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Digestive health and immunity

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Consumers are gradually realizing that digestive health is an essential part of their body's ability to detoxify and promote immunity, and they are looking for solutions to optimize digestive function.

A majority of adults, 80%, have some understanding of the bodys immune system and its importance in keeping disease at bay. Older generations are especially likely to believe their immune system is their bodys most-important defense against preventing illness. Many factors can compromise the immune system: daily stressors, toxins, pesticides and even lack of sleep. And, once the immune system is weakened, disease can take a foothold. In fact, consistently lowered immunity has been shown to cause chronic inflammation, which has been linked to the development of cancer, arthritis, heart disease, digestive problems and other health issues.

Maintaining a healthy digestive system is vital to strengthening immunity. The intestinal tract is home to approximately 100 trillion microorganisms that help promote normal gastrointestinal function, systemic metabolism and immune function. Most modern diets are deficient in these essential microorganisms, or healthy bacteria, due to processing of food and sterilization of the food supply.

Many consumers believe that digestive health is an essential part of their bodys ability to detoxify and promote immunity, and they are looking for solutions to optimize digestive function. While older consumers show higher management of digestive ailments, research from the Natural Marketing Institute, Harleysville, PA, has also found that members of Generation Y, Generation X and baby boomers, compared to more-mature consumers (born before 1945), are significantly more likely to look for ways to detoxify their body and remove buildup in their digestive system." This indicates a heightened desire among younger consumers for detoxification methods, as their interest lies in maintaining a healthy digestive tract.

While younger consumers appear interested in digestion, generational differences are apparent in use of products to improve digestion. Older generations are more likely to have started using functional and natural foods and beverages for improved digestion. Specific category usage analysis may be warranted to understand target, category and occasion opportunities in digestive health.

While awareness of probiotics continues to grow, with two-thirds of the general population indicating awareness, nearly half of the population cannot associate probiotics with any health benefit. Mature consumers and Generation Y are more likely than Generation X and boomers to be unfamiliar with any health benefits of probiotics. As clinical studies show, probiotics can be beneficial to many gastrointestinal conditions. However, only about one-third of consumers associate probiotics with digestive healtha level which has remained stagnant for the past two years. Digestive managers (consumers who are actively managing or treating acid reflux or heartburn, constipation, gastritis, indigestion, irritable bowel or lactose intolerance) have a higher awareness of probiotics (73%); however, less than half of them associate probiotics with digestive health (41%).

This lack of understanding that probiotics benefit digestion may be limiting consumers usage of available probiotic-enriched products. Considering the amount of media exposure of probiotics and probiotic-rich foods, companies will have to determine when, and if, they can call out the ingredient or should market to the benefit. Category differences will affect this decision. However, regardless of category, continued education on the benefits of probiotics will be key to increasing the market opportunities until the connection between probiotics and their benefits is established. The benefit association has not grown since 2009.

Many consumers are aware of the importance of their immune system in preventing illness, and more consumers are beginning to realize that maintaining a healthy digestive tract is vital to their immunity. Products which promote healthy digestion and immunity will have strong positioning with health-conscious consumers. Generating awareness of the digestive-health benefits of specific food ingredients, including probiotics, will not only put more control into consumers hands, but will allow them to make healthier choices.

Maryellen Molyneaux, president of the Natural Marketing Institute, began her career in health and wellness in 1970. Her range of expertise includes retail and corporate management, international consulting, new product development, consumer packaged goods marketing, and market research management. Reach her at [email protected]

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