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More than 100 trillion microorganisms live on and within human beings, mainly in the gut, which is collectively known as the microbiome. The gut microbiome is considered to be an essential organ, carrying approximately 150 times more genes than are found in the entire human genome1 and representing almost 70% of the entire immune system2. Extensive research and advances in this area are showing that the gut microbiome influences more than digestion, but also the immune system, behaviour and vitamin synthesis. Scientists are therefore looking at methods to modulate the microbiome to prevent and manage some of today’s chronic lifestyle diseases and ailments.
Accumulating evidence suggests that gut microbiota plays a critical role in maintaining human health in many aspects. For example, gut bacteria could prevent the growth of pathogenic bacteria, regulate gut development and shape neuronal development3. But what do we know about how the gut microbiome works hand-in-hand with the body?
Metabolic activities are mutually carried out through cross-talk between our body and the gut microbiome. Our diet provides microbes with the key nutrients bacteria need to grow, while the microbes provide essential nutrients such as short-chain fatty acids and vitamins. It is also known that these microbes can produce certain chemicals to communicate with different parts of our body such as the liver, a network known as the gut microbiome-liver axis, and the brain, known as the gut microbiome-brain axis. Ultimately, the host depends on its intestinal microbiota for a number of vital functions, so having a diverse, resilient community of beneficial live organisms in the gut is important.
A healthy, resilient gut microbiome relies on richness and diversity4. Diversity in the gut is crucial because different bacterial species have different capabilities and functions, which in isolation can have a limited effect. However, as a collection, microbes, genes, and the proteins and enzymes that genes produce in the microbiome can have a major impact on host (human) metabolism, physiology, and subsequently health and wellbeing.
Altered microbiota composition or lower bacterial diversity in the gut, otherwise known as dysbiosis, may cause a variety of health issues, ranging from digestive problems, to immune health conditions and metabolic diseases such as obesity. Studies from the past decade show lower bacterial diversity observed in people with chronic diseases such as obesity5, high cholesterol5 and type 1 diabetes6. Studies such as these make an important point – lower microbial diversity or an altered microbiome may influence and contribute towards chronic disease. This creates a new opportunity for healthcare, to create products which can modulate the microbiome in a targeted way to prevent or manage chronic disease.
New research also suggests gut microbes may play a part in mental health; a two-way communication system referred to as the gut microbiome-brain axis. This research has foregrounded the impact of the gut microbiome on mental health, with studies showing observable links between gut dysbiosis and some mental health conditions suggesting that mental health may not be just about the head after all.
This notion is receiving support from new studies, as researchers in Belgium recently discovered that two types of microbes are consistently found in people with depression, whether they took antidepressants or not. Scientists at the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology and the Catholic University of Leuven investigated links between depression, quality of life and microbes present in the faeces of more than 1,000 people enrolled in the Flemish Gut Flora Project. They discovered that two kinds of bacteria, Faecalibacterium and Coprococcus, were both more common in people who claimed to enjoy a high mental quality of life7. Meanwhile, those with depression had lower than average levels of Coprococcus and other bacteria called Dialister7.
The discovery of the gut microbiome’s impact on human health has changed how scientists understand and manage disease, creating huge interest in finding ways to modulate our microbiome. Interest has particularly increased towards microbiota-based therapeutics, including probiotics, prebiotics and synbiotics as forms of disease management.
Prebiotics and probiotics are revolutionising the nutraceutical market as they become an increasingly important way to restore balance to the gut community. Specific probiotic strains have shown great benefits to human health8, enabling the nutraceutical industry to develop applications which encourage microbial diversity. The growth and range of available probiotics has come a long way in recent years, as research and public interest in the gut microbiome and probiotics has soared.
Today, probiotic strains are available in a wide range of formulations, such as powders, tablets, capsules, chewable gums, and are even being delivered in food and beverage products. This is leading to numerous wellness-focused brands adding functional probiotic ingredients to food staples such as granola, oatmeal, nut butters, soups and nutrition bars.
Expanding our understanding of the gut microbiome is allowing forward-thinking life sciences companies to transform traditional health management strategies. From developing probiotic strains with activities that bring specific health benefits to designing specific prebiotics that target individual microbial groups or even strains, to enhance their growth and/or activity. The industry is now maximising both strategies and using them together with synergistic effects.
One of the world leaders in the microbiome field, OptiBiotix Health Plc. has used pharmaceutical approaches to identify probiotic mechanisms of action and develop science-backed products with health benefits proven in independent clinical studies. These products modulate the human microbiome by targeting known metabolic pathways with changes in established biomarkers (for example, LDL cholesterol) to clearly demonstrate a health benefit.
For example, OptiBiotix Health’s Lactobacillus plantarum LPLDL® (LPLDL® GRAS approved probiotic strain, demonstrates the capacity to reduce cardiovascular risk, making it a valuable ingredient in functional food products and supplements. LPLDL®’s naturally-occurring metabolic activity harnesses the microbiome-liver axis, the intestinal bacteria and liver’s crosstalk, to reduce both high blood pressure and high cholesterol offering a non-pharmaceutical approach to cardiovascular well-being9. With a high proportion of the world’s population at moderate or high risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and the disease claiming over 17.9 million lives in 2016 alone10, the introduction of probiotics specifically developed as novel solutions to aid in the prevention and management of cardiovascular diseases is a true breakthrough in innovative health product development.
OptiBiotix Health has developed CholBiome®, a range of cholesterol management supplements which contain LPLDL®. CholBiome and CholBiome®X3 have been designed to help maintain a healthy heart by reducing a number of cardiovascular risk factors. Whilst CholBiome®X3 works through three synergistic mechanisms to reduce cholesterol, blood pressure and promote heart wellness, CholBiome® supports the maintenance of healthy cholesterol levels either as preventative or following the use of CholBiome®X3.
The life sciences company, listed on the London Stock Exchange, has also developed a portfolio of prebiotics which impact on health.Its patented award-winning weight management ingredient, SlimBiome®, modulates the human microbiome with a patented matrix of natural ingredients including prebiotics. SlimBiome® was formulated in collaboration with leading universities and key opinion leaders with expertise in functional foods, metabolism and nutrition, and satiation. Independent human studies carried out by two separate universities have shown SlimBiome®, reduces hunger, lowers food cravings (particularly for sweet and savoury foods), and reduces body weight, particularly around the waist and hip. Weight loss was on average 2-3lbs per week and was accompanied by an improvement in mood. These results suggest that SlimBiome® helps users to manage their weight loss by reducing food intake without food cravings, and contrasts with existing products which lack strong scientific rationale and typically rely on customers’ self-control to restrict calories and as a consequence have a high failure rate.
SlimBiome® has recently received medical device status and a CE mark. SlimBiome®’s new medical device status enables OptiBiotix Health to make medicinal or medical claims about SlimBiome® where supported by clinical studies, extending the application of the award-winning ingredient from food products in to high-value medical products. OptiBiotix Health has recently launched SlimBiome® Medical, as a CE marked product sold in boxes of 30 single dose sachets to pharmacies and major retailers as a clinically proven solution to promote weight loss. The product can be used by itself, or as part of a calorie-restricted diet, to reduce hunger and help users achieve sustainable weight loss.
The analysis of the human microbiome is an exciting and rapidly expanding field of research. As the biological relevance of the microbiome for human health becomes ever more evident, and consumers alongside the nutraceutical industry learn more about its role, scientists, manufacturers and ingredient suppliers will continue to develop new and innovative approaches to precision-engineer the microbiome to modify the gut’s microbes to prevent, manage and treat a wide range of chronic conditions.