Vitafoods survey shows digestive health is top concern for industry – for the first time

Gut feelings: Digestive health is top of the agenda for nutraceutical industry

By Nathan Gray contact

- Last updated on GMT

iStock / Ben-Schonewille
iStock / Ben-Schonewille

Related tags: Digestive health, Nutrition, Gut flora

An increasing consumer interest in probiotics and the microbiome could be one reason why digestive health has hit the top of the nutraceutical and functional food industry agenda for the first time, say experts.

In its annual survey of top experts and nutraceutical industry professionals, the organisers of Vitafoods Europe asked respondents to choose the three most important health areas for their companies – and digestive health came out on top.

According to the survey data, 23% of the 220 professionels surveyed said digestive health is a top area of focus for their company, making this year the first time that digestive health has reached the top spot. Digestive health does share the crown with two other areas though, with both general wellbeing and healthy ageing scoring equally highly.

Dr Yiannis Kourkoutas from Democritus University of Thrace, who will be discussing the potential of probiotics at Vitafoods Europe 2018, said a major driver in the functional food and beverage market has been growing consumer interest in healthy living in general.

“This is particularly true among younger demographics, but population ageing has also been conducive to sector expansion,” ​he said.

Such sentiments were echoed by IPA Europe executive director Rosanna Pecere, who noted that the rapid growth of the global probiotics category is increased interest in functional foods, as well as rising incidences of digestive and gastrointestinal disorders.  

“Consumers are becoming more aware that a well-balanced microbiota is essential for the normal functioning of the body, and they’re looking for ways to ensure that the correct balance is maintained,”​ she said.

Better evidence?

The importance of the microbiome, and the potential of probiotics, in healthy living are also being supported by increasing levels of scientific evidence, Kourkoutas added.

“Thanks to large-scale research efforts, we now know the composition of gut microbiota is associated with a growing number of diseases,”​ he said. “There is a large body of evidence supporting the concept that the maintenance of healthy gut microbiota provides protection against a range of problems – not just local gastro-intestinal disorders, but also neurological, respiratory, cardiovascular, and even mental illnesses.”

“The role of probiotics is unique in the development of healthy digestive function. Daily intake of dietary products fortified with probiotic cultures may stimulate the growth of preferred microorganisms, crowd out harmful bacteria, and reinforce the body’s natural defence mechanisms,”​ he added. “Probiotics can be exploited to manipulate the gut microbiota with beneficial effects for health, including reduced symptoms of lactose intolerance and lower risk of certain cancers.”

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