Lost in the supermarket magazine covers and soft-focus TV features of gut health is a huge change to the natural products industry’s business plan. Supplementation has always been about self-empowerment—enabling consumers to take health into their own hands. Personalized probiotics represent a new frontier: a product tailor-made for an individual based on their body … and freedom from one-size-fits-all and dead-eyed salesclerks.
The desire to take greater responsibility for one’s health accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, said veteran entrepreneur Naveen Jain, the CEO and founder of Viome. “What we learned was the last thing we wanted to do was get sick and go to the hospital,” he said. Over the next five years, “health is going to be delivered at home, not in the hospital,” Jain assured. “And the future of medicine is going to come from the farm, not from a pharmacy.”
One way the do-it-yourself (DIY) approach to health intertwines with gut health is when a company analyzes a sample of a bodily fluid—or even hair or feces—and offers a healthful game plan.
“We are very unique in our gut health system. … That’s why we’re seeing that explosion happen because we can really personalize and tailor things down to influencing one microbe of your gut,” explained Sunny Jain, CEO and founder of Sun Genomics, makers of Floré custom probiotics. “And I think people resonate with that because they have a personal identity.” He added, when everything from a Facebook page to a cell phone case speaks about the individual, “Why not have [personal identity] be part of your dietary supplement regimen?”
The research ramp-up
According to Santosh Kumar, senior research analyst at Fact.MR, the average annual sales growth of personalized probiotics is about 14%, thanks to growing interest and awareness of probiotic strains fueled by social media.
“When we started five years ago, the idea of the microbiome was a fringe concept,” Naveen Jain noted. “Now, GQ is talking about gut microbiome,” and Lady Gaga mentioned microbiomes on her Instagram.
Kumar contended consumers are becoming loyal to certain probiotic providers and know that off-the-shelf products labeled with “probiotic” or “with probiotics” may not address their specific ailments. Further, personalized probiotics are becoming big business. Kumar pointed to Thryve securing $1.4 million in funding in 2018. BASF recently partnered with By-Health. Last year, MyBiotics received $2.3 million in funding from the European Union (EU). That kind of money isn’t going toward buttressing a flimsy philosophy.
The old saying is that digestive health is the key to overall health—and research galore supports it. “Gut health is such a pressing concern because what goes on within this influential ecosystem affects not only the gastrointestinal (GI) system, but additionally our overall health and well-being,” said Kimberly Griffith, a scientific study researcher for Thryve (Eur J Nutr. 2018; 57[Suppl 1]:1-14). “We have more microbial cells than human cells; that alone should tell us these microbes are essential (Nat Med. 2018;24:392-400). Studies have found that modulating this environment with probiotics, prebiotics, diet and nutrition can outweigh genetic and environmental factors in determining health outcomes for chronic Western conditions such as diabetes, obesity, IBS [irritable bowel syndrome], IBD [inflammatory bowel disease], colorectal cancer and depression” (Nutrients. 2019;11:1613).
Sunny Jain added, “There’s so much we learn every day from publications coming out. If you take just a Google search on Google Scholar on microbiome and you shorten it to just the year 2020, you’re going to pull up over 35,000 publications related to the microbiome. It is the fastest acceleration of literature I have seen in any field of science in my 20 years. I’ve never seen a ramp-up like this. It touches every area of disease.”
To read this article in its entirety, check out “The rise of personalized probiotics provides a glimpse into a promising future” in the “Probiotics: Macro trends in microorganisms” digital magazine.
Pete Croatto was an editor at VRM Inc. from 2003 to 2006 and ran Informa’s Supplement Perspectives blog from March 2011 to January 2015. His writing has appeared in many publications, including The New York Times, Columbia Journalism Review, GQ.com, and AARP the Magazine. His first book, “From Hang Time to Prime Time: Business, Entertainment, and the Birth of the Modern-day NBA,” was released in December 2020.