Worldwide Probiotic Use: History, Trends and Industry Outlook

by: Brenda Kimble, Nutritionist/Wellness Blogger

The probiotics industry has grown by leaps and bounds, as the health and wellness benefits of using probiotics are well-known and researched. If you’re a regular probiotics user, you might be curious to know about probiotic manufacturing practices–and history, trends and outlook of the probiotics industry.

What are Probiotics?

Probiotics, also known as the “good bacteria,” are found naturally in your digestive tract. These bacteria are also present in fermented milk products, fermented soy products, other fermented foods and in supplement form. Because of the many health and wellness benefits associated with ingesting probiotics regularly, probiotics use has steadily increased worldwide.

Probiotic

Proposed Health Benefits

Research is ongoing to determine which strains of probiotics work well for different health conditions. One 2014 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that certain strains (such as Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Saccharomyces, Streptococcus, Bacillus and others) appear to reduce infections, eczema, low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and constipation. They also help treat diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome and necrotizing enterocolitis in preterm infants. Probiotics also help improve immune function and boost the absorption and digestion of food, vitamins and minerals.

Probiotics History

Probiotics have been around for more than a century, as scientists in the 1800s discovered that ingesting fermented milk products appeared to provide a variety of health and wellness benefits. Louis Pasteur identified yeasts and bacteria needed for fermentation, and Elie Metchnikoff (who worked with Pasteur) made the association between population groups consuming high volumes of probiotics in fermented foods with better health and longevity.

fermented milk

These discoveries led to additional research related to probiotics and health, wellness and chronic disease prevention. An early study conducted in 1922 found that lactobacillus acidophilus (a type of probiotic bacteria) helped improve diarrhea, chronic constipation and eczema.

Probiotic Manufacturing Trends

Probiotic manufacturing has been around for over a century and began with the production of fermented milk products. A 2013 review published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases and Preventive Medicine says the first fermented milk product was manufactured and marketed in 1906 by a company called Le Fermente and, in 1919, Isaac Carasso began commercially producing yogurt in Spain.

In the 1980s as antibiotic resistance increased, probiotics interest skyrocketed as a way to help fight infections without the need for antibiotics. As a result, companies began manufacturing probiotics supplements in addition to fermented food products.

The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) passed in 1994 and led to a boost in the growth of probiotics products. DSHEA provided the guidance regulations needed to allow dietary supplements to be safely marketed in the United States.

How are Probiotics Made?

The probiotic manufacturing process begins with a frozen stock of dormant probiotic bacteria. These bacteria are grown in environments that optimize growth and development, and strains are carefully selected to continue on in the production process. Strain-specific nutritional ingredients are added during probiotic manufacturing to produce the highest quality microorganisms. Shelf-stable probiotics are often freeze-dried, allowing a longer shelf life at room temperature.

Different bacterial strains can be blended together and then tested for quality. Since probiotics are living organisms, they can die off during manufacturing or storage–which is why taking extra steps to ensure quality control is crucial. Probiotics manufacturers who don’t meet quality standards during production can also fail to meet labeling claims regarding the number of probiotics present in their products. Many probiotics supplements contain 1 to 10 billion colony forming units (CFU) per dose. When choosing probiotic products to maximize health, look for those containing at least 1 billion CFUs.

U.S. Probiotics Trends

A wide variety of the U.S. population uses probiotics. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, probiotics use quadrupled between the years 2007 and 2012. In 2012, 300,000 children used probiotic and/or prebiotic supplements. Prebiotics are a type of dietary fiber that probiotics feed on. The same source reports that in 2012 about 4 million adults used probiotics and/or prebiotics as these supplements were the third most commonly used dietary supplement in the U.S. (with the exception of vitamin and mineral supplements).

probiotics

Probiotics growth trends seem to be steadily increasing in the U.S. Compared with other natural supplement products, probiotics had the second highest growth rate (after fish oil and other omega-3 supplements) from 2007 to 2012. Melatonin use in the U.S. has also steadily increased (not as much as probiotics), while milk thistle and green tea extract supplements have held steady. Glucosamine, chondroitin, echinacea, ginseng and ginko use in the U.S. has declined.

Global Probiotics Trends and Projections

Since the passage of DSHEA in 1994, global probiotics production and sales have increased drastically. The 2013 review published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases and Preventive Medicine says in 2007, the global probiotics market was $14.9 billion. In 2013, the probiotics market worldwide was $32.06 billion. In the year 2020, the International Probiotics Association projects global probiotic sales to be more than $96 billion. The country with households spending the most money on probiotics supplements (and fermented foods containing probiotics) is South Korea. This is followed by Japan, Singapore, Thailand, China, the United States and Vietnam.

Research Trends

Research is ongoing to help determine which additional health conditions may benefit from probiotics use. More research is needed to establish which strains of probiotics (and the best dosage for each) should be recommended to optimize health and wellness, and to treat medical-related health problems.

Brenda Kimble is a nutrition coach and wellness blogger from Austin, TX. She is also a mother of 2 daughters and a son. Her life’s goal is to encourage herself and others to live a more balanced lifestyle, incorporating healthier habits and exercise practices, which she does by connecting with people in her industry through her writing. When she is not working, she enjoys yoga and spending time with her family. 

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