Digestive health has come a long way in only the last 10 years.
Back before probiotics were a thing—heck, back before even discussing gut health was a thing—there were no real answers for consumers other than OTC medicaments.
Remember when the human genome was mapped at around the turn of the century? Because of that, you can’t watch a crime show on TV without DNA evidence coming in to play. Genetics are a part of conversations in a wide range of industries.
The same trajectory seems to be at play with the human microbiome. In 2008 the National Institutes of Health began the Human Microbiome Project, its goal to characterize the microbial communities from 300 healthy individuals, across several different sites on the human body: nasal passages, oral cavity, skin, gastrointestinal tract, and urogenital tract. The investigation was to see if there is a core healthy microbiome.
We already have known that the microorganisms that inhabit the skin and mucous membranes in certain sites of the body play an essential role in maintaining health and normal function. The idea that changes in the human microbiome can correlate with changes in human health was a tantalizing hypothesis when the Human Microbiome Project began. Today, breathtaking advances are being reported in understanding the role of microbiota in cancer susceptibility. Cancer! Lesser health states, from obesity to diabetes, cognitive health to even hearing loss, have been reported to benefit with the use of various probiotic strains.
And that’s where the beat meets the street.
When the promise of probiotics emerged a decade ago, product formulations were those in the dairy case—specifically, yogurt. That’s where the live, active cultures were traditionally found, and brands like Yakult and, later, Dannon’s Activia took up residence.
Then probiotics went further afield—but like many things in the supplements world, the market was way ahead of the science.
By and large, if you’re a product developer and you’d like to market an efficacious dose of probiotics, you’ll need to do it in a supplement format. (The rare exception being the GanedenBC30 spore-forming probiotic strain, which has studies validating efficacy at only 500 million CFUs and can survive production environments that otherwise challenge probiotics.)
Many a supplements brand has taken that message to heart, and where a decade ago a 5 billion CFU dosage was standard, today you’ll find 20 billion CFUs the standard with formulations going as high as 50, 100, 250 billion—there’s even a product with 1 trillion CFUs.
There are two other frontiers at play with probiotics.
One is to include prebiotic fibers to help sustain the bacteria. Prebiotics are now growing at faster rates (albeit from a smaller market base) than probiotics and are now a separate category in their own right, even as they also merge to form the symbiotic category.
The other is to be mindful of the specific strains. One acidophilus is not the same as another. For example, Lactobacillus acidophilus DDS-1 has studies showing digestive support by reducing diarrhea, cramping, and vomiting among the lactose-intolerant. Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM—same genus and species but a different strain—has studies showing immune support by reducing fever, cough and runny noses. Supplement makers are starting to differentiate and specify their probiotics, with different bacterial strains showing benefit for different health needs. So, if you’re looking for a specific benefit, be careful in your formulation strain and dosage level in order to realize the probiotic promise.
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