Since the Covid-19 crisis, consumer interest in health and wellness has soared. A major GlobalData survey covering consumer attitudes across more than 40 markets in the final quarter of 2023 showed that worldwide personal health benefits in food and drink was the number one priority purchase driver, beating price by a small margin.[i]
In Japan and across the APAC region the link between gut health and overall wellbeing and immunity is well understood. But in 2024, this recognition will gain greater traction in Europe, predicts Chyn Boon Wong, PhD, assistant manager, marketing and scientific affairs in probiotics and postbiotics, at Morinaga Milk.
Morinaga Milk is one of Japan’s largest dairy companies and a leader in nutritional and functional food ingredients.
Greater focus on the gut
Dr Wong says brands that cater for growing demand for foods that are natural and rich in gut-friendly functional food ingredients will have the advantage this year, even as the economic environment remains challenging.
“Consumers are looking for products that can support their immune system and enhance overall wellbeing,” she says. “The microbiome space is gaining traction with a growing focus on developing products with biotic solutions.”
The gut microbiome is a community of trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria, that reside in our gastrointestinal – digestive – tract. It is a dynamic community that scientists are discovering plays a pivotal role in regulating a host of functions, including metabolism, response to infections and even brain health such as mood and cognitive function.[ii]
There is growing evidence to suggest that when the balance of gut microbiota is upset, this can directly impact our physiology, prevalence to disease as well as mood.[iii] Researchers are currently exploring the potential of modulating the gut microbiota through dietary interventions and specifically how certain probiotic strains can improve brain health and potentially prevent or slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
Other studies are exploring how probiotics strains can support weight lossiv, promote skin healthv, reduce cholesterolvi, and improve metabolism in the human host. It’s early days but still exciting, says Dr Wong and brands are responding, says Dr Wong. “We are seeing an evolving trend in the industry where brand manufacturers are focusing on reformulating existing products to reduce sugar, sodium, and artificial ingredients, and new products containing probiotics and postbiotics coming to market.”
She expects exciting developments in the biotics market this year as scientists explore the potential health benefits of these ingredients, their mechanisms of action, and their applications in various health conditions. “New formulations and new combinations will be introduced to meet consumer demand.”
Personalised nutrition, new probiotic strains and the emergence of postbiotics
This year, Dr Wong believes personalised nutrition will become more important with new tools and services that provide personalised dietary recommendations based on an individual’s unique needs, health goals, and genetic makeup emerging.
“This could include personalised meal plans, tailored dietary supplements, and customised food products using specific functional ingredients such as probiotics and postbiotics. By targeting the gut microbiota with specific probiotic strains, it is possible to optimise health outcomes and potentially prevent or manage various health conditions.
“The scientific development of incorporating human-residential bifidobacteria (HRB) strains into infant formula for establishing a bifidobacteria-dominant gut microbiota in early life is an exciting advancement for improving infant health. HRB species such as Bifidobacterium longum, B. breve, and B. infantis have been found to play a crucial role in gut microbiota development and immune system training.”
What does the future look like for microbiome research?
“Microbiome research has gained significant attention in recent years due to its potential implications for human health and disease and encompasses various fields, including the gut microbiome, skin microbiome, oral microbiome, and more. Scientists are interested in understanding the composition, function, and interactions of these microbial communities and their impact on human health.
“Advancements in technology, such as high-throughput sequencing and bioinformatics, continue to drive progress in microbiome research, allowing for more comprehensive and detailed analysis of microbial communities. This enables scientists to identify specific microbial species, their functions, and their interactions with the host.
“We expect microbiome therapeutics to grow, with the development of novel interventions that target the microbiome to prevent or treat diseases. This may include the use of probiotics, prebiotics, postbiotics, and other innovative approaches.”
Dr Wong says Morinaga Milk will continue to focus on its human-residential bifidobacteria (HRB) probiotic strains in 2024, with a focus on Bifidobacterium longum BB536 for infant nutrition, specific health needs in adults and healthy aging and Bifidobacterium breve B-3, which has shown promise in maintaining healthy body weight.
“Postbiotics will also emerge as a category of functional food ingredients, and we are ready for that with our postbiotic ingredient, LAC-Shield, with its highest capacity to induce the production of interleukin-12 (IL-12) – a potent activator of innate and adaptive immunity.”
[i] GlobalData TrendSights Analysis 2023: Mega-Trend Overview—Health & Wellness report
[iii] The Role of Gut Microbiota in Anxiety, Depression, and Other Mental Disorders as Well as the Protective Effects of Dietary Components
ivSung, H.K., Youn, S.J., Choi, Y., Eun, S.W. and Shin, S.M., 2022. Body fat reduction effect of Bifidobacterium breve B-3: A randomized, double-blind, placebo comparative clinical trial. Nutrients, 15(1), p.28.
vYonezawa.S et. al., 2014. Effect of milk supplemented with bifidobacteria on skin condition in healthy adult women. Clinical Allergy 34(10): 872-875.
viRuscica, M., Pavanello, C., Gandini, S., Macchi, C., Botta, M., Dall’Orto, D., Del Puppo, M., Bertolotti, M., Bosisio, R., Mombelli, G. and Sirtori, C.R., 2019. Nutraceutical approach for the management of cardiovascular risk–a combination containing the probiotic Bifidobacterium longum BB536 and red yeast rice extract: results from a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Nutrition journal, 18(1), pp.1-9.