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Digestive health tops the nutraceutical agenda

The importance of a healthy gut has risen to the top of the nutraceutical industry’s agenda for the first time, a new survey shows.

Speaking ahead of Vitafoods Europe (May 15-17, Palexpo, Geneva), experts have attributed the findings to growing consumer awareness of the importance of healthy gut microbiota and the potential of probiotics.

The organisers of Vitafoods asked 220 nutraceutical industry professionals to choose the three most important health benefit areas for their companies. Nearly a quarter (23%) named digestive health, with the same number identifying general wellbeing and healthy ageing. Another 22% named cardiovascular health, while 21% said immunity was a key area.

This is the third time the Vitafoods Europe poll has been conducted, but the first in which digestive health has been a top concern for the industry.

The importance placed on digestive health reflects the current boom in the global probiotic industry which is expected to reach a value of €53bn by 2023. In the US, where health claims are more forgiving than in Europe, the number of products promoting probiotic content grew from below 100 in 2002 to nearly 1,800 in 2016.

Commentators attribute this to growing consumer awareness and demographic changes. “The rapid growth of the global probiotics market is due to increased interest in functional foods, as well as rising incidence of digestive and gastrointestinal disorders,” says Rosanna Pecere, Executive Director of the International Probiotics Association Europe.

“Consumers are becoming more aware that a well-balanced microbiota is essential for the normal functioning of the body, and they’re looking for ways to ensure that the correct balance is maintained.”

Dr. Yiannis Kourkoutas of the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics at Democritus University of Thrace, one of the speakers at Vitafoods, adds: “Growth in the functional food and beverage market has also been driven by consumer interest in healthy living. This is particularly true among younger demographics, but population ageing has also been conducive to sector expansion.”

The importance of the microbiome and the potential of probiotics are supported by increasing scientific evidence. Dr. Kourkoutas reports: “Thanks to large-scale research efforts, we now know the composition of gut microbiota is associated with a growing number of diseases. There is a large body of evidence supporting the concept that the maintenance of healthy gut microbiota provides protection against a range of problems – not just local gastrointestinal disorders, but also neurological, respiratory, cardiovascular and even mental illnesses.”

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