Today, following mass rejections of health claim applications by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)—the 310th application was rejected on July 27, 2016—even using the words “prebiotic” and “probiotic” constitutes using an unauthorized health claim in the EU. Big probiotic players have either moved into the thriving non-EU markets, or are utilizing niche regulatory environments such as Italy’s more liberal approach toward translating the NHCR into national law.
Research & Understanding
This has not stopped research, however. During recent years, the importance of the gut microbiome for many health areas has become more and more apparent. Conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, allergies, obesity, cardiovascular disorders, male reproductive disorders, anemia, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and even some forms of cancer have been linked to disturbances in the gut microbiota.
The bacterial composition of the gut microbiome varies widely. Early on during research, three distinct types called “enterotypes” were identified, with each type dominated by a different bacterial genus. Meanwhile, this has been corrected to a sliding continuum of two main types that seem loosely connected to predominant diet and breast-feeding habits rather than any genetic factors. Bacteroides species seem to be dominant in subjects eating a Western diet rich in proteins, while Prevotella species are dominant in those individuals eating a mainly fiber-rich diet.
Besides the two most common ones, many other bacterial genera are present in each gut biome, again showing a continuous gradient between individuals. Also, children’s gut microbiomes differ from that of adults, and among child demographics depending on their delivery (C-section or natural birth), whether or not they were breastfed, and for how long. Research into this complex topic and into characterizing the various biome compositions, of course, is still ongoing.
One consistent finding is that a diverse gut microbiome is healthier than a less diverse one. In fact, specific bacterial genera, or even species, missing from the gut microbiota can have far-reaching consequences, such as the development of autism spectrum disorders or multiple sclerosis. Indications are that the “missing” species are replaced by other bacterial species and genera, with these replacements possibly exercising some negative effect. However, research is constantly uncovering new data, so our understanding of this complex topic is still very basic at this point.
Beyond the two main “enterotypes” mentioned previously, the precise gut microbiome composition is unique to each individual. Therefore, any attempted modification of this composition (e.g., supporting the growth of certain bacterial genera by taking up prebiotics or probiotics), should ideally be specifically tailored toward the respective gut composition, or in other words, be personalized.
However, even what our bodies make of our daily food is determined by our gut microbiota. Research has shown recently that the glycemic response to specific foods varies widely among individuals. The same food may elicit a strong response in some individuals and a weak one in others, with these differences linked to specific gut microbiome compositions. Since the level of the glycemic response is considered an indicator of what is a “good” or a “bad” diet, the results of this study indicate that what is a good diet for some may, in fact, be bad for others.
Therefore, ideally, any diet advice should involve an analysis of the individual’s gut microbiome. There apparently can be no single advice such as “eat fewer carbohydrates” given to everyone, because while that may be good advice for some, others might not fare so well with it. This paves the way toward personal diet advice and personalized nutrition based on gut microbiome composition.
Personalized nutrition is a topic that is currently approached from many sides. Nutrigenetics explores how an individual’s genetic makeup affects his or her response to nutrients. Insight from research on the gut microbiome shows that genetics are not the only aspect that personalized nutrition needs to take into account. Food, whether it has been adjusted for nutrigenetic aspects or not, first passes through the person’s gut, where the individual composition of the gut microbiome adds its own impact to the health benefits (or lack thereof) that the person may gain from the food.
This is a fascinating new field for nutritionists, and for food business operators, opening up many opportunities for new product development. As always, analyze & realize is watching these developments closely and stands ready to assist with expert advice.
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Dr. Joerg Gruenwald is co-founder of analyze & realize GmbH, a specialized business consulting company and CRO in the fields of nutraceuticals, dietary supplements, herbals and functional food, and author of the PDR for Herbal Medicines. He can be reached at analyze & realize GmbH, Waldseeweg 6, 13467 Berlin, Germany; +49-30-40008100; E-mail: email@example.com; Website: www.analyze-realize.com.