A growing market

In this series of articles, NutraIngredients addresses some of the major issues and challenges facing the nutraceutical and food ingredient industry today. In this article, we hear from Martin Ham, Business Development Manager at NIZO.

NutraIngredients (NI): Why is the gut health market hot right now?

Martin Ham (MH): A number of factors are combining to drive the growth of the gut and digestive health market. The first is that consumers are increasingly aware of the importance of gut health and comfort and can, to some extent, manage this themselves through dietary choices and supplements. This is linked to the fact that the world’s populations are aging and that more and more people are living with chronic stomach disorders. At the same time, scientists are better understanding both the importance of the gut (microbiome) to human health and how we can influence it.

NI: How does the gut (microbiome) affect health?

MH: Obviously, a healthy gut can support digestive health, like reducing constipation and bloating. But it also has more systemic effects. For example, gut health plays a vital role in our immune system, whether by preventing pathogens from binding to cells in our digestive tract or by directly modulating immune cells. Additionally, the concept of the “gut-brain axis,” or “microbiota-gut-brain communication,” has become widely accepted over the past decade. This two-way molecular communication between the gut and the brain is believed to impact our mood, our ability to handle stress, our sleep patterns and even our behavior.

NI: What types of functional ingredients are important in the market?

MH: Currently, the largest area is in probiotics – microbes that have a positive effect, for example by metabolizing otherwise indigestible food components or producing beneficial compounds such as neurotransmitters or short-chain fatty acids. Then there are prebiotics, substances like certain fibers or oligosaccharides that promote the growth of “healthy” bacteria in the gut. These two areas can be combined into a single product or dietary supplement, providing both the beneficial bacteria and the food to help it grow in the gut. An emerging field is postbiotics, which contain inactivated microbial cells or cell components, with or without metabolites, that contribute to the observed health benefits. Then there are various food enzymes, bioactive proteins and peptides.

There is also a wide variety of phytochemicals, including various polyphenols and polysaccharides. Many of these could be extracted from secondary streams from other industries, which also brings a wide range of environmental benefits, including reduced waste and reduced carbon footprint.

NI: Which bioactive molecules can come from secondary flows?

MH: In a previous column, my colleague Guus Kortman and José Maria Pinilla from Natac Biotech talked about OLEAF4VALUE. The aim is to identify potentially health-promoting polyphenols and triterpenoids, among other molecules, in the biomass of olive leaves from the olive oil industry. Such compounds can have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, prebiotic or antimicrobial effects.

Earlier this year, Dutch health ingredient company NutriLeads launched an immune health ingredient made from carrot polysaccharides. This ingredient is derived from carrot pomace, which is a side stream of carrot juice production. Indeed, these potentially prebiotic polysaccharides can be found in many fruits, grains, fungi, and even yeasts, and many efforts are underway to find and extract polysaccharide-containing fractions from the side streams of relevant industries. For example, brewing giant AB InBev is investigating the possibility of extracting the hemicellulose arabinoxylan from brewers’ spent grain, a by-product of beer production. Arabinoxylan may increase levels of bifidobacteriain the human intestine.

NI: How do we identify the actual health benefits of these compounds and probiotics?

MH: To be considered a serious player in this market, it is absolutely essential to provide evidence that proves the health benefits of a new product or ingredient. The gold standard for substantiating health benefits is obviously a well-designed clinical trial. But these are expensive and can take a long time to complete.

Thus, the first step is usually one or more in vitro ​studies, where the compound, microbe or product is introduced into relevant human cells (i.e. a model). In vitroModels are an essential part of the discovery phase, helping to identify new functional components and the impact of various types of processing on these components. They can also be used to lend credibility to claims that a food component is biologically active, discover the mode of action, and assess potential interactions between components that could either enhance or suppress the desired health benefit. Additionally, the knowledge gained can guide the design of subsequent human intervention studies to increase the chances of obtaining a meaningful result, saving time and money.

NI: How do you use in vitromodels ?

MH: In vitroThe models aim to imitate the conditions of a certain environment in the human body. To apply them effectively, you need to think about what kind of functional component you are studying and where it will act – then choose your in vitromodel accordingly. Until recently, these models used only one type of cell, such as epithelial cells, immune cells or samples of the intestinal microbiota. But increasingly, people are combining different cell types into a single model to give a more complete picture of how a food component interacts with the human body. For example, combining digestion, intestinal fermentation, and gut models can give a more realistic picture of how certain peptides, oligosaccharides, or other food components are metabolized and absorbed. Taking this idea further, so-called organoid models combine the relevant cell types into a kind of miniaturized organ.

Choosing the right model depends on the specifics of the question you want to explore. More complex models can mimic the environment inside our body more realistically, but take longer to deliver results. Thus, simpler, high-throughput models are best used in early explorations when screening multiple or very new components to narrow down promising candidates for further investigation. More complex models are useful later for precise validation of previously identified components and their specific effects.

Together, these models provide the basis for identifying and validating new compounds, microbes, and products—or new benefits of existing components—to improve gut health and overall well-being.

Comments are closed.