Probiotic Supplements With a Marketing Edge

by Missy Lowery -

The market for digestive aids is very healthy—largely fueled by unhealthy diets—especially those low in fiber and high in processed foods.

Within the natural products industry, probiotics are one of the primary digestive remedies, and sales of probiotics delivered in a supplement form have exploded. Currently, 15 percent of supplement users take probiotics, up from 1 percent in 2005, according to the Natural Marketing Institute’s Supplement, Over-the-counter, and Rx Database survey (SORD, December 2015).

The probiotic market is poised to continue to grow across various demographics as products are developed to support well-being beyond digestive health. Product developers are targeting areas such as skin health, oral health, immunity boost, respiratory health, inflammation, allergies, energy, stamina, weight control, brain-mood health and heart health.

In order to provide an effective product, manufacturers would be wise to recognize that a delivery method for this ingredient is just as important as developing a probiotic with the right bacteria strain and count. Dosage form can make or break a product due to how it addresses the challenges that can negatively influence the integrity of probiotics.

Stability is a key issue for most probiotics. The delivery form should be able to prevent premature activation by controlling moisture exposure before ingestion.

The pressure and heat from the tableting process is harsh and can compromise the stability of probiotics. Transportation and storage issues—such as length of time, temperature fluctuation, and exposure to moisture—can put probiotics at risk for degradation or early activation.

Most probiotics are also acid-sensitive, so as they transition through the stomach, moisture and acid can degrade their potency.

Encapsulation of probiotic supplements is a step forward in offering more protection from moisture. Vegetarian capsules, made from hydroxypropyl methylcellulose (HPMC), offer moisture protection for probiotics. Because HPMC has a low moisture content (4 to 6 percent moisture at 50 percent relative humidity compared to 12 to 14 percent for gelatin), there is low water activity and little for the hygroscopic probiotic to pull from the shell and trigger premature activation before ingestion.

Within the vegetarian capsule universe, four unique technological advances that offer different delivery solutions—in addition to overall moisture protection of probiotics—include:

Super Low-Moisture Content – Vegetarian capsules with a moisture content as low as 3 percent can be attractive to manufacturers who can control the relative humidity in their manufacturing environment. They can package their finished product in moisture-resistant packaging and effectively extend the shelf life.

Acid-Resistant Capsule Shells Acid-resistant capsules slow disintegration after swallowing. The shell’s innovative polymer protects the capsule from opening in the stomach’s acidic environment, dissolving only when the pH rises above 6.8—the average pH level past the stomach. An independent in vivo gamma scintigraphy study of one such capsule, DRcaps® capsules, showed on average, the capsules begin to release in a mean time of 52 minutes after ingestion, when they are passing from the stomach into the small intestine.

Capsule-Within-a-Capsule -- A third highly original vegetarian capsule technology addresses the complicated delivery issues of combining a prebiotic/probiotic supplement. Both ingredients can be delivered at different intervals via a capsule-within-a-capsule technology that offers both a synergistic digestive effect and moisture protection to prevent early activation of the probiotic.

The inner capsule contains a probiotic, which is then suspended in a solubilized prebiotic formula that is released first when the outer capsule dissolves. For enhanced moisture protection, both capsules are composed of plant-based HPMC. The prebiotic is suspended in a glycerol solution which has lower water activity than the desiccated probiotic. Both inner and outer capsules are hermetically sealed. The inner capsule with the probiotic culture takes longer to fully dissolve, helping to improve its ability to reach the intestinal tract. This dual capsule known as DUOCAPS™ has had exceptional success in the Zone IV area of Brazil—where high humidity and heat make softgels problematic.

Easy-to-Open Sprinkle Capsule -- And finally, a capsule to address concerns for a unique group of people—those with swallowing difficulties. A probiotic is only effective if it is actually consumed. For those consumers who find it hard to swallow any pill (an estimated 25 to 35 percent of the general population), the Coni-Snap® Sprinkle Capsule is an easy-to-open alternative delivery form to sticks and sachets, eliminating the need for secondary packaging. A powdered probiotic is encased in an HPMC capsule that has been designed for easy reopening. Once opened, the probiotic is sprinkled onto food. In a study with parents of young children and seniors over the age of 80, participants found the Sprinkle Capsule five times easier to open than a standard capsule.

Successful delivery of probiotics can be as important as the probiotics themselves. Vegetarian capsules with various technology options can provide differentiating solutions that can give a probiotic supplement a marketing edge with consumers.

Missy Lowery Missy LoweryContributing Editor

Missy Lowery, MS, is the senior marketing manager at Capsugel.