at a fast-paced clip, showing how varied strains directly impact specific health areas beyond digestion and immune support. You will see more combination products containing certain probiotic strains for condition-specific support, so expect the probiotic community (of products) to flourish throughout your supplement department. VR
For More Information:
Bio-Kult (Protexin), (786) 310-7233
Jarrow Formulas, (800) 726-0886
LoveBug Probiotics, (917) 575-8908
Probiogen, (800) 983-2930
White Mountain Foods, (512) 385-4711