For many years, digestive health and inner well-being have been among the most common topics of discussion. However, the difficulties of COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the relationship between digestive health and immunity, have pushed these issues into the spotlight. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the focus has shifted back on immunity and gut health and owing to this, the gut health market is growing and evolving at a rapid pace.
People have become more conscious of their gut health and are therefore adopting the conventional home remedies for sorting out their gut problems. Various common complications, such as gastric ulcers, gastritis, stomach cancer and oesophageal issues such as oesophagitis, are linked to poor gut health, and people are increasingly becoming more aware of such diseases. The fact that the development of the body's immune system is supported by a balanced gut, is fueling the demand for products that improve gut health.
The market has already been showing emphasis on gut health in recent years, but it has become a hot topic of discussion in the wake of the pandemic and constantly rising consumer demand for healthier foods and ingredients. As a result, many companies are competing for this available space. The rising demand for fortified and high-nutrition foods is a significant market driver today.
The sector is projected to reach $57.54 billion by 2025 and is expected to expand at a strong compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.3 per cent until at least 2024. Nutritional and fortifying food additives are one of the main factors driving market growth recently. Furthermore, the overall market has benefited from the growing geriatric population, rising healthcare costs, evolving lifestyles, and food formulation innovation.
Traditionally, people have resorted to conventional ways of treating their gut with foods like curd/yoghurt but with the change in lifestyle and increased focus on hygiene, the same consumers are now looking out for supplements that can help meet their body’s nutritional requirements. A variety of other probiotics have also been identified as essential and beneficial, for example, the products express high content of Omega-3 and variant fatty acids have been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs).
Various studies in the field of gut health
Increasing focus on gut health has led researchers to want to know more about it, leading them to conduct various studies in this field and discovering amazing facts about our gut and its impact on our health.
A recent study on gut health has found a link between caesarean section birth and microbiota in gut health. The research states that children born through C-section deliveries had shown signs of low diversity of intestinal microbiota, critical to immune system development.
Another research from the University of Colorado discovered a correlation between gut microbiota composition and autism, finding that certain bacteria are differentially present in people with autism. During the research, other variables such as diet were also taken into account.
Another research from a team of Dutch scientists has made the connection of poor diet with pro-inflammatory gut bacteria, where it was found that consumption of processed foods and animal-derived foods has led to clusters of gut bacteria known to cause inflammatory responses.
Studies have also suggested that alterations in gut microbiota can modulate emotional behaviours, including depression and anxiety. A study published in March 2020 in the Human Microbiome Journal found that people, who are more social have a more diverse gut microbiome, while more anxious people have a less diverse gut microbiome. But more importantly, this is an observed association — not a cause-and-effect finding.
The complex interplay between gut health and human health is driving researchers to study more about the gut and its relations with our overall health. Over time, the efforts to understand the gut are only going to increase, as people start to realise its importance and the role it plays in building our immune system.
India is a strong competitor in the global nutraceuticals market due to its unique advantages of rich heritage and expertise, availability of raw materials, development in herbal extract manufacturing, and a strong presence as a preferred supplier in many export markets. With the growing demand for dietary supplements from the upper and middle classes, India's nutraceuticals market is projected to rise from $4 billion in 2017 to $ 18 billion in 2025.
Food as a wellness agent is becoming a topic of interest to consumers as they opt for prevention over treatment. People in the Asia Pacific region have shown a preference for remedies such as vitamins and dietary supplements. Thus, presenting an opportunity for domestic players in the nutraceutical and supplements industry. The opportunities are especially significant considering that 68 per cent of Indian consumers occasionally suffer from gastrointestinal problems.
The opportunities are also due to the sense of health consciousness that is developing fast among the population. For instance, customers are today looking to replace sugar and also find several means to increase the nutritional benefits of what they consume.
Challenges for players
Currently, there is a lack of information and awareness around the science behind gut health and the importance of prebiotics and probiotics. This lack of awareness can prove to be deterrence and a challenge for the new players entering the arena.
The regulatory pathways that the companies need to take for their regulatory and clinical strategy are not well defined yet. Ensuring research backups on the cover would be positive and gain consumers’ confidence. Also, a major challenge emerges when offering improved formulations with prebiotics.
There’s empirical evidence that if a person's gut microbiota has certain bacteria, the person is at a higher risk of developing Crohn’s diseases, ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome. The microbiome plays a crucial role in ensuring people’s health and wellbeing. These microbes help a person to gain energy from non-digestible food and also produce fatty acids that are important for human health.
In 2021 and beyond, gut wellbeing is expected to gain even more momentum. Consumers are expected to place a greater emphasis on preventative health and a balanced diet following COVID-19. Gut health is already gaining traction in the western markets among customers seeking a holistic approach to healthy living. Ingredients including prebiotics and fibres are important for maintaining a balanced gut microbiome.
Going forward, R&D will play a key role in launching innovative products and solutions. This coupled with the evolving lifestyle preferences and the increase in knowledge among consumers will propel this industry into new horizons.
K R Venkatadri, Chief Operating Officer - Nutrition Sciences, Tata Chemicals, Mumbai