Strain specificity key to probiotic quality, but expert says generic products will still populate bottom of market

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Federal trade commission

Strain specificity is the name of the game in probiotics if you want to really connect a product’s health benefits to the science, said consultant Ralf Jaeger, PhD. But as scripture says, the poor will ever be with us, and Jaeger said that products featuring generic species will likely form a portion of the marketplace for years to come.

“I unfortunately think that they will always be around. There are products that don’t even describe the strain; they just label the genus and species. There will always be these me-too products,”​ Jaeger told NutraIngredients-USA.

Regulatory shifts

Jaeger, who is a principal in the Milwaukee-based consultancy Increnovo, said developments on the regulatory front could ultimately affect how many of these generic products remain in the market. The Federal Trade Commission has been much more active in recent years on the substantiation of health claims more for dietary supplements, though the end game here is far from clear. FTC has had to retreat from its forward position of requiring two randomized controlled clinical trials to support a claim, whether that applied strictly to those companies subject to consent decrees, as FTC has asserted. But what is clear, Jaeger said, is that FTC is energized on the issue, and its focus could soon shift to what companies are saying about their probiotic products.

“When it comes down to substantiating claims, those companies will be in trouble, unless they are just claiming a general GI health support claim,” ​Jaeger said.

Term ‘species’ not overly useful in single-celled world

It has been observed by others in the probiotics field that assumptions made about what ‘species’ means when looking at macro organisms can be misleading when applied to the single cell kingdom. Take a duck of a given species from anywhere within its geographical range and it will look like that kind of duck and quack like that kind of duck. For probiotic organisms, the variability within species is potentially much greater. It’s like saying you can’t pick just any football player, you need one from a specific team.

Choosing a specific strain to connect to the research on that strain is the first hurdle that a quality probiotic must clear, Jaeger said. Developers also must pay attention to using a proper CFU count, and making sure that the delivery form matches the science, too. Increasingly microorganisms are encapsulated in one way or another to better survive the trip through the harsh environment of the stomach, where as few as 10% of naked microorganisms might survive. These kinds of modified strains could start to show up in research, Jaeger said. If a study used an encapsulation method for its ingredient, that delivery form really ought to be used in the finished product if that research is going to be used to support a claim, he said.

New market segments

Jaeger said the market is also like to develop along the lines of finding the customers most likely to take probiotics, and targeting them specifically.  Everyone has a gut, but not everyone is motivated to make it work better, he said. For probiotics, as for the dietary supplement sphere in general, sports nutrition is emerging as a major growth opportunity.

“If you are looking at market data, a person who is going to the gym is twice as likely to take a probiotic as the average consumer,” ​Jaeger said. Find a probiotic strain directly linked to a sport specific benefit, such as increased athletic performance). Athletes have a greater microbiota diversity which is linked to exercise and increased protein consumption. You need therefore to find a strain that has actually been tested in athletes. And make sure to use the specific clinically validated strain at levels tested in the actual study.”

Jaeger will be giving a talk on probiotics in product development at the upcoming Ingredient Marketplace trade show in Orlando, FL.

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