SECAUCUS, NJ.  — Consumers often link a healthy microbiome to a healthy digestive system, but other benefits are emerging in the areas of mood, anxiety, cognition and sleep.

An April 18 session during SupplySide East at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus focused on recent research on the microbiome and consumer awareness of probiotics and prebiotics, which contribute to a healthy microbiome.

Improvements in mental health, stress and anxiety may be a white space for products promoted for microbiome benefits, said Len Monheit, executive director of the Global Prebiotic Association, Spring, Texas.

“Science has got to catch up,” he said. “So much more needs to happen to catch back up. The research is just not there.”

Probiotics have been shown to significantly increase levels of serotonin, which contributes to sleep and mood, said Ralf Jäger, PhD, managing member for Increnovo LLC, a global independent consulting firm based in Milwaukee.

He cited a study published in 2019 in Frontiers in Psychiatry showing probiotic strains significantly improved sleep quality and mood (anger, fatigue and depression). The double-blind, placebo-controlled study involved 38 adults and 4 probiotic strains: L. fermentum LF16, L. rhamnosus LR06, L. plantarum LP01 and B. longum Bl04. 

SS_East_embed_Monheit.jpgLen Monheit, left, executive director of the Global Prebiotic Association, Spring, Texas, speaks with moderator Duffy Hayes, associate editor at Informa Markets, Phoenix.
Source: Sosland Publishing Co. 
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo., involved 70 adults and the same four probiotic strains. Results of that study, which has yet to be published, were similar to the Italian study, Dr. Jäger said.

Gut/health digestion remains the main reason why consumers buy products containing probiotics and prebiotics, according to a 2023 supplement survey from Industry Transparency Center cited by Mr. Monheit.

When asked why they take probiotics, 54% of respondents said gut/health digestion, which was followed by immunity health at 28%, regularity at 16%, microbiome health at 14% and source of fiber at 10%. When respondents were asked why they take prebiotics, the percentages were 38% for gut/health digestion, 26% for immunity health, 17% for regularity, 15% for microbiome health and 14%for antioxidant properties.

Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit, according to the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP). Prebiotics serve as food for beneficial microbes/probiotics in the body.

Sales of probiotic-containing products are increasing, especially in the yogurt category, said Brian Weil, director of channel and agency partnerships for SPINS and based in Chicago.

Sales of refrigerated yogurt containing probiotics reached $4 billion in the 52 weeks ended Feb. 26, 2022, which was up 9% from the previous 52-week period, according to SPINS. Sales of refrigerated drinkable yogurt jumped 19% to $562 million in the same 52-week period.

When studies come in addressing probiotic benefits, be it sleep, digestion or immunity, industry will need to explain the results to consumers. The explanations will need to be concise, Mr. Monheit said.

“They’ve got a TikTok mindset,” he said of consumers. “It’s 15 seconds, and then they’re looking at some other bright shiny object. You’ve got to be clear and quick.”