In today’s world, people are plagued by the myriad of diseases, some even life-threatening such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes or cancer. While not as statistically morbid, gastrointestinal, or digestive disorders can be equally concerning not because they are fatal—though if severe enough they can be—but because they interfere with the daily lives of people with their often uncomfortable or even painful symptoms.
Some common digestive diseases include: ulcers, acid reflux, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and inflammatory bowel diseases. These diseases may affect a person more than once in a lifetime, due to the generally simple ways they may be caused. These include bacterial or viral infections, side effects of anti-inflammatory drugs, gallstones, or stress. Dietary factors also play a part, such as overeating, overconsumption of fatty food, a lack of fibre intake, or under-eating in general.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle inclusive of healthy eating habits and regular exercise, as well as good de-stressing methods would be able to help one avoid most of the above listed causes, short of that for bacterial and viral infections. Other than these, other supplements today also aim to help improve one’s gastrointestinal health.
Probiotics, Prebiotics And Synbiotics
Probiotics are micro-organisms believed to provide health benefits when consumed, and are therefore ‘useful bacteria’. With research originating from over 100 years ago, probiotics generally help with maintaining or improving gastrointestinal health such as targeting pathogenic (harmful) gastrointestinal bacteria, strengthening the immune system, and improving bowel regularity.
Prebiotics on the other hand, are a much recent development as compared to probiotics. First identified and named by Marcel Roberfroid in 1995, prebiotics refer to substances that induce the growth or activity of micro-organisms such as bacteria or funghi, thereby contributing to the well-being of their host.
Where probiotics are live micro-organisms, prebiotics are instead typically non-digestible fibre compounds that pass through the gastrointestinal tract undigested, and stimulate growth or activity of good bacteria by acting as a substrate for them. As such, prebiotics are commonly found in foods such as gum Arabic, whole wheat flour, or raw vegetables such as garlic, leek, onion or asparagus.
In lieu of the ongoing health and wellness trend that seems to be taking consumers by a storm, both prebiotic and probiotic-enhanced foods are becoming more and more popular with consumers today. Not only for their apparent health benefits, but also the fact that these can be natural ingredients found in everyday foods and do not have to be taken as dietary supplements that some may be perceived as ‘artificial’ is making them popular choices.
Classified as functional foods, food and beverage manufacturers have made headways into incorporating both prebiotics and probiotics into food and beverage products over the years. A typical example of probiotics in beverages is Yakult, a Japanese probiotic dairy product made by fermenting a mixture of skimmed milk with a strain of the bacterium Lactobacillus casei.
However, today in the midst of our busy lifestyles, convenience is a common demand by consumers for food and beverage manufacturers. They want all things easier to take, faster, and cheaper if possible. As such, synbiotic products can be one way to address their pre- and probiotic needs as they are a combination of the two.
Synbiotics are basically products with a mixture of pre- and probiotics that both implant good live bacteria as well as improve their survival by stimulating the growth or activating their metabolism. As the name suggest, synbiotics are synergic, enhancing the synergy between pre- and probiotic effect in the gastrointestinal tract. Users therefore gain similar benefits from taking a single product rather than taking two separate ones, and some research even suggests that synbiotics can even have more beneficial effects on human health than taking prebiotics or probiotics alone.
Biogenics To ‘Probiogenics’
Of late, another gastrointestinal health concept has emerged, similar to the already familiar pre- and probiotics. This concept is known as biogenics, a term originating from Greek that means life-generating, and which describes “biologically active substances derived from the products of probiotics that benefit human health.”
In short, biogenics was chosen for acknowledging its difference from probiotics and prebiotics. It is a heat-treated and concentrated probiotics. Biogenic products therefore make use of bacteria cell wall, metabolites and its active ingredients to do the work of what pre- and probiotics are already doing—implanting good bacteria and stimulating their growth.
In this way, they help to regulate stress, appetite, absorption of chemicals, improve immunity, prevent constipation and can even help to purify the gastrointestinal tract due to their small molecular size.
Since there already is an integrated version of pre- and probiotics, would a mixture of all three (prebiotics, probiotics and biogenics) be even better in maintaining or improving gastrointestinal health? One company, Chambio Company Limited, ventured into creating exactly this to target intestinal and immune system health.
Combining all three aspects of probiotics, prebiotics and biogenics, the company’s Probiogenics is an innovative system which they claim is more stable and effective than original probiotics. According to the company, this synergistic combination can be used in various types of food and presented in tablet, capsule and sachet forms, depending on the needs of the manufacturer. Consumers can also take it on its own, or added into drinks for their convenience.
Needless to say, many other manufacturers are also investing in research to look for solutions encompassing these three components for better gastrointestinal and immune health. With the global market of probiotics valued at US$28.8 billion today and the biggest market for probiotics lying in the Asia Pacific region according to Global Industry Analysts, interest and research in this area on the three areas, either in combination or by themselves, is likely to gain even more traction in the near future as more consumers join the ‘health and wellness’ trend, driving the demand for more of these products.