Growing credibility of probiotics market requires more transparency and specificity, experts say

Probiotics are poised to gain growing consumer support, but future changes are needed to strengthen the case by linking them to proven health benefits. According to two probiotic experts who spoke on a September 9 webcast at the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA; Washington, DC) Regulatory, Science and Quality 2021 Virtual Conference, these changes include the need for increased transparency of labels, strain specificity and research. .

What don’t we know?

There are still many researchers who don’t know how precisely probiotics alter the actual structure of the human microbiota, or their mechanism of action, said speaker Mary Ellen Sanders, PhD, consultant for Dairy & Food Culture Technologies. In fact, she said, we don’t even know for sure what a healthy microbiota makeup should look like ideally.

“[E]experts failed to define the composition of a healthy microbiota, which means that while we could use probiotics to modify the microbiota, we don’t really know what the target of the healthy microbiota really is, ”she said. “We don’t necessarily understand how we would like to transform this microbiota to provide healthier expression in a human.”

What we can observe the changes that probiotics have on the microbiota function, she said. “[R]researchers are now starting to put a little less emphasis on the makeup of microbes and focus more on the function of the microbiota and what function germs could mean. And so, studies on probiotics and their impact on the microbiota function most likely may be more important and potentially more successful in understanding the ability of probiotics to have an overall impact on the microbiota.

In other words, “the proof of the health benefit is probably more important than the demonstration of the microbiota-mediated mechanism for a probiotic intervention, because it will be more important to understand that probiotics can do something for the health of the patient. ‘a person than to understand the underlying mechanisms,’ she said.

In the field of research, there is still a need for more well-conducted randomized controlled trials. Researchers also need to understand why some people respond one way to a probiotic intervention and others respond differently. “We don’t have a very good idea at this time of what drives probiotic responders and non-responders,” Sanders said. Individual characteristics can impact the effect of a probiotic supplement, including host genetics, diet, baseline microbiota status, and a person’s current physiology, not to mention properties. unique features of the supplement itself, including its delivery vehicle and manufacturing conditions.

Dosage and strain are also unique determinants of the impact a probiotic has on an individual. The same dosage is not suitable for everyone, and there is a wide range of product dosages on the market. At least the dosage should match the dose that was investigated in the clinical trial showing health benefit.

All of these things need to be improved to deepen the science and evidence for the benefits of probiotics, she said.

More transparency, specificity

Also, said Sanders, “We need to get a better idea of ​​which specific strains and dosages are best suited to which conditions…” Part of what will help is if the manufacturers of probiotic products are more transparent about the strains. microbials present in their products. and at what dose. Consumers need this information to understand whether the composition of a product matches what has been studied in a proven trial. All of this will strengthen the credibility of the category. After all, if a consumer thinks that a certain product will improve their health when in fact the strain of the product is ineffective for that target, they will not be satisfied.

Unfortunately, Sanders said, product labels on the market sometimes “don’t provide enough information.” In fact, she said, in two investigations she helped bring commercial probiotic products to market found “that less than half of the dietary supplement products that were on the market could be linked to evidence of a health benefit. And, in most cases, that’s because about half of those products or less that don’t provide strain designations – and, as I mentioned, without a strain designation, you can’t. find the particular articles that have been published that document health effects. “

Further, she noted, “Not only did the products not include strain designations, but in this case half of the products did not list colony-forming units at the end of the shelf life. conservation; many were labeled as “at the time of manufacture”. And so these were real gaps in the labels of probiotic supplements.

Sanders urged industry-wide manufacturers to include information such as genus, species and strain, product potency (colony forming units, or CFUs, present through end of shelf life, not just at the time of manufacture), an explanation (if possible) of a health benefit, as well as storage and other conditions of use.

Interestingly, she noted, the labels of probiotics food in the market fared slightly better in the market research she helped conduct, which found that out of 45 probiotic foods, 22 strain designations and unit dose lists were listed in CFUs. “What he also showed was that of the 22 products that listed the strain designations, they could all be linked to evidence,” Sanders said. “This suggests that probiotic foods that are on the market in the United States, that if you find one that has a strain designation, there’s a good chance that you’re looking at a product that also has articles published to show that it has a strain designation. ‘he has some health benefit. “

Education and awareness

Continuing education is key to teaching consumers and healthcare professionals the benefits of probiotics, said webcast speaker George Paraskevakos, executive director of the International Probiotics Association (IPA). Last year, his organization ran a massive media awareness campaign and continues to create probiotic information resources for healthcare professionals and consumers. The association also recently created what it says is the very first probiotic college course in the United States, with more details to be shared soon.

Within the industry, IPA also continues to educate on probiotics, including global regulations and best practices for manufacturing and labeling. The IPA has also played an active role in asking the FDA to make CFU the official unit of measure for probiotic labels in the United States and to include probiotics in the legal definition of a food ingredient.

The IPA is also promoting the harmonization of definitions of probiotics around the world to overcome “regulatory differences”, which will reduce confusion and create a smoother path for probiotics. For example, the official definition of a probiotic established by the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, although accepted by many countries, has “been interpreted by different government agencies around the world in a very different way ”. Paraskevakos said that “depending on what country you are in or where you want to market, probiotics can be in food, probiotics can be supplements, they can be medical devices, they can be drugs. The benefits that can be reported are either generic, very specific or therapeutic.

Globally, it will also be important for countries to address quality factors such as safety, enumeration and reproducibility, he said. “These are all things that are very important for a government to be able to regulate these types of products, including probiotics in their country. “

Future potential

Addressing industry gaps will be important to ensure the probiotics market continues to thrive. More consumers are interested in probiotics, and sales of probiotics have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, Paraskevakos said. He noted statistics showing that the global probiotic dietary supplement market alone grew by 10% last year, with the global global probiotics (including supplements, foods and yoghurt / milks) market registering 47, $ 4 billion in retail sales in 2020. Major markets include the United States and China. More millennials and men are buying probiotic products than ever before, which means the public has plenty of room to grow. Online, probiotics, by income rank, are the # 1 selling vitamin / mineral / supplement category on

“Probiotics are growing at a very good rate,” Paraskevakos said. “They still have an upward trend – maybe not the fastest growing market, but it’s a very high growth rate nonetheless.”

Looking ahead, Sanders highlighted emerging areas of probiotic research that show promise. These include brain health (for stress, anxiety, and symptoms of depression), metabolic health (including reducing body weight, managing blood pressure, and managing blood lipids and levels. blood sugar levels), skin and vaginal health, and oral health.

“The take-home message here is that probiotics have definite health benefits, and I think there is a really bright future for probiotics; however, there is a need to improve the labels on probiotic products “to promote these benefits,” she concluded.

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