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A Good Fight: The benefits of taking probiotics for immunity

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Among the many health worries consumers face in today’s fast-paced, high-stress society, there is one that stands out as a common concern: how to improve your immune system.

It’s a dilemma for half the world’s population with one in two people worried about their body’s natural defense against disease, especially with 28% of them also feeling like they’re getting more colds1​, affecting their quality of life and ability to perform at work.

With health being consumers’ wealth, it’s little surprise that an increasing number of people are looking to take preventative action by seeking out products with immunity benefits – and a key ingredient in many of these is probiotics.

Probiotics’ ability to support various aspects of a healthy immune system are becoming more widely recognized in the market. A survey in the US last year found 27% of consumers who purchased probiotic products did so in order to boost their immune system. Another 18% cited illness prevention as their reason for purchase, while 15% were looking to counter antibiotic-associated side effects.2

And with good reason, too. The US experienced 49 million cases of flu over the 2017-2018 season, with one in five of the population suffering from colds or flus annually.3​ Given this number only includes reported cases, the problem is likely even more widespread and, as a reflection of overall population health, indicates other illnesses are also a concern for US consumers. 

As far as disease prevention goes, overall awareness of gut health and its role in immunity and general well-being is on the rise in the US, with 78% of consumers making a change to their diets based on a conversation with their healthcare professional, such as a doctor of pharmacist.4

Specific demand for foods and beverages with immune benefits is also higher than ever, with 87% of consumers interested in purchasing products with immune health benefits and 48% already actively buying them.5

However despite recent increases in product launches claiming immune benefits, only a small proportion included probiotics (see Figure 1). This indicates an opportunity for manufacturers of these immune products to strengthen and differentiate their propositions through inclusion of probiotics in their formulations.

Figure 1 - Immune Claiming Products with Probiotics

Figure 1: Vitamins and dietary supplements make up the majority of new product launches in the US with Immune claims. However only a small proportion of these products across categories contain probitoics (Source: Mintel GNPD)

There’s been a recent surge in probiotics consumption in the US, with 76% of the country’s probiotics users beginning taking them in the past 12 months. But even more encouraging for the category is the fact that those who start taking probiotics are usually consistent with this healthy habit, with 45% taking them daily and another 37% consuming them weekly.6

With consumers recognizing probiotics’ positive impacts on overall health, the global probiotics retail market is expected to be worth $US77.85 billion by the end of 2024 (based on a CAGR of 5.8%). The total global probiotics ingredient market, meanwhile, is expected to reach $US2.45 billion by the end of 2024 (based on a CAGR of 6.91%).7

Probiotics’ ability to target specific health areas represents another growing opportunity for nutrition companies.

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Recent advancements in technology and knowledge have enabled scientists to identify the specific health benefits related to individual probiotic strains, leading to product innovations that target more precise health concerns.

Fonterra’s global dairy ingredients brand NZMP has been making use of these discoveries, furthering their knowledge of their probiotic strains which have been extensively researched since the 1990s.

Lactobacillus rhamnosus ​HN001 (LactoB 001) and Bifidobacterium lactis animalis ​HN019 (BifidoB 019) were both discovered and developed during a screening of around 2,000 dairy strains held at Fonterra’s Microbial Fermentation Unit (MFU), home to the largest dairy culture library in the world.

It was during their research of these two strains that NZMP scientists discovered they supported specific immune system functions.

The immune system is made up of a set of organs and processes designed to maintain a healthy, functioning body that’s able to resist infections and support recovery. This overall system is divided into the innate (or natural) system and the adaptive (or acquired) system (See Figure 2)

Figure 2 - The Immune System Structure - LARGE

Figure 2: this diagram shows how different components of the immune system are categorized. The most basic and fundamental form of defense are the body’s physical barriers (e.g. the skin and gut lining), as well as the microbes that live on these surfaces. Together these prevent many undesirable objects from even entering the blood stream.

 

The surfaces of the body are the first line of defense against pathogens and this includes the gut lining (mucous membranes) and the gut microflora. In fact, approximately 70% of the immune system’s cells are found in the gut.

Maintaining immune system strength is a balancing act for the body. When the immune system is under-prepared, viral, bacterial and fungal infections are more likely to take hold. On the other hand, an over-stimulated immune system, brought on by situations like allergies or auto-immune diseases, can see the immune system attacked by its own body.

NZMP probiotic strains LactoB 001 and BifidoB 019 have both shown several benefits for these intricacies of the immune system.

NZMP’s BifidB 019 probiotic, for example, appears to interact with the Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue (GALT) to help maintain readiness for defending against pathogens.8

Studies have also shown that in infants and young children, LactoB 001 and BifidoB 019 to be effective in easing the abnormal immune response that arises from common allergic outcomes (e.g. eczema). In some instances there are indications that protection lingered long after treatment had been stopped. Additionally NZMP’s probiotics have also been shown to alleviate the condition of thoes already stuffering from allergies. Although these studies were conducted on children, benefits in older children (whose microbiomes have matured) hints at potential benefits for adults. Further investigation would be needed to confirm these promising effect in the wider population.

While probiotics are well known for their effectiveness in helping prevent infection, NZMP LactoB 001 and BifidoB 0019 have also demonstrated anti-infective benefits for certain population types in areas such as respiratory tract infections, urogenital infections and diarrhea that’s related to infection. Additional research is planned to validate these results in other population groups.

Research has found that BifidoB 019 also offers better clinical outcomes for those suffering from Periodontal (Gum) Disease, a relatively common condition that can lead to chronic inflammation and even the destruction of teeth in serious cases. Sufferers who received BifidoB 019 had fewer periodontal pathogens and lower pro-inflammatory cytokine levels than the control group.

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The immune system might be incredibly complex, however many types of probiotics can support or mediate aspects of immunity via interactions with the digestive tract. Each probiotic strain can support different health outcomes, with NZMP BifidoB 019 and LactoB 001 strains showing potential benefits for increased immune cell activity, allergy development, certain types of infections and some cases of allergic or inflammatory response.

With these immunity benefits observed across a variety of age groups, there are strong opportunities for brand owners to use NZMP probiotic strains to provide products that will support  consumers in putting up “a good fight” for their immune systems.

More information about the immune system and how NZMP’s probiotic strains interact with and improve immunity can be found in NZMP’s white paper on the topic​. Specific information about NZMP’s probiotics products can also be found at nzmp.com​.

As the emerging benefits of taking probiotics continue to capture consumers’ attention, NZMP plans to conduct further research into probiotics’ impact on immunity and inflammation, with particular interest in how probiotics impact the immune responses in specific populations. An example of such a group is professional athletes, who often suffer illness because of the excessive stress they subject their bodies to through vigorous training, and higher exposure to pathogens through constant travel for competition.

NZMP is also investigating complementary specialty ingredients, with their Sports & Active Lifestyle​ Unit continuing to diversify their portfolio with an increasing focus on immunity and other key health concerns outside of traditional sports nutrition.

With the probiotics market presenting so much potential for consumer well-being, NZMP continues to explore opportunities for collaboration on research with industry partners and customers to further develop and innovate probiotic products to address the most pressing market needs.

 

References

  1. Global Health Concerns Study, DSM 2017
  2. FMCG Gurus Q3 2018 Survey US
  3. Optimise Your Immunity – 2017 – DSM; CDC Flu Burden Estimates 2018
  4. Natural Products Insider, NIH, NutraIngredients, Frost & Sullivan
  5. Optimise Your Health – 2017 – DSM; GlobalData,TrendSights Analysis: Wellbeing, Dec. 2016
  6. FMCG Gurus Q3 2018 Survey US
  7. Frost & Sullivan
  8. Ashraf R, Shah NP (2014) Immune system stimulation by probiotic microorganisms. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 54, 938-956

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