Dealing With Digestion

With digestive ailments growing and estimates suggesting that more than 70 percent of the immune system Is In the colon, there is now more reason than ever to supplement digestion. Taking this message public and expanding options will help assure this market grows to meet the need.

It is fair to say that no one wants to live with the discomfort and distress of a digestive ailment. The crippling reality of a poorly functioning digestive system is one that cannot be ignored for long and can eventually develop into symptoms that necessitate serious alterations to one’s daily plans. Yet, even in the face of this truth, a large portion of Americans are allowing the initial warning signs of gut discomfort to progress into serious ailments without properly addressing the root causes.

“It is estimated that over 100 million Americans suffer from some sort of digestive-related disease,” explained Lorraine Niba, PhD, regional marketing manager-Americas for FrieslandCampina Domo (Paramus, NJ). “The prevalence of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), for instance, Is very high in the United States. This is because, traditionally, Western diets have been high in processed foods, and very low in fiber and other fermentable ingredients.”

Diets are so low in fiber, in fact, that according to Pashen Black, Tate & Lyle’s (Decatur, IL) marketing communication manager, “Consumers typically consume 12-159 fiber per day, which is half of the recommended daily amount of fiber they should have in their diets.”

With such a disproportionate skew in numbers, it becomes clear how supplementation is necessary for most people to maintain digestive wellness. This is a message that is starting to grow in mainstream awareness thanks in part to the promotions of commercial products catering to these concerns.

Tate & Lyle’s market research has examined this trend of growing consumer awareness directly. According to the company, 65 percent of consumers are thinking about eating healthier than they did two years ago, and 61 percent believe digestive health is the most important health concern.

This increased public attention has opened the proverbial floodgates for ingredients that address the underlying causes of poor digestion, which is good news for manufacturers who now have a number of options available for entry into this market.

Proliferating Probiotics

Probiotics, an unquestionable category leader, have been among the top benefactors of the growing incorporation of digestive wellness ingredients, as they can now be found in everything from juice, cheese and chocolate to even gum. However, one of probiotics’ strongest and most established ties is with the supplement industry, generating supplement sales of $2 billion in the US in 2008 alone, according to Euromonitor International’s estimates.

“The fact that probiotics offer both digestive relief and immune system benefits makes them a good option for dietary supplement consumers looking for both therapeutic and long-term benefits from one safe, natural supplement,” said Tim Gamble, senior vice president, sales and marketing, Nutraceutix, Inc. (Redmond, WA). “Not all probiotic dietary supplements are the same, however, and it is important for consumers to seek quality dietary supplement forms that offer superior shelf-life and provide advanced, significantly more effective stomach acid protection and optimal intestinal release.”

To achieve this desired effect, Nutraceutix developed its BIO-tract@ delivery system, which has been proven to protect the majority of a supplement’s probiotics from gastric acid, ensuring that a significantly higher percentage of organisms reach the intestines alive. According to the company, it is the first and only technology in the nutritional supplement industry that provides controlled release for probiotics.

Also deeply rooted in this category is Minneapolis, MN-based UAS Laboratories, which recently celebrated 30 years of manufacturing probiotics. Made with the DDS-1 strain of Lactobacillus acidophilus, UAS’s bacterium offers probiotic qualities like production of enzymes, vitamins and a natural antibiotic that controls growth of harmful bacteria. “The strain has been used by millions of people for over 30 years and has proven its value, It said Connie Falkenstein, RD, MS, MPH and director of marketing and education for the company. “‘It is supported by more than 200 studies both university and clinical.”

Prebiotic Benefits

Still overshadowed by probiotics but beginning to establish its own industry presence are the non-digestible carbohydrate particles known as prebiotics. The colonic bacteria ferment prebiotics to produce short-chain fatty acids, which have many digestive health benefits, explained FrieslandCampina Domo’s Niba, such as reducing the pH of the colon, making it inhospitable to pathogenic, harmful bacteria. Also, added Niba, studies are indicating that fermentation of certain prebiotics in the colon enhances the absorption of calcium, due to the lowered pH in the colon, which helps to solubilize the bound calcium.

FrieslandCampina Domo manufacturers and markets a prebiotic ingredient known as Vivinal GOS, a preblotic galacto-oligosaccharide, which promotes digestive health and helps to support immune health. “Vivinal GOS stands apart from other products in the market because its monomeric structure is closest to the oligosaccharides found in mother’s milk,” said Niba. “It is therefore highly prebiotic and effective.

“Launched in the US about two years ago, Vivinal GOS has been very successful in this market, as well as worldwide,” she continued. “It is currently used even in infant products, a category reputed for its stringent standards.”

Tate & Lyle also features an ingredient with prebiotics, in this case prebiotic fiber, known as PromitorTM Soluble Corn Fiber. The company has backed its ingredient with both market and clinical research. Regarding the former, the market research has led the company to categories and products featuring fiber that are prime for growth, one of the most promising being baked goods. Sixty-two percent of consumers surveyed by Tate & Lyle said they find bread with a label claim of “for healthy digestion of appealing, and nearly 60 percent believe an to excellent source of fiber” is appealing. Other products where the addition of fiber has been shown to be promising include yogurt, powdered soft drinks, bottled water, energy drinks and meal replacement beverages.

On the clinical side, Promitor has been shown to help stimulate the growth of good bacteria in the large intestine while also minimizing the growth of undesirable bacteria. In a recent study, well-known scientists at leading universities found that products manufactured with the ingredient may produce lower glycemic and insulin responses. According to the company, the lower responses may help to prevent the roller coaster of sugar spikes and crashes, which could lead to improved weight management and better blood glucose control.

“Enriching foods with a fiber like Promitor can help consumers meet their fiber intake and digestive health goals without altering the familiar taste and texture of their favorite foods,” said Black. “It’s also well tolerated with minimal to no gastrointestinal side effects.”

The Enzymatic Effect

Not to be forgotten in the mix of digestive health supplementation are the catalysts for the body’s biochemical reactions, enzymes. At each stage of digestion, there are enzymes that break down food into component parts that are eventually used for energy production and structural repair and replacement.

“The reality is that supplemental enzyme use is one of the few dietary supplements in which you can actually feel a difference, and rather quickly, to said Mike Smith,, vice president, Specialty Enzymes and Biochemicals Co. (Chino, CA), manufacturer of enzyme blends for general digestion and condition specific categories, including DigeSEB®, DalrySEB® and SEB®-Gluten Relief.

The typical American diet can explain much of the reason why enzyme supplementation is essential. ‘.’The body’s ability to produce sufficient amounts of the right digestive enzymes can be negatively impacted by junk food, fatty snacks, large meals, stress,, illness and aging,” said Nena Dockery, scientific and regulatory affairs manager with National Enzyme Company (NEC, Forsyth, MO). “It’s also possible that many of the thousands of untested additives now used in processed foods may irritate the digestive process.”

NEC has developed several unique proprietary blends within the BioCore® line to provide general digestive support that is appropriate for individuals with healthy digestive systems, as well as to pinpoint specific digestive challenges such as dairy intolerance or gluten sensitivity.

“The enzymes in the BioCore line were selected to work alongside the body’s own endogenous digestive enzymes and to directly compensate for deficient or missing enzymes,” said Dockery. “Their main purpose is to ensure complete food breakdown and bio accessibility of nutrients. The body simply doesn’t have to work as hard or inefficiently to achieve complete digestion.”

Growing the Market

To further promote the expansion of the digestive wellness category, there are certain key areas that manufacturers should keep in mind when developing their finished products. One such area is with package labeling. While most supplements include adequate labeling of the unit measurements of probiotics and enzymes-particularly important due to the lack of a recommended daily value for both-the packaging of functional foods and beverage applications have traditionally not featured the same clear indications. This has proven particularly true with probiotics, which have made great strides in both of these functional markets.

While clearer indications would help solve some of the confusion at market level, one concern at the manufacturing stage is during the formulation of the product. “It is not always good enough to just throw some ingredients into a capsule based on some mathematical formula conceived long before the product ever reaches stores. Quality, viability and potential efficacy have to be delivered all the way to the consumer,” said Nutraceutix’s Gamble. “It is not easy to do so, particularly in the case of probiotics, and unfortunately many inexpertly produced products fail long before they ever reach the consumer.”

The concern of efficacy is one that FrieslandCampina Domo’s Niba sees as the greatest challenge facing manufacturers looking to gain entry into this market. “Because the science in this area is relatively new, many of the benefits have not been completely proven in humans. There are still concerns about the dose and amount of a prebiotic or probiotic needed for fermentation that would produce a significant effect,” she said. “Manufacturers therefore should seek out ingredients with proven effectiveness, and with supporting science.”

One thing manufacturers should not do, according to Troy Aupperle, president of Enzymology Research Center, Inc. (Miltona, MN), is produce a product simply to join in the digestive craze. “As with all emerging markets the competition tends to increase dramatically as everyone ‘joins’ in the momentum,” he said. “Being able to clearly distinguish the difference between your products and the competition should be your No. 1 priority. If you are unable to do this, then I would stay clear of this market.”

To help manufacturers overcome the challenges of distinguishing their products, Aupperle recommends they target specific categories and/or focus on narrowed demographic profiles. This, he said, will give them better assurance that their new products will meet with success.

Things to Digest

As with many markets in the supplement industry, the success of digestive wellness has and will continue to depend heavily on research, and in this regard there is good reason to be optimistic. The National Institutes of Health has announced that it will be expanding the Human Microbiome Project by awarding more than $42 million to researchers in the exploration of how trillions of microscopic organisms living in or on our bodies affect our health, including the gut microbiome. The Human Microbiome Project is a $140 million, five-year effort that will produce a resource for researchers who are seeking to use information about the microbiome to improve human health.

With this as well as other signs indicating the continued growth for the digestive wellness category, one market that seems particularly promising is in the area of children’s products. The market research of Tate & Lyle found that 67 percent of American parents believe fiber is an important component of their children’s health, and that 35 percent of American parents believe the benefits of consuming products with fiber help their children with digestion.

While advancements in delivery are opening up new ways to supplement children’s digestive needs, such as gummy and other chewable formats, they have also helped make it possible for combination products that target the gut more efficaciously. One such category of supplements that will likely see an increased usage in the year ahead is enzymes and probiotics in a single dosage form. The combinations will emphasize, according to Specialty Enzymes and Biochemicals’ Smith, condition-specific areas like digestion for patients undergoing chemotherapy, HIV, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, wasting disease, senior nutrition, and dairy and gluten intolerance.

This is all part of the shift away from the temporary solutions of pharmaceuticals and toward natural alternatives that give the gut what it needs to thrive long-term. This is why Terese Mansell, president of NEC, suggested manufacturers offer products that provide more than just a temporary fix. “Digestive wellness is key to overall wellness and consumers are demanding products that will strengthen and support digestive functions long-term,” she said. “As more science points to nutrition as the foundation for health, this category will continue to grow and expand.”


  • Hudson, Ewa. Digestive Health Trends Leading the Sales of Functional Food and Supplements. Euromonitor International. November 2009.
  • National Institutes of Health News:


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