What will microbiome modulation look like in ‘the new normal’?

As the global population reacts to the challenges of COVID-19, much of daily life has become disrupted as global markets acclimate to ‘the new normal’. 

From the changing purchase habits of the consumer, to industries reliant on footfall that have shifted entire business models to accommodate the regulatory changes, the pandemic has created a feeling of uncertainty for many. Of course, factoring in the cancellation of events and more rigid rules in place for travel and leisure, we can see that ‘the new normal’ is here to stay.  

For those invested in the health and nutrition sector, it’s vital to regain a sense of clarity in order to adapt to today’s shoppers, but more significantly, those of the future. Individuals are settling into new behaviours and processes, but what might that look like for gut health and nutrition? When the consumer’s lifestyle and expectations have changed, how does gut health continue to mark itself out as a key focus area for everyday health and wellness? 

While we can’t predict the future, we can identify key trending patterns that may shine a light on how microbiome modulation – and the wider gut health category – could fit into ‘the new normal’.

Surging immune health awareness 

One of the most exciting areas of gut health science is its relationship to the immune system; the body’s natural defences against illness and disease. The pandemic has shown a rapid acceleration in immune health awareness – and it’s not hard to see why. 

Research continually suggests close interaction of the gut in various aspects of human health, including immune health. The gut is home to trillions of bacteria that form a complex ecosystem known as the gut microbiome, comprised of both bacteria that are beneficial to the body, and types that are not advantageous. The benefits to health and wellbeing are connected to an increased proportion of ‘good bacteria’, such as bifidobacteria, over the kinds that are less beneficial. 

As individuals around the world put a closer focus on immune health, it’s vital to understand that over 70% of the entire immune system is located in the gut. The gastrointestinal system plays a key role in the immune system regulation in numerous ways. 

Beneficial gut bacteria secrete antimicrobial peptides and compete for the nutrients and the habitat with pathogens. In addition, gut microbiota derived signals influence the immune cells to release either pro- or anti-inflammatory responses, thereby affecting the susceptibility to various diseases. Finally, gut microbiota modulate neutrophils and phagocytes activity and fine tune the balance between pro-inflammatory responses involving the Th17 cells versus the inflammatory regulatory T cells.  

Our advancing understanding of the gut’s role in immune health has provided an opportunity for refocusing of public discourse on immune health. As we continue to settle into ‘the new normal’, the health of the gut could play a pivotal part in how we approach supporting the body’s natural defences.  

‘MD of our own health’ 

Another key point of note is a cultural shift in how health is framed. As isolation becomes the norm, the public has become empowered to become more proactive with health, both as a preventative measure and to reduce strain on health services. 

One term used to describe this has been ‘MD of our own health’, which entails making more mindful and active decisions on how we take care of our physical and mental health. This thinking rejects passive behaviour and only ‘fixing the body when it’s broken’, in favour of changing diet and lifestyle habits that can provide a benefit.  

It’s all about taking control – the consumer is looking for active choices they can make that support the health of the body, and as such, is putting the emphasis on science-backed products and solutions. 

The nutrition sector is likely to see this influence demonstrated through the continued growth of the dietary supplement category as individuals seek proactive ways to support their physical health. The prebiotics sector is set to be one of the greatest beneficiaries of this change, with a global market value expected to reach $8.34Bn by 2026 and a CAGR of 10.1%, according to market intelligence agency Reports & Data. 

A focus on feeding 

Under the restrictions of lockdown, consumers are taking the opportunity to educate themselves on ‘cause and effect’ in the context of health, because what we put into the gut matters. For many, microbiome modulation under ‘the new normal’ means a better understanding of how the bacteria, that comprise the microbiome, can be altered or influenced through diet, as well as the potential positive health outcomes. 

As part of this drive, tomorrow’s microbiome modulation may well put a refreshed focus on fibre; particularly significant as there is already a known fibre gap emerging. A study on behalf of Public Health England found that just 9%1 of adults in the UK are reaching the recommended intake of fibre.  

The optimum intake is advised to be 30g of fibre per day, including 5g of prebiotic fibre. The discrepancy suggests a nutritional gap in today’s western diets, which could contribute to the growing interest in prebiotic fibre supplements such as Bimuno®.  

The future of microbiome modulation seems likely to involve a more goal-oriented approach to supporting gut health, beginning with a specific desired outcome. To achieve this, consumers are likely to adapt their food and nutrient intake in order to nourish specific kinds of bacteria that are expected to support that particular outcome. 

Digital storefronts for nutrition 

Very much in line with how consumers are choosing to educate themselves on gut health, there is a noticeable surge in online purchases. As well as in the nutrition category, this has been witnessed across the wider FMCG market. Across the UK, online shopping has surged by 129%2 since the start of lockdown. In combination with the ongoing increase in demands for prebiotics, this presents fundamental opportunities for brands, functional food manufacturers and product technologists to harness two core areas of growth simultaneously and use this insight to connect with the newly engaged audience. 

Research from commercial technology business BazaarVoice shows that the health sector has demonstrated individual growth, seeing a 42%3 boost to online page views as a year-on-year percentage growth, even outperforming categories such as electronics, hardware and home and garden products. 

Like many changes seen through the pandemic, shifts in behaviour could turn into habits in ‘the new normal’, which indicates that the growth in online purchasing could be here for the long term. The message for brands operating in the nutraceutical market is clear – there must be a stronger focus on e-commerce, alongside the transparency, accountability and science-backed efficacy that consumers seek. 

In Summary 

The ongoing health crisis has indicated changes to how consumers are making decisions regarding their health and that they are altering purchasing habits to match. As the importance of the gut continues to be uncovered and ingrained in public awareness, microbiome modulation will follow suit.  

Putting the microbiome first and foremost in health goes hand in hand with the commercial and behavioural trends emerging in ‘the new normal’, which is set to be a win-win scenario for consumers and brands alike, as individuals seek new ways to support the health of the gut and manufacturers bring new prebiotic solutions to the market in response. 

Click here to find out more about Bimuno, the versatile prebiotic ingredient developed and manufactured by Clasado Biosciences. Bimuno can be added to food and drink products, as well as existing supplements. Its efficacy is supported by over 90 scientific publications, including more than 20 clinical trials.