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Clinically-proven paraprobiotic strain transforms immune health space

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Leading Japanese researcher and producer, Morinaga Milk Industry, unveils its newly-established paraprobiotic strain, LAC-Shield™, to respond to the growing global consumer demand for food and beverage products that support strong immune health.

The functional food and beverage industry is attracting increasing attention from consumers in today’s immunity-focused environment as they look for convenience, innovation, and added benefits in their everyday food and drinks.

Health and wellness is a top priority

The heat-killed L. paracasei MCC1849 paraprobiotic strain, LAC-Shield™, is an innovative solution for immune health, a top priority for consumers as heightened awareness alerts health and wellness shoppers to the increased incidences of infectious diseases around the globe. With nutrition high on the agenda for maximising our health and wellness, consumers are taking a preventative approach to combating illness and disease in the long-term. As a result, shoppers are actively searching for foods, beverages and supplements that support their immune system and overall health.

In the functional nutrition space, while the spotlight was firmly on dietary supplements, we are now delving into innovation in food and beverages that leads to the production of products that are safe, effective and clinically proven for immune health, with the sphere seeing a boost in innovative new product development (NPD).

Today, over a third of the world’s consumers are more concerned about their immune health than they ever have been, research from Innova Market Insights Consumer Survey 2020 shows. Also, 60% of global consumers are increasingly looking for food and beverage products that support their immune health, the survey found. With consumers worldwide prioritising their health, ‘In tune with Immune’ is one of the top ten trends in food and beverages in 2021, Innova’s research reveals. Ongoing concerns resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic are leading consumers to seek immune-boosting ingredients and products.

In 2023, the global immunity-boosting food products market is expected to hit a staggering $24.02 billion (€19.7 bn), according to the Immunity Boosting Food Products Market Global Report 2020- 2030: Covid-19 Implications and Growth. Innovation and exciting NPD are high on the agenda for brands wanting to respond to the growing appeal of immune health.

Influences impacting immunity

Sharing the influences causing the rising interest in functional food and beverages, Chyn Boon Wong, PhD, Research Associate, Morinaga Milk Industry explains: “Consumers are turning to products fortified with probiotics or paraprobiotics, especially those that are added into the everyday food and drinks, to support their gut and immune health.”

Formulators, producers and brands are exploring innovative functional food and beverage formats to help consumers reach their health goals by giving them more options to enjoy their favourite foods and drinks.

“Consumers are becoming more aware of how gut health can influence overall health,”​ says Wong. “They are connecting the dots between gut health and overall wellbeing, recognising implications for digestion, immune function, and more,​” adds Wong.

In describing how “gut health has taken on new meaning for consumers”​, Wong goes on to highlight how “consumers are now more concerned about gut health and they are emphasising gut health as the centre of overall support on the immune system and wellness”.

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What are paraprobiotics?

Borne from greater research in the gut microbiome in recent years comes to the deeper understanding of how we interact with these microbes that live inside our gut.

Scientific research has found a variety of different ways to modulate the gut microbiome to improve its overall health, which has seen the arrival of probiotics, prebiotics and now paraprobiotics. As a stronger connection develops in consumers’ minds between gut health and overall health, probiotics are a popular choice to support immune health.

Paraprobiotics, although lacking a formal definition, refers to non-viable probiotics or inactivated probiotics, which when given in sufficient quantities provide benefits to the host. A growing body of scientific evidence demonstrates that specific clinically-tested paraprobiotic strains confer benefits to the immune system.

Discovering the innovative paraprobiotic strain, LAC-Shield™

As the impact of Covid-19 continues, consumers have now shifted their interest to preventive approaches to maintain their immune health. As a result, “consumers usage towards probiotics and paraprobiotics continues to increase and they are demanding more science-backed products in new innovative formats”​, highlights Wong.

Through the ongoing exploration of science and innovation in gut health has come the discovery of the paraprobiotic strain (L. paracasei MCC1849). The heat-killed Lacticcaseibacillus paracasei MCC1849, otherwise known as Morinaga Milk Industry’s LAC-Shield™, is a probiotic strain isolated from the intestine of a healthy adult. Morinaga Milk Industry stocks several thousand strains of bacteria, and MCC1849 was selected from its wide portfolio due to its extensive benefits to human immune health.

Out of the several thousand bacterial strains stocked by LAC-Shield™, Morinaga Milk Industry chose LAC-Shield™ for its immune-enhancing activity. The strain has the highest capacity to induce interleukin (IL-12) production, which is a dominant activator of innate and adaptive immunity. Once the paraprobiotic strain has been heat-killed and inactivated, the paraprobiotic strain displays the immunomodulatory effects that make it so prevalent in the immune health space.

Meeting immune health needs

Using its extensive experience in the probiotics bifidobacteria industry, Morinaga Milk Industry’s research and innovative technology saw the research and development (R&D) experts produce the paraprobiotic strain, LAC-Shield™, that specifically responds to consumers’ immune health needs.

Multiple in vitro, preclinical, and clinical studies have been conducted to evaluate the paraprobiotic strain’s beneficial effect on immune health. “It is a well-researched, safe and well-tolerated paraprobiotic strain,”​ confirms Wong.

Commercially available in Japan since 2014, the paraprobiotic strain is currently used by more than 450 companies in over 1000 types of products in Japan alone, including yoghurt, juice, bread, and soup.

As a unique functional ingredient, domestic food and beverage manufacturers, restaurants and retailers have proven the health and business case of LAC-Shield™, paving the way for the global players in the functional food industry to provide its international consumers with the benefits of LAC-Shield™. The strain’s natural, safe and scientifically backed proprietary ingredients prove an effective and highly-sought after way for consumers to maintain their health. Following the backing of numerous clinical studies, in 2018 LAC-Shield™ acquired the self-affirmed GRAS status, and is both Halal and Kosher-certified.

Detailing how the paraprobiotic strain supports consumers’ health and wellness, Wong explains: “One potential mechanism underlying heat-killed MCC1849 to support immune health is through its interaction with the gut immune cells and subsequent immuno-modulatory activity.”

“Studies show that heat-killed MCC1849 is recognized by antigen-presenting cells, such as dendritic cells, in Peyer’s patches to produce IL-12. In addition to an increased expression of IL-12, the expression of Bcl-6 and IL-21 induces the formation of Tfh cells from naïve T cells,”​ Wong outlines.

Describing the process the MCC1849 strain undergoes, Wong adds: “Promotion of antigen-specific IgA production in intestinal tissue then occurs by facilitating differentiation into IgA-positive B cells in Peyer’s patches. IgA production is likely a mechanism for immuno-modulation exhibited following heat-killed MCC1849 ingestion.”

The clinically proven health-killed probiotic strain is able to strengthen the natural defence system through IgA production , which is antigen-specific and forms in the intestinal tissue, thus promoting and activating humoral immunity.

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Clinical studies on paraprobiotics and immune health

There are a number of clinical studies that detail the relationship between the paraprobiotic strain (MCC1849) and its positive impact on people’s immune health, indicating the strain’s clinically-proven immunomodulatory effects. Here, PhD Research Associate, Wong explores several of these leading clinical studies:

● Influenza vaccine immune response improvement

One study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition examined the link between the paraprobiotic strain and its possible improvement on the influenza vaccine immune response in super-elderly people (those aged 85 and over).

In a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, intake of heat-killed MCC1849-containing jelly improved responsiveness of vaccinations in super-elderly people compared with the placebo group. Although the efficacy of vaccinations typically decrease in elderly people due to the decreasing immunity associated with ageing, sub-group analysis of super-elderly participants finds that elderly people who took heat-killed MCC1849 contained higher blood vaccine antigens along with better antibody responses to the A/H1N1 and B antigens compared to the placebo.

Key insight:​ Heat-killed MCC1849 intake may affect responsiveness to vaccinations, particularly in populations with reduced immunity.

● Immune system opportunities

Another randomised controlled study detailed in the Japanese Pharmacology and Therapeutics journal also indicates heat-killed MCC1849’s ability to potentiate immunity in the elderly (aged 65 years or older). Participants in the MCC1849 group had significantly higher combined immunological scores from eight-point immunity subunit scores, including blood T cell number and NK cell number after four weeks of treatment.
Key insight: The nutritional supplement containing MCC1849 may show positive effects on the immune system in the elderly.

● Common cold prevention

Another study presented in Beneficial Microbes examined the connection between the strain and the prevention of the common cold and the mitigation of symptoms in healthy young adults. The randomised, placebo-controlled, double-blind comparison study, which included healthy young adults, reported that heat-killed MCC1849 was effective in preventing common colds. The sub-group analysis of individuals prone to the common cold in the year prior to the study indicates that those who consumed heat-killed MCC1849 in the form of 10 billion cells per day showed considerably lower incidence of the common cold, its complete duration, and the severity of its symptoms after a period of 12 weeks.
Key insight: MCC1849 can be effective in helping to prevent common colds.

Along with the immunomodulatory effects of heat-killed MCC1849, some clinical studies mentioned above revealed psychological effects.

● Quality of life

One randomised controlled study involving elderly subjects reported significant improvement in subjective symptoms associated with quality of life (QOL) after four weeks of ingestion.

Key insight:​ Heat-killed MCC1849 may therefore help to maintain QOL in the elderly.

● Mood improvement

In another randomised, placebo-controlled, double-blind comparison study including healthy young adults under stress due to an upcoming examination, a POMS 2 mood profile assessment showed significantly higher scores in “Vigor-Activity” and “Friendliness” at weeks six and twelve in subjects receiving MCC1849 (1 × 1010 cells per day) compared with placebo.

Key insight:​ Heat-killed MCC1849 may thus help maintain positive mood in adults.

“Huge” immune health opportunities

Looking at the opportunities and hopes for applications of the paraprobiotic LAC-shield™ in the future, consumer interest in functional foods and beverages for their health and wellness benefits shows no signs of slowing down. In response, Morinaga Milk Industry has developed LAC-Shield™ to meet the immune health demand in different possible applications.

“The company has begun collaborating with the dietary supplement, and food and beverage makers to help them develop products that can change the landscape of the marketplace,”​ shares Wong.

LAC-Shield™ is considered easy to work with for a variety of food and beverage products. “Its application formats and innovative opportunities are huge, especially in immune-boosting drinks, confectionery and snacks,”​ confirms Wong.
Here are some of the paraprobiotic strain’s key benefits:

1. Strong stability

Due to its heat-tolerant nature and highly stable pH, among other conditions, LAC-Shield™ avoids the stability issues of traditional probiotics as it is an inactivated probiotic strain. LAC-Shield™ successfully manages to keep its health benefits even after undergoing harsh manufacturing conditions, possessing a long shelf life and the stress of the gastrointestinal transit.

“Paraprobiotics could be the next wave of innovative solutions in the gut microbiome and immunity space as they can be added into a wider range of applications without concern over major stability issues,”​ says Wong. We may well expect to see paraprobiotic ice cream or instant coffee drinks with immune health positioning, for example, emerge onto the market to appeal to consumer demands and simultaneously meet their health needs.

2. Functional snacking potential

Morinaga Milk Industry is currently eyeing up the strain’s potential in the functional snacking sector and exploring NPD. “Functional snacking is gaining traction,”​ says Wong. Foods that contain functional ingredients such as LAC-Shield™ are popular, Wong emphasises as they can “turn a quick bite into a convenient way to get nutrition between meals or on the go”.

“They are more nutritious than many typical snacks and they may help consumers reach their health goals without abandoning their favourite confectionery foods and snacks,”​ says Wong. “Therefore, many opportunities exist for confectionery/snacks that contain paraprobiotics MCC1849. With these options, consumers do not have to trade their favourite treats for boring snacks just because they’re trying to stay healthy,”​ adds Wong.

3. Achieving convenience

Consumers looking for functional food and beverages in the immune health space also value convenience. Innovative products that turn everyday food and drinks into something more nutritional and healthier is a solid strategy to offer uniqueness and a welcome solution to the market. “These innovative products may help consumers reach their health goals without abandoning their favourite foods and giving them more options,”​ confirms Wong.

Beverages such as immune shots; coffee, tea and juices; and powdered beverages like 3 in 1 multifunctional mixes are other key sectors with big NPD opportunities using MCC1849.

Innovation in immunity is here

“As the demand for functional food and beverage increases, the opportunities for innovation are tremendous,” says Wong. “Brand manufacturers may consider adding paraprobiotic into new product formats that consumers have never tried before,”​ Wong highlights.

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Sources:

1. Arai S, Iwabuchi N, Takahashi S, et al. (2018) Orally administered heat-killed Lactobacillus paracasei MCC1849 enhances antigen-specific IgA secretion and induces follicular helper T cells in mice. PLoS One 13(6): e0199018.
2. Maruyama M, Abe R, Shimon T, et al. (2016) The effects of non-viable Lactobacillus on immune function in the elderly: A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition 67: 67-73.
3. Shimono T, Hoshino T, Takara T, et al. (2019) Effects of an oral nutritional supplement drink containing Lactobacillus paracasei MCC1849 on improving the immune system of elderly people. Japanese Pharmacology and Therapeutics 47(1):97-113.
4. Murata M, Kondo J, Iwabuchi N, et al. (2018) Effects of paraprobiotic Lactobacillus paracasei MCC1849 supplementation on symptoms of the common cold and mood states in healthy adults. Beneficial Microbes 9 855-864.

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