Linda Ohr

Linda Milo Ohr

Girl Eating

Increasing consumer awareness of, and interest in, digestive health solutions will continue to fuel growth in products for a healthy gut microbiome. Photo courtesy of Kerry

Girl Eating

Increasing consumer awareness of, and interest in, digestive health solutions will continue to fuel growth in products for a healthy gut microbiome. Photo courtesy of Kerry

Microbiome is a growing buzzword in various industries. An ad for Dove Moisturizing Bodywash, for example, says that it “respects skin’s microbiome” and is “microbiome gentle.” In the food industry and nutrition world, the gut microbiome is a hot topic. “There’s clearly growing interest in microbiome health,” observes John Quilter, vice president and general manager, ProActive Health, at Kerry.

Uplift Foods

Gut Happy cookies are high in dietary fiber and resistant starch and contain probiotics. Photo courtesy of Uplift Foods

Uplift Foods

Gut Happy cookies are high in dietary fiber and resistant starch and contain probiotics. Photo courtesy of Uplift Foods

“Between 2014 and 2019, the number of Google searches for ‘microbiome’ rose by 267%,” he says, citing research from Google Trends, August 2019. “As interest rises, more and more consumers are learning about the connection between a healthy microbiome and a healthy digestive system.”

The growing interest in healthy microbiomes can be seen in the foods and beverages being introduced in the marketplace. Good Culture in 2019 debuted its Wellness Probiotic Gut Shots. The shots contain 50 billion live and active cultures. Good Culture combines its kefir with functional ingredients like matcha, turmeric, collagen, and chaga to create probiotic-packed shots with functional benefits. Another company, Uplift Foods, offers Gut Happy Cookies, which contain 1 billion CFU (colony forming unit) probiotics in the cookie cream and four prebiotics in the cookie, including soluble tapioca fiber, kiwifruit powder, lupin beans, and tiger nuts, a root-based vegetable.

Here’s a look at more developments related to helping improve the health of the microbiome.

Microbiome Research

Research on the gut microbiome is linking parts of the diet with healthy microbiomes and uncovering benefits of a healthy gut microbiome, including supporting mental health, cardiovascular health, weight management, and more.

Smith et al. (2019) linked gut microbiome composition with sleep physiology. The researchers found that total microbiome diversity was positively correlated with increased sleep efficiency and total sleep time. The results also showed positive correlations between total microbiome diversity and interleukin-6, a cytokine previously noted for its effects on sleep.

At the United European Gastroenterology (UEG) Week in October 2019, researchers from the University Medical Center Groningen, in Groningen, the Netherlands, discussed that certain foods, including legumes, bread, fish, nuts, and wine, were associated with high levels of gut-friendly bacteria that aid the biosynthesis of essential nutrients and the production of short-chain fatty acids, the main source of energy for cells lining the colon (UEG 2019). The researchers observed four study groups: the general population, subjects with Crohn’s disease, subjects with ulcerative colitis, and subjects with irritable bowel syndrome. Dietary patterns rich in bread, legumes, fish, and nuts were associated with a decrease in potentially harmful, aerobic bacteria. Higher consumption of these foods was also associated with lower levels of inflammatory markers in stool that are known to rise during intestinal inflammation. Red wine, vegetables, fruit, and cereals were also associated with a higher abundance of bacteria with antiinflammatory functions.

A small pilot study out of Wake Forest School of Medicine identified several distinct gut microbiome signatures— the chemicals produced by bacteria—in subjects with mild cognitive impairment but not in subjects with normal cognition (Nagpal 2019). They found that these distinct gut microbiome signatures correlated with higher levels of markers of Alzheimer’s disease in the cerebrospinal fluid of the subjects with mild cognitive impairment. The results of a cross-group dietary intervention showed that a modified Mediterranean-ketogenic diet produced changes in the gut microbiome and its metabolites that correlated with reduced levels of the markers of Alzheimer’s disease in the subjects of both study groups.

Holscher et al. (2018) demonstrated that walnut consumption affected the composition and function of the human gastrointestinal microbiota and suggested that the gastrointestinal microbiota may contribute to the underlying mechanisms of the beneficial health effects of walnuts. Kaczmarek et al. (2019) found that broccoli consumption affects the composition and function of the human gastrointestinal microbiota, while Dhillon et al. (2019) showed that eating an almond snack in the morning improved the diversity and composition of the gut microbiome in subjects who predominantly skip eating breakfast.

Research on the gut microbiome is linking parts of the diet with healthy microbiomes and uncovering benefits of a healthy gut microbiome.

Food companies are also involved in microbiome research. Nestlé in November 2019 announced that it entered into a partnership with the University of California–San Diego Center for Microbiome Innovation to further increase the understanding of the microbiome’s impact on human health and to accelerate the development of innovative nutritional solutions promoting health and wellbeing. Over many years, Nestlé has studied the gut microbiome and its evolving composition throughout different life stages, from birth to aging, in humans and companion animals. This research has been used to develop products that help maintain healthy digestion and well-being for different populations. The current portfolio includes products that contain probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics to improve digestion. Recently, Nestlé Purina launched Calming Care, an innovative probiotic- based nutritional supplement tailored for the management of anxious behavior in dogs.

DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences is focusing on the ability of gut bacteria to influence the immune system. The company in September 2019 announced its partnership with Quadram Institute Bioscience, a research institute with expertise in microbiome interactions. The 3-year preclinical project will study the way that gut bacteria influences the immune system and will evaluate how extracellular vesicles, which are naturally produced by the gut bacteria, can be used to enhance immunity and prevent or treat inflammatory conditions.


“Research shows 40% of global consumers are actively interested in improving their digestive health, and one of the most popular ways to do that is taking probiotics,” Quilter says, citing consumer research from FMCG Gurus’ Insights and Opportunities: Global Digestive Health 2019 report. He says that Mintel’s Achieving Digestive Wellness with Food and Drink, an August 2018 report, found that “67% of U.S. consumers who use probiotic supplements do so for a healthy gut or microbiome.” Finally, the global probiotics market was estimated to be worth $49.4 billion in 2018, and it’s projected to hit $69.3 billion by 2023, he says, citing data from MarketsandMarkets’ Global Probiotic Market Forecast to 2023 report.

Consumers are starting to understand the role probiotics can play in microbiome health, according to research conducted by Kerry and published in its Global Consumer Survey–Digestive and Immune Health–2019 report. “We surveyed more than 11,000 health-conscious consumers around the world; among those in the U.S. with an awareness of probiotics, 79% were aware of their digestive health benefits. In the UK, 72% who were aware of probiotic cultures knew they boosted digestive health,” says Quilter.

Although there is a growing understanding of probiotic benefits, Quilter mentions that there is still work to do. “For example, there’s a common misconception that all probiotic strains are the same, but the functionality and benefits can vary hugely. While some strains need to be kept in specific conditions, spore-forming probiotics like GanedenBC30 are extremely hardy and can be used in anything from ice cream to hot coffee and remain effective. Also, research has shown that GanedenBC30 not only benefits digestive health but also supports the immune system and assists protein utilization."

Anaya-Loyola et al. (2019) showed that GanedenBC30 has a beneficial effect on gastrointestinal symptoms and upper respiratory tract infection symptoms in children. GanedenBC30 (Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086) is a patented sporeforming probiotic. Its protective shell shields it from both stomach acids and most food-processing conditions, including heat, shear, high-temperature short-time pasteurization, and high-pressure processing pasteurization.

Last year, NZMP launched probiotic ingredients in the United States. The strains, Bifidobacterium animalis subspecies lactis HN019 (BifidoB 019) and Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 (LactoB 001), were first discovered in Fonterra’s unique New Zealand cheese and yogurt cultures. Both strains have been extensively researched since being discovered more than two decades ago and have been clinically proven to target and support digestive health and immunity.


A recent Health Focus International study found that of those surveyed, 42% were “very or extremely interested in the gut microbiome,” says Jon Peters, president of BENEO Inc. “Consumers are aware of fiber and its contribution to creating improvement in the digestive tract, bringing benefits like a healthy gut bacteria environment, increased immunity, regularity, and healthy weight and blood sugar management. All of these benefits are linked with the ‘gut-brain axis’ that positively influences overall health and inner well-being.” Research has shown that the gut-brain axis—the communication between the gut and the brain—can affect health in many different ways. “As the understanding of the importance of the gut-brain axis continues to grow, the importance of the impact of dietary components reaching the colon may influence this communication and the potential for prebiotics,” says Peters.

BENEO Institute hosted a symposium on the gut microbiome and prebiotics at the 2019 SupplySide West show. “The symposium covered several topics related to the gut microbiome, including a discussion on how prebiotics and the gut microbiota work together to affect metabolic health,” says Peters. “As the microbiota is greatly influenced by diet and intervention by prebiotics, the growth of beneficial microbes, i.e. Bifidobacterium, can address dysbiosis and help manage certain diseases.” Insights were also offered in how early life gut microbiota development and prebiotics can play a significant role in establishing an optimal life trajectory.

Soldi et al. (2019) showed that BENEO’s chicory root fiber (composition of Orafti inulin and Orafti oligofructose) kept the level of Bifidobacteria higher and more stable, even during antibiotic treatment, in children aged 3–6 years. The findings demonstrated that regular consumption of 6 g of prebiotic chicory root fiber reduced the antibiotic-induced disturbances of the microbiota composition. Lohner et al. (2018) revealed important health benefits of consuming chicory root fibers. These included improved gut microbiota composition, softer stools in a normal range, and fewer incidences of infections.

“When exploring the opportunity to launch Arrabina, an arabinoxylan plant fiber extract, our research found that over half of consumers regularly or occasionally suffer from digestive issues,” notes Rich Troyer, CEO of Comet Bio. “So, it’s a key focus area for consumers, who are also well informed. Nearly 90% of them could identify at least one benefit associated with consuming a prebiotic. Of those, 52% perceived that prebiotic fibers aid in digestion, 50% said they improve gut health, 43% said they promote overall health, and 30% thought they help strengthen immunity. Some consumers even accurately made the connection between prebiotics and inflammation, skin health, and energy. Therefore, we believe consumer awareness of the gut microbiome and the importance of consuming prebiotics is very high.”


Refreshing beverages are just one of many product types that can get a prebiotic boost with chicory root fiber. The fiber has been shown to contribute to creating improvement in the digestive tract. Photo courtesy of BENEO Inc.


Refreshing beverages are just one of many product types that can get a prebiotic boost with chicory root fiber. The fiber has been shown to contribute to creating improvement in the digestive tract. Photo courtesy of BENEO Inc.

Comet Bio’s research also found that consumers are likely to purchase products to support, improve, and maintain their digestive health. “When presented with a general description of our product, 83% of consumers said they would purchase a product containing our Arrabina prebiotic dietary fiber,” says Troyer. “Our prebiotic dietary fiber supports the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut and helps maintain healthy blood glucose levels.”

The arabinoxylan plant fiber extract is a fully soluble powder upcycled from farm leftovers such as stalks, leaves, and hulls. The powder is used to develop protein powders and pills, and as a fiber boost for nutrition bars, baked goods, and drinks. It has been known to support the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut and support healthy blood sugar levels at a 3 grams-per-serving level, and due to its upcycled origin, it is highly sustainable. “Our regulatory consultants have scoured the literature on clinical trials and found that arabinoxylan at 2.2 g or more per day promotes the growth of Bifidobacteria in the gut,” adds Troyer.

Yasukawa et al. (2019) conducted a human clinical study and found that a 5-gram dose of Sunfiber partially hydrolyzed guar gum from Taiyo normalized stool and improved beneficial Bifidobacterium levels. Inoue et al. (2019) demonstrated that supplementing Sunfiber into the diets of constipated children with autism spectrum disorders helped improve constipation and gut dysbiosis symptoms, which in turn helped lessen the level of serum inflammation cytokines and behavioral irritability.

Next month’s Nutraceuticals section will discuss formulating foods for school nutrition programs.


Anaya-Loyola, M. A., J. A. Enciso-Moreno, J. E. Lopez-Ramos, et al. 2019. “Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6068 Decreases Upper Respiratory and Gastrointestinal Tract Symptoms in Healthy Mexican Scholar-aged Children by Modulating Immune-related Proteins.” Food Research International. 125.

Dhillon, J., Z. Li, and R. M. Ortiz. 2019. “Almond Snacking for 8 Wk Increases Alphadiversity of the Gastrointestinal Microbiome and Decreases Bacteroides fragilis Abundance Compared with an Isocaloric Snack in College Freshmen.” Curr. Dev. Nutr. 3(8): nzz079.

Holscher, H. D., H. M. Guetterman, K. S. Swanson, et al. 2018. “Walnut Consumption Alters the Gastrointestinal Microbiota, Microbially Derived Secondary Bile Acids, and Health Markers in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” J. Nutr. 148(6): 861–867.

Inoue, R., Y. Sakaue, Y. Kawada, et al. 2019. “Dietary Supplementation with Partially Hydrolyzed Guar Gum Helps Improve Constipation and Gut Dysbiosis Symptoms and Behavioral Irritability in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.” J. Clin. Biochem. Nutr. 64(3): 217–223.

Kaczmarek, J. L., X. Liu, C. S. Charron, et al. 2019. “Broccoli Consumption Affects the Human Gastrointestinal Microbiota.” J. Nutr. Biochem. 63: 27–34.

Lohner, S., V. Jakobik, K. Mihalyi, et al. 2018. “Inulin-type Fructan Supplementation in 3 to 6 Year-old Children is Associated with Higher Fecal Bifidobacterial levels and Fewer Febrile Episodes Requiring Medical Attention.” J. Nutr. 148(8): 1300–1308.

Nagpal, R., B. J. Neth, S. Wang, et al. 2019. “Modified Mediterranean-ketogenic Diet Modulates Gut Microbiome and Short-chain Fatty Acids in Association with Alzheimer’s Disease Markers in Subjects with Mild Cognitive Impairment.” eBioMedicine. 47: 529–542.

Smith, R. P., E. Easson, S. M. Lyle, et al. 2019. “Gut Microbiome Diversity is Associated with Sleep Physiology in Humans.” PLoS One. 14(10): e0222394.

Soldi, S., S. Vasileiadis, S. Lohner, et al. 2019. “Prebiotic Supplementation Over a Cold Season and During Antibiotic Treatment Specifically Modulates the Gut Microbiota Composition of 3-6 Year-old Children.” Benef. Microbes. 19: 1–12.

UEG. 2019. “UEG Week: Plant-based Foods and Mediterranean Diet Associated with Healthy Gut Microbiome, Research Reveals.” Press Release, Oct. 21. United European Gastroenterology, Vienna, Austria.

Yasukawa, Z., R. Inoue, M. Ozeki, et al. 2019. “Effect of Repeated Consumption of Partially Hydrolyzed Guar Gum on Fecal Characteristics and Gut Microbiota: A Randomized, Double-blind, Placebocontrolled, and Parallel-group Clinical Trial.” Nutrients. 11(9): 2170.

About the Author

Linda Milo Ohr is a food scientist and writer based in Highlands Ranch, Colo. ([email protected]).
Linda Ohr