Prebiotic supplements to ‘fuel the human engine’

This blog is intended for B2B use and is for educational purposes only. Please note that information contained below should not be read as medical advice.

For brands in today’s health and nutrition sectors, consumers trends play an enormous role in how products are conceived, formulated and marketed. Over the course of the last decade, digestive health and wellness has been soared to the top of the consumer agenda, driven by growing awareness, a rise in media coverage and continued scientific development that continues to push the category forwards.

Exploring commercial platforms, including e-commerce sites and traditional brick and mortar stores, this is evident in an ever-expanding selection of products, supplements, functional foods and beverages, all designed to support physical and mental health through a well-balanced gut microbiome. 

Google Trend statistics highlight this increasing gut empathy perfectly – global data[1] shows that from the software’s inception in 2004, proportional consumer searches for gut health remained largely steady and at a low volume until late 2013. The upswing in public interest began to gain traction in early 2014 and has continued its upward trajectory since then. 

As a standalone search term, ‘gut health’ is continually on the rise and is still breaking new records each month. From the start of 2022, the term continues to reach new peaks, demonstrating that consumers are switched on and proactively educating themselves on digestive health. But, what is driving this change?

We can attribute this in large part to the changing relationship between consumer and health, particularly in the context of the recent pandemic. Collectively, we are better informed on matters concerning bodily health, which presents significant opportunity for businesses to connect directly with an engaged health audience. The public are seeking ways to develop and maintain overall health in new, convenient ways – and gut health is proving to be a popular route.

For many, gut health is seen as a ‘quick win’ in health terms, due to its interactivity with many different parts of the body. Because the digestive tract appears to hold such an important influence over health, taking the time to nurture and fuel the good bacteria in the gut microbiome could hold the key to overall wellness. For this reason, some describe the gut as the ‘human engine’, a key cornerstone of good general health.

Market Intelligence agency Mordor reports that the global market for digestive health supplements is forecast to grow at an annual compound rate of 6.22%[2] to 2025, but where has the surging interest come from – and why now? What is it about today’s gut health landscape that is engaging consumers like never before?

The rise in gut health disorders

Diagnosed cases of gastrointestinal conditions are on the rise. It is estimated that gastrointestinal symptoms account for as much as 10%[3] of all clinical work in the UK. Irritable Bowel Syndrome, better known as IBS, is one of the most prevalent gastrointestinal conditions around the globe and provides a great example of why gut health is increasingly in focus for health and nutrition brands, just as much as the consumers they serve.

A study in the British Journal of Medical Practitioners reports that 7-10% of the worldwide population currently suffers from IBS, being 50% more common in young women than men. A similar study in research journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology has shown the global prevalence of IBS is 5.7%-11.2%[4].

Despite the rising number of IBS cases, very little is known about the causes of the disorder due to a lack of definitive organic markers, rendering its pathophysiology difficult to know precisely. At present, it is suggested that factors determining the onset of IBS could include biological, psychological and environmental causes.

IBS is most commonly characterised by various symptoms, which can be very different from one individual to another. Commonly reported symptoms including diarrhoea, excess intestinal gas and bloating, with the potential to disrupt quality of life. The chronic nature of IBS leads to repeated primary care visits and referrals to gastroenterology services. In turn, this can result in increased absenteeism and lower occupational productivity, which can bring further economic and mental health challenges that negatively affect the patient quality of life.

While there is no ‘cure’ for IBS, the UK NHS suggests that dietary changes can be used to mitigate and calm some of the associated symptoms[5]. The connection between nutrient intake and indicators of IBS speaks to the gut’s involvement, and the potential to improve symptoms by modulating the gut microbiome.

As reported diagnoses of gastrointestinal disorders continue to increase globally, consumers are putting a clearer focus on gut health and are beginning to learn more about the digestive tract’s complexity and its role in wider health. 

Fibre awareness

Fibre is back on the radar for consumers, which makes it just as important for product formulators. As part of a regular diet, fibre has long been associated with digestive health but until recently, has predominantly been associated in the consumer mindset with constipation and regularity. 

Fibre – specifically the prebiotic kind –  is an important food source for the beneficial bacteria in the gut, which in turn help to support the growth of health positive microbes in the gut. The benefits of a diverse gut microbiome are backed by a multitude of studies. Gut microbiomes with decreased diversity of bacteria, or lower amounts of beneficial bacteria, for example bifidobacteria, have been associated with a variety of health issues. 

The challenge for consumers and brands alike is that despite the benefits of fibre being much better publicised and documented, many of us are not getting enough in the day-to-day diet. In 2015, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition increased the recommended reference intake of fibre to 30g per day, including 5g of prebiotic fibre specifically. The British Nutrition Foundation however, reports that only 9% of adults in the UK are meeting this recommended reference intake[6].

Accelerating public awareness of the importance of gut health has brought this problem to the forefront, which has been reflected in a surge of innovative new functional foods and supplements that resonate with consumers and help to bridge the fibre gap.

The Human Microbiome Project

A significant research field further igniting the interest in gut health is the Human Microbiome Project. Launched in 2007 by the United States National Institutes of Health, this long-term project is designed to identify the wider influence of gut microbiota on health and disease.

The bacterial composition of the gut microbiome is believed to have a significant impact on how the body functions and reacts to diseases and pathogens. The project is designed to make this measurable and to better understand the relationship between the gut and the body, with the goal of using the gut microbiome to directly address illness in the future. The project has so far generated over 14.23 terabytes of information in the form of research data and models, which is made publicly available for studies and reference[7].

The project is one of the largest undertakings of its kind, providing researchers across the globe with the tools to advance research in their own way. This includes access to metagenomic, metatranscriptonomic and genetic data, as well as models on microbial culture. The result has been a significant upswing in avenues for exploration in gut health, capturing the public’s imagination and broadening the commercial scope of gut health-oriented products.

In summary, across the globe, consumers are switching on to the importance of gastrointestinal wellness in new ways. For brand owners and their formulators, this points towards ample opportunity for product development that meets the needs of consumers here and now. For many, the simplest way to access this switched-on market is through prebiotics, such as galactooligosaccharide (GOS), Bimuno®. The most studied prebiotic of its kind, Bimuno GOS is supported by over 100 scientific publications, including more than 20 clinical trials.

Bimuno has been shown in a plethora of studies to nourish bifidobacteria, a beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiome that is associated with key areas of health, including gastrointestinal health, immunity and cognition. Designed with the formulator in mind, the GOS ingredient is developed to be versatile and stable, making it ideal for use in a very wide range of applications and uses. Available in both powder and syrup formats, Bimuno is resistant to a wide range of temperatures and acidities, meaning it can be added to formulations at any stage for added flexibility.

Booming consumer interest in gut health runs parallel with an exciting landscape of science and research, which underlines the significant influence that the gut has on how the body functions. The message is becoming amplified; consumers are learning more about the complex mechanisms of the gut, and how the digestive tract could potentially be harnessed for overall wellbeing.

This growing interest in gut health is only set to increase as the health and nutrition market finds new delivery methods that gel with the fast-paced convenience demands of today’s consumer.

[1] https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?date=all&q=gut%20health

[2] https://www.bjmp.org/content/irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs-glance

[3] https://bjgp.org/content/59/563/e199

[4] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22426087/

[5] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs/diet-lifestyle-and-medicines/

[6] https://www.nutrition.org.uk/attachments/article/257/BNF%20Fibre%20factsheet.pdf

[7] https://hmpdacc.org/hmp/