Probiotics so far have been used casually as an add-on therapy for patients with diarrhea or for those receiving antibiotics to augment or replace the bacteria can be due to toxins or antibiotics decimated by the toxins released by infecting organisms. The human gut has 10 times more bacteria than any other part of the body. Within the total biomass of the gut, 400 types of bacteria have been identified as beneficial. This enormous biomass is an active contributor not only to our gut health but also to health in general.
With changes in climate, lifestyle and diet, easy exposure to exotic foods and the widespread abuse of antibiotics, there has been a massive change in gut microflora. Naturally-occurring probiotics are found in several fermented dairy products and other fermented food sources. This has led to their active inclusion in dietary supplements, from yogurts to infant formula.
Research suggests several modes of action beneficial to the human body. Clinical research has proven its preventive and curative features in not only different intestinal conditions, like ulcerative colitis and Chrohn’s disease, but also in chronic conditions of the liver and systemic metabolic
diseases like diabetes.
Now we have a new opportunity: to use probiotics as targeted bacteriotherapy. There is an improved understanding of the mechanism of action of probiotics and their effect on distant organs where the bacteria do not reach. This exploration has led to the unveiling of complex interaction between the gut microbiota and the distant organs outside of normal physiological interactions. As our understanding grows, more such interactions will come to the fore.
The gut-lung axis has a positive effect on the health of our lungs. Gut microflora plays an important role. It is suggested by scientists that the microbiota in the gut, through their local action, affect the lungs through the release of specific enzymes that modulate to host immune response. Recent research by Italian doctors (Giancarlo Ceccarelli and group) found that patients suffering from respiratory symptoms due to COVID-19 recovered faster and with fewer long-term debilities when administered probiotics. The same group of scientists also claims that the oxygen requirement of patients receiving the same probiotic (Sivomixx/Slab-51), which is a blend of eight strains, also drastically reduced the need for oxygen therapy. This is indeed wonderful news and needs to be looked into.
The gut-brain axis is another interesting aspect being explored by scientists to see the effect of probiotics in chronic neurological conditions. Recent research has shown that in cases of drug- resistant epilepsy, where patients do not respond to conventional therapy, probiotics have shown promising results in improving their quality of life. A probiotic blend has also shown promising results in improving the cognitive function of patients suffering from HIV. Alzheimer’s disease,another chronic and debilitating disease, has been studied when treated with probiotics and the results are encouraging.
All these diseases are essentially incurable and the special probiotic blends designed for each are showing positive results. These studies show the strong connection between the gut and the brain and this needs to be explored further.
India may become the hepatic cirrhosis capital of the world, currently contributing one-fifth of the world’s cirrhosis death toll. Again, special blends of probiotics designed specifically for the specific disease conditions, have shown promising results. The probiotic blends of multiple strains are proven to have beneficial effects on patients suffering from chronic liver conditions. Infertility is another condition that is being explored for treatment through intra-vaginal application of probiotic blends, and the results are positive.
What lies ahead
Despite the diverse applicability of probiotic therapy, and the little-to-no side effects that are ubiquitous with allopathic therapy, it is too early to say how much of an impact probiotic therapy will have. However, one thing is certain, it will be substantial as barriers in understanding and
acceptance will be broken.
The past 15 to 20 years have been the age of onotherapy – almost all major pharma players have spent billions in research to cure cancer. Looking at the amount of recent research in probiotics, we are very close to a breakthrough. That breakthrough will establish targeted bacteriotherapy as the next frontier of research, with more and bigger players taking an interest.
Incredibly, therapy with probiotic strains, essentially live bacteria, is not the end of the story. ‘Postbiotics’, functional bioactive compounds generated in a matrix during fermentation, are also being looked into actively with promising results in early-life nutrition. Further explorations are under way for the applicability of Postbiotics in disease conditions too.
As the ongoing research comes to fruition, along with an increased understanding and changed perception, there will be a positive impact. Probiotics will be used more and more as adjuvant to current therapy to bring about greater clinical impact in treatment outcomes.
Probiotics have seen remarkable advances in recent times with a rapid rise in interest for applications in supplements to act as mediators in health and disease. The probiotics industry is ever-growing with continual expansion of products taken to market. The global demand for probiotics is rising significantly due to growing awareness among customers about their direct relation to digestive health benefits, a rise in demand for nutritious food and quality. The market is estimated to be valued at $61.1 billion and is projected to reach $91.1 billion by 2026 – a CAGR of 8.3 per cent.
The association of probiotics with well-being has a long history. With time, they have successfully evolved with growing evidence that probiotic bacteria can contribute to human health.
There is scope for exponential expansion of the probiotic market shortly, though it might be difficult to quantify right now. Investors in probiotics are in for an exciting time because the market can only go in one direction.
Kanwaldeep Singh, Founder and Chief Executive, Next Gen Pharma