Whilst probiotics must remain alive at the time of consumption, scientists have known for decades that some non-living microorganisms can also have benefits for health: various studies have compared the health effects of viable and non-viable bacteria, and recent investigations have tested the health benefits of pasteurized bacteria.
Since non-viable microorganisms, now known as 'postbiotics', are often more stable and convenient to include in consumer products, interest in these ingredients has increased in recent years.
In fact, Ewa Hudson, director of insights at Lumina Intelligence, informed delegates at the recent Probiota conference in Barcelona (Feb 6-8) that this was a key area of growth according to ecommerce sales data.
But until recently, the scientific community had not united around a definition or precisely delineated what falls into this category. As such, an international group of scientists from relevant disciplines met in 2019 to develop a consensus paper which provided a definition of a 'postbiotic' as: “a preparation of inanimate microorganisms and/or their components that confers a health benefit on the host”.
Stephen Daniells, Editor-in-Chief at NutraIngredients US and Europe, hosted a panel discussion on the subject of pre-, syn- and postbiotics during the Probiota conference. In it, experts discussed the challenge in providing a definition for postbiotics and the uncertainty in using the word on packaging.
Daniells noted that while many products meet the definition, often they don’t call themselves a postbiotic, making it difficult to understand what products are already out there in this space and slowing the process of building consumer awareness of these products.
Miquel Bonachera, co-founder and executive director at AB-Biotics, joined the panel and provided AB-Biotics' perspective, noting that the firm has developed postbiotics for weight management (LipiGo) and oral care (AB-Dentalac) which they do refer to as postbiotics.
He was adamant that AB-Biotics is concentrating its efforts on building the scientific backing for its products. He believes that how quickly consumer awareness grows will depend on the speed of development in the scientific backing of these products.
“The market is not yet adapted to the new concepts, although what is important in our perspective is if we have good clinical data we will gain the trust of consumers," he said.
“Therefore we are focused on the design of trials to make sure postbiotics have data to show availability as trust will come after.
“We believe these newer concepts are important to develop for our industry to grow.”
For example, the LipiGo product has been clinically studied with findings indicating it can increase the elimination of saturated fats with every meal by 42%.
Those behind the product say that in 12 weeks, those who take it can see weight loss of 2kgs without making any lifestyle changes or 5kg while dieting.
Discussing the opportunities for innovation in this space, Bonachera notes that postbiotics provide wider applicability in terms of the development of different formats of products as well as a longer shelf life.