As brands look to continue to develop innovative products and delivery systems to meet rising consumer demand for nutritional supplements, and new research connecting the positive impact of probiotics on immune health has emerged, the industry is seeing a variety of products in the marketplace that includes probiotics, prebiotics and—more recently—postbiotics.
Overview of supplement -biotics
Probiotics, actual live bacteria that have been dried, may provide support for gastrointestinal (GI) health and exercise performance, as well as the immune system.1
Prebiotics work as a fuel to enhance the function of probiotics and usually come in the form of nondigestible vegetable fiber. Prebiotics can be used alone in supplements to help existing good bacteria growth, but they are more often used in conjunction with probiotics as a blend—referred to as synbiotics.
Postbiotics, which began to gain market traction in 2019, are a bacterial byproduct, or the waste product of beneficial bacteria. Postbiotics may help to reduce inflammation in the gut, provide a boost to metabolism, and aid in improving the immune system.2 Postbiotics are most notably found in fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut, or are also available in powder forms.
In product development, whether a brand is considering probiotics, prebiotics or postbiotics, each type of -biotic can have a targeted health function, depending on which of the numerous available strains are utilized.
For brands developing a -biotic system, this function-targeting capability enables them to, in turn, more easily reach their target consumer. For example, a brand that is looking to create products for athletes seeking more performance-based functions would typically consider using a different type of -biotic strain than those used for digestive or oral health applications.
Brands and manufacturers should dialogue early in the product development process to review the target consumer and respective health needs a product aims to address. These conversations can then help guide brands in choosing the appropriate -biotic system, strains and delivery format best suited to those consumer needs.
Probiotic storage conditions
When developing nutritional supplements with probiotics, it’s crucial to take storage conditions into consideration. The clock starts from the time of manufacture because live bacteria are involved.
For maximum quality, many probiotics need to be refrigerated, as exposure to higher temperatures and humidity can reduce the bacterial viability and active cells per gram. Additionally, the probiotic viability quotient is strain-specific with certain strains being hardier and more resilient than others. These storage considerations are all factors that need to be addressed when formulating products with probiotics. However, these restrictions do not apply to prebiotics and postbiotics when used on their own, as they do not require refrigeration when not combined with probiotics.
Advantages of -biotic blends
Combining prebiotics with probiotics is another product development best practice and an additional way to boost probiotic function and viability. When formulating with blends, the use of prebiotics can also be probiotic strain-specific for optimal growth and effectiveness, so it’s important to understand the science and combining factors behind these blends for best results. To help in this process, we typically recommend that brands look to probiotic vendors who offer these pre-blended ingredients to provide the optimum amounts of probiotics and prebiotics for a particular formula.
The use of pre-blended ingredients is extremely beneficial, as it can reduce or eliminate the trial-and-error process for a brand trying to create the blend on its own during product development. An improper blend balance, for example, can result in instances of potential GI issues from using too much of the fiber-rich prebiotics in a product. Contract manufacturers with strong industry supplier networks can provide the connections for clients to build those relationships with the appropriate vendors to help brands obtain existing product supply, and to also keep brands informed by the vendors of new and cutting-edge advancements in -biotic ingredients.
Postbiotic delivery format advances
Postbiotics are a more recent addition to -biotic system formulation in supplement manufacturing, with particular increased research and interest mounting in 2020. The potential positive GI and other health benefits of postbiotics through fermented food sources such as kimchi and sauerkraut have become well known; the industry’s challenge was to find a vehicle to successfully deliver these fermented enzymes for use in supplements. Several companies met that challenge by developing powdered forms of postbiotics, including the brands EpiCor and CoreBiome tributyrin.
Postbiotics supplementation may be a more efficient way for the body to reap the health benefits. Probiotics, which are already present in the gut, release nutrients that the body absorbs. In contrast, postbiotics supplement the nutrients directly, instead of through probiotics. This means skipping the digestion and absorption step, because postbiotics offer the same beneficial nutrients as those typically being released by one’s probiotic bacteria.
Postbiotic powders are a more recently developed component, so from a manufacturing perspective, we’re still learning and further developing the formulation process. However, we definitely see postbiotics as a great advantage for brands looking to deliver the similar health benefits of probiotics and synbiotics, without the storage considerations and necessary refrigeration.
Probiotics in immune support
On the horizon, we expect the rising interest in immune health over the past 18 months—and the push to develop supplement products to support the immune system—will continue. Additionally, the industry has seen recent breakthroughs and compelling research exploring the benefits of probiotics for immune support,3,4 as well as evidence of a connection of gut and respiratory health.5
In the space looking ahead, we believe there are particular opportunities for brands to develop and market probiotics products to highlight their related immune support benefits. Contract manufacturers can play an important role in helping to guide brands through the challenging process of selecting the appropriate -biotic system that is best tailored to the consumers they are targeting.
To read more articles on this category, check out the “Macro trends in microorganisms” digital magazine.
A California State University, Northridge (CSUN) graduate with a bachelor’s degree in biotechnology/medical technology, Ryan Jacobs is a research and development lead at Lief Labs. With four years of R&D experience, he focuses on technical operations and process improvements. Driven by a passion for collaboration, a determination to offer only the best ingredients and an adaptable mindset, Lief Labs is an innovator in product ideation and formulation for the dietary supplement market. The company houses a state-of-the-art, full-service cGMP (current good manufacturing practice) manufacturing facility, which offers custom solutions for a multitude of supplement categories.
1. Jäger R et al. “International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Probiotics.” J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2019;16(1):62.
2. Zolkiewicz J et al. “Postbiotics—A Step Beyond Pre- and Probiotics.” Nutrients. 2020;12(8):2189.
3. Bottari B et al. “Probiotics and Covid-19.” Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2021;72(3):293-299.
4. Wolvers D et al. “Guidance for substantiating the evidence for beneficial effects of probiotics: prevention and management of infections by probiotics.” J Nutr. 2010;140(3):698S-712S.
5. Enaud R et al. “The Gut-Lung Axis in Health and Respiratory Diseases: A Place for Inter-Organ and Inter-Kingdom Crosstalks.” Front Cell Infect Microbiol. 2020;10:9.