Gut Health &The Immune System
Monday, May 10th, 2021
The pandemic has accelerated interest in healthy nutrition in general, with particular interest in products relating to gut health and immune defence. This trend looks set to continue post-pandemic. Interview with Annelore De Boe, Product Manager Functional Fibres, BENEO.
How do you envisage the development of the immune health market? What role has the coronavirus crisis played in that?
For many consumers, immune health has thus far been a seasonal issue usually relating to classic flu season. Only for vulnerable groups or those aged 65+ has the body’s own defence mechanism been a year-round topic. But COVID-19 has changed all that, as a stable immune system has become an ongoing discussion across all age groups and sectors of society. According to a worldwide consumer survey by market analyst FMCG Gurus 2020, two-thirds of respondents said they are more conscious of their immune system because of the pandemic. 50 percent said they are supporting their defences through healthy eating, and one in ten is taking additional dietary supplements.
What is also new is that when it comes to healthy eating, many consumers are now taking a holistic approach. Whether through dietary supplements or functional food, they choose what suits their daily routine best and—in the case of food—combines health benefits with indulgence.
What’s the potential for innovation in the immune health segment?
Consumers are better informed than ever about the inter-relationships in the human body. For example, the beneficial effect of a normal body weight is widely recognised, and also controlled and well-balanced blood glucose levels are increasingly seen to play a role. Conversely, diseases such as diabetes and obesity are risk factors for severe progress of COVID-19. And consumers are also aware of how important digestive health is, as a recent analyses by market researchers from Health Focus International revealed: 75 percent of participants said the positive effect of a healthy intestine includes “general physical health”, with two out of three linking it to a “functioning immune system”.
There are thus promising opportunities for the industry in this area. Take digestive health as an example: Today, science knows much more about how the microbiome can influence both gut health and the immune system, as well as overall wellbeing. This is why one focus of BENEO’s R&D is on the human gut microbiome, and how it can be positively influenced.
Which immune-specific ingredients does your company offer?
Our prebiotic dietary fibre from chicory root, named on the ingredient list as inulin and oligofructose, has been proven to support good intestinal function. The intestine is the body’s largest contact surface with the outer world and houses 70 percent of our immune system.
The gut microbiome, the multitude of bacteria that colonise it, contains beneficial microorganisms such as Lactobacilli or Bifidobacteria, but also those that can be harmful if they gain the upper hand. The daily consumption of prebiotic dietary fibre provides beneficial bacterial in the intestine with their “favourite food”. Chicory root fibre, in particular, is an ideal food source for bifidobacteria.
Inulin and oligofructose are among the very few proven prebiotics by the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) and are currently the only established prebiotics derived from plants. They can be used in a variety of ways, from dairy products, dairy alternatives, cereals, baked goods and confectionery to baby food and infant milk.
Are your ingredients supported by scientific studies?
More than 40 human intervention studies have examined the selective growth of bifidobacteria by inulin and oligofructose. And several studies have confirmed the link between gut health and the body’s own defences: A scientific study with seniors undergoing treatment for a diarrhoeal illness showed that those receiving inulin or oligofructose on a daily basis had a lower recurrence rate, and required significantly less hospitalisation.
In addition, a large-scale randomised control study involving more than 200 kindergarten children demonstrated improved immune responses. During the winter months, the children consumed prebiotic fibre from chicory root daily for six months. The result: the number of medically confirmed febrile infections decreased significantly, and there was a significant increase in bifidobacteria in the intestine. In addition, it was shown that with antibiotic therapy and simultaneous prebiotic fibre intake, the usual antibiotic-related disturbance of the intestinal flora was significantly reduced, and the number of bifidobacteria was significantly higher compared to the control group.
What challenges does the market face?
The pandemic has accelerated interest in healthy nutrition in general, with particular interest in products relating to gut health and immune defence. This trend looks set to continue post-pandemic. Our prebiotic dietary fibres are particularly in demand, as they fulfil several important consumer needs in terms of healthy nutrition. In order to meet the challenge of keeping up with this demand, and to reliably meet the increased need for prebiotic dietary fibres in the future, BENEO has invested more than EUR 50 million in its plant in Pemuco, Chile.
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