CHICAGO — Consumers have associated probiotics with yogurt and other fermented dairy foods. This has evolved over the past decade as scientists have gained a better understanding of how the microorganisms survive, thrive and impart health benefits on a host. Researchers also continue to learn how prebiotics, which are fuel for probiotics, selectively influence probiotic activity in the gut.
Probiotics are inherently present in the gut. There are also two categories of probiotic ingredients. There are the traditional heat-labile live and active forms and the spore formers, which are in a dormant state during food processing. This allows them to survive exposure to high temperatures.
Together with prebiotics, probiotics are embraced as a natural solution for overall wellness, as research suggests the gastrointestinal system is at the center of metabolic health and disease prevention. Numerous studies equate a balanced, positive human microbiome with vitality and healthy aging that consumers want.
Roughly a quarter of U.S. adults seek foods and beverages with high amounts of probiotics or prebiotics, according to a 2017 national consumer survey conducted by Packaged Facts, Rockville, Md. The interest is spurring innovation in the food and beverage industry.
From April 2016 to April 2017, nearly 2% of new food and beverage products globally contained probiotics, rising to 3% in the U.S. market, according to Innova Market Insights, Arnhem, The Netherlands. The number of probiotic product introductions globally grew from fewer than 100 in 2002 to nearly 1,800 in 2016, with the United States by far the leading market.
The opportunity to further innovate is fueling researchers to identify and produce the next generation of probiotics and the prebiotics that nourish them. Clinical testing is often part of the plan.
Copenhagen-based Chr. Hansen, for example, has expanded its strain library of potential microbiome modulating strains this past year.
“We are making significant progress in this area,” said Johan van Hylckama Vlieg, vice-president of microbiome and human health innovation. “From over 1,000 recently screened strains from the human microbiome, we have identified a subset of 100 that can be developed for a broad array of health indications associated with gastrointestinal, immune and metabolic health.”
Developing microbiome strains as next-generation probiotics presents unique challenges. Many of the relevant species have no history of commercialization. One of the reasons they have not been commercialized is because they were previously described as difficult to isolate. Advancements in new techniques to cultivate and produce the strains are making this progress possible.
Chr. Hansen has been producing and marketing the Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. Lactis probiotic known simply as BB-12 since 1985. It is described in more than 300 scientific publications and backed by more than 180 clinical studies.
In September 2016, the company acquired the Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG) from Valio, Finland. It has been studied in more than 200 clinical studies and described in more than 800 scientific publications, and has a proven beneficial effect on the gastrointestinal and immune system. With the LGG business, the company also acquired a collection of 3,200 strains for future exploration.
With this new asset, the company is introducing a culture solution for a children’s drinkable yogurt. The new system combines LGG with compatible mild yogurt cultures.
“We have brought out the best of the LGG probiotic strain by combining it with a carefully compounded yogurt culture,” said Dorte Eskesen, global marketing manager of fresh dairy for Chr. Hansen. The result is a mild, tasty yogurt drink with a high cell count of live probiotic bacteria that will appeal to young taste buds and health-conscious parents.
“We like to see ourselves as drivers of innovation in the dairy industry, and with this concept we believe to have created a new opportunity in the dairy market at a time when the relationship between our gut flora and general health is resonating with more and more health-conscious consumers,” Ms. Eskesen said.
DuPont Nutrition & Health, Copenhagen, recently launched a probiotic formula clinically proven to support the weight management efforts of overweight adults. In a clinical study, an ingredient system containing 10 billion colony-forming units (C.F.U.) of Bifidobacterium lactis B420 probiotic alone, or in combination with 12 grams of polydextrose, a prebiotic fiber, reduced calorie intake and maintained waist circumference, body fat mass and trunk fat.
Probiotic strain B420 has been demonstrated in-vitro to increase epithelial integrity, a key function of the digestive tract. The company’s polydextrose prebiotic fiber has been shown in clinical studies to reduce energy intake and decrease after-meal feelings of hunger.
“In 2016, the global weight loss supplement market was an almost $5 billion category and growing, and we know these consumers are not just interested in dieting, they want overall health and wellness, which includes looking good,” said Anders Gron Norager, director of global probiotics at DuPont.
The company also has shown in a clinical study how its Bifidobacterium lactis Bl-04 strain may help maintain healthy respiratory immune function. The results suggest that ingestion of Bl-04 at a dose of two billion C.F.U. per day has an effect on the inflammatory response to rhinovirus infection. Thus, it may reduce the risk of catching the common cold.
“The effects observed in this short-term, well-controlled study were modest and may only partially explain reduction in illness reported in the natural setting,” said Ron Turner, M.D., professor of pediatrics at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, Charlottesville, Va., and sponsor of the study. “However, the results do suggest the utility of further investigations of the effect of specific probiotics on innate immune function in the human host.”