The Growing Problem Of Digestive Health Issues In Adults

The Issue

Americans are literally tying their stomachs into knots!

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services in a paper entitled: Digestive Diseases Statistics for the United States, based on 2004 statistics, an estimated 60 to 70 million Americans suffer from some kind of digestive disorder. To treat these illnesses, more than $142 billion is spent on an annual basis. If we isolate on just two of the more common digestive conditions, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Chronic Constipation, we see that 15.3 million and 63 million Americans are affected respectively.

Why are we having such problems? Certainly a lack of fiber, unhealthy guts and high stress feed into the equation.

For example, the American Dietetic Association and the National Cancer Institute recommend 25 to 35 grams of fiber daily; most consume 11 grams. Fiber provides more than just bulk; fiber can provide prebiotics, the very foods that probiotics need to thrive.

High stress and an unhealthy gut often go together, and the effects of both these factors not only lead to IBS, bloating, gas and constipation, but much more serious conditions. In June 2013, researchers at the University of Michigan and other universities found that probiotics can help protect against IBS flare-ups,[i] and that stress causes a rise in inflammatory agents.

There is also growing evidence that probiotics can help treat Irritable Bowel Diseases such as Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis the American Society for Microbiology recently published (1 April 2011) findings “Probiotic bacteria could help treat Crohn’s disease.“[ii]

digestive health issues

The good news is that consumers who have stomach and intestinal problems are getting the word about fiber, probiotics, enzymes and other digestive health supplements. SPINS market research data showed the huge potential of stomach health supplements for digestion, for example, between November 2011 and November 2012 digestive health supplements and vitamins to help treat IBS, IBD, peptic ulcers and other conditions topped $226 million; for digestive health in general, including grocery items, the market as measured in July 2012, topped $2.25 billion!

The market is ripe for new products for “stomach science.” People are seeking more natural ways to treat diseases but there are many problems that must be addressed.


The Problems

As researchers, suppliers, formulators, distributors and ultimately, consumers begin to explore natural alternatives like digestive health supplements; they realize the exciting options that are opening to health, wellness, and supplements for digestion. That may not sound like much of a problem at all, but the challenges to maintain integrity and efficacy in your digestive health supplements and probiotics are constant and real.

Let us quickly review five product categories for their huge potentials and for some of the challenges. The categories are: Probiotics, Fiber, Enzymes, Botanicals and Vitamins.


The evidence continues to mount as to the benefits of probiotic supplementation. For example, the probiotic Bifidobacterium lactis benefits digestive health in children and the aged[iii]; Lactobacillus acidophilus removes the bacteria implicated in ulcers[iv]; Lactobacillus casei rhamosu aids children with constipation[v]. The list continues. Therefore, there are multiple probiotics, each with its own potential in a formulation and each with exciting capabilities.

However, in considering a probiotic formulation for digestive health supplements, it is also important to understand that these are living organisms sensitive to heat, moisture, shelf life and digestive activity, i.e. if probiotic supplements for digestion are not properly encapsulated they could lose potency before they make it to the gut.


Researchers have conclusively shown that combining pre-biotic fibers with probiotics greatly enhances probiotic performance. For companies looking to introduce supplements for digestion and overall stomach health, could very well differentiate themselves with fiber prebiotics such as Inulin.

Inulin has been shown to potentiate the effects of prebiotics when given to babies and the elderly, helping to relieve constipation.[vi] The challenges, of course, are proper formulation and ultimately, marketing of these digestive health supplements. It is not just Inulin that has unique properties for digestive health, but Psyllium, Guar gum, Maize, Tapioca and many other fibers.[vii]


Enzyme supplements for digestion have really come into their own, especially those from natural sources such as fruits and fungal extracts. For example, the enzymes of the Kiwi Fruit have been shown to help with the digestion of protein and gluten.[viii] There are several challenges to formulating digestive health supplements with natural enzymes, not the least of which is activity. The amount of enzyme in a digestive health supplement’s formulation is secondary to how active it is in formula and like probiotics; enzymes are capable of breaking down before delivery if not properly encapsulated


Though ancient in use, botanicals such as peppermint, ginger, cucurmin (derived from turmeric), licorice and aloe have been broadly studied for their role in treating indigestion. Licorice, for example, has been shown to have positive effects on reducing the inflammation of stomach ulcers.[ix] There are numerous digestive health supplements formulations that can potentially combine botanicals, enzymes and probiotics; the key to these supplements for digestion is efficacy and sourcing.

Vitamins and Mineral Supplements

The use of  vitamin and mineral supplements such as zinc for digestive problems has been well documented,[x] especially to aid in IBD such as Crohn’s disease.  Minerals, combined with other elements in supplements for digestion, could prove beneficial to those suffering from “stomach problems,” providing it is part of a logical, overall formulation.


Larger Opportunities – and Challenges

GlobalData’s market research trend analysis on Irritable Bowel Syndrome alone showed that in 2009 the market for IBS products was $1.6 billion and by 2016 it is expected to grow to $3.0 billion.

As stress, diets insufficient in fiber and the widespread use of antibiotics resulting in depressed gut flora continue, natural alternatives to prescription medications such as supplements for digestion will be sought by many who suffer from digestive diseases. Formulating new digestive health supplements will become a priority. There will be two major challenges; efficacy of the formulation and understanding the regulations of supplements for digestion in regard to health claims.

The opportunities to create innovative formulations of probiotic supplements in private label industries will fall in place, provided marketers are aware of the concerns of both their customers and potential health claim challenges. Good industry partnerships are critical.


[i] Sun, Y., Zhang, M., Chen, C. C., Gillilland, M., Sun, X., Zaatari, El, M., et al. (2013). Stress-Induced Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone-Mediated NLRP6 Inflammasome Inhibition and Transmissible Enteritis in Mice. Gastroenterology, 144(7), 1478–1487
[ii] American Society for Microbiology. “Probiotic bacteria could help treat Crohn’s disease.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 April 2011.
[iii] Chouraqui JP, Van Egroo LD, Fichot MC. Acidified milk formula supplemented with bifidobacterium lactis: impact on infant diarrhea in residential care settings. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2004 Mar;38(3):288-92.
[iv] Sheu BS, Wu JJ, Lo CY, Wu HW, Chen JH, Lin YS, Lin MD. Impact of supplement with Lactobacillus- and Bifidobacterium-containing yogurt on triple therapy for Helicobacter pylori eradication. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2002 Sep;16(9):1669-75.
[v] Bu LN(1), Chang MH, Ni YH, Chen HL, Cheng CC Lactobacillus casei rhamnosus Lcr35 in children with chronic constipation. Pediatr Int. 2007 Aug;49(4):485-90.
[vi] Kim SH(1), Lee da H, Meyer D Supplementation of baby formula with native inulin has a prebiotic effect in formula-fed babies. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2007;16(1):172-7.
[vii] Robert A. DiSilvestro, Marian A. Verbruggen, E. Jann OffuttAnti-heartburn effects of a fenugreek fiber product, Phytotherapy Research, Volume 25, Issue 1, pages 88–91, January 2011
[viii] Kaur L, Rutherfurd SM, Moughan PJ, Drummond L, Boland MJ, Actinidin enhances gastric protein digestion as assessed using an in vitrogastric digestion model. J Agric Food Chem. 2010 Apr 28;58(8):5068-73
[ix] Aly AM(1), Al-Alousi L, Salem HA AAPS Licorice: a possible anti-inflammatory and anti-ulcer drug. PharmSciTech. 2005 Sep 20;6(1):E74-82.
[x] G C Sturniolo, M M Molokhia, R Shields, and L A Turnberg Zinc absorption in Crohn’s disease, Gut. 1980 May; 21(5): 387–391..