Beyond digestive health: Modulating the gut microbiota with yeast beta-glucan to drive body-wide effects
Good gut health is about far more than digestion. With researchers linking what happens in the gut to health effects around the body, companies can target the gastrointestinal tract to drive outcomes that matter most to consumers, from cognition to immunity. The opportunities are fuelling interest in the use of prebiotics such as yeast beta-glucan to modulate the microbiome.
Consumers understand that what happens in the gut affects their overall health, with three-quarters of people in Asia-Pacific saying diet can be more beneficial to the skin than topical products.1 Public awareness of the wider effects of changes in the gut has grown in recent years as researchers have published a mountain of papers on the microbiome, linking the gut microbiota to the development of autoimmune, cognitive and metabolic disorders.2–4
The research presents the gut as a route to the health outcomes that are important to today’s consumers. Almost half of people want to improve their mental wellbeing and metabolic disorders are a major burden in many countries.5,6 Gut health is implicated in those areas, as well as being core to the major digestive health market. Asia-Pacific launches of food, drink and supplement products with digestive health claims have risen 23% over the past five years.7
Prebiotics offer a convenient way for consumers to improve their gut health. Unlike probiotics, which are live organisms that are sensitive to external conditions, prebiotics are simple to formulate into a wide range of products including functional foods and beverages. Once consumed, the prebiotics in the products are broken down by certain bacteria, encouraging their growth over other microbes.
There is now decades of research showing that beta-glucans act on the gut microbiota.8 In the 1990s, researchers showed the molecules are selective substrates for strains of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, spurring work to understand the effect of the molecules on the gut and human health.9 The studies found early evidence that beta-glucans may protect the cardiovascular system, modulate the immune system and otherwise improve human health.10,11
Recent tests of Angel Yeast’s beta-glucan have further elucidated the impact of the molecules, both by showing how they interact with the digestive system and by exploring their downstream effects. The work points to the potential to use the yeast beta-glucan as a functional food to act on the microbiome.
Validating yeast beta-glucan’s effect on the gut
One study simulated human digestion to show when and how yeast beta-glucan is broken down in the body.12 The researchers found that beta-glucan is unaffected by saliva or the conditions found in the stomach and small intestine, enabling it to reach the large intestine intact. Upon entering the large intestine, the molecule is degraded and metabolized by the gut microbiota.
The metabolism of beta-glucan in the large intestine may alter the microbial communities found in the gut by inhibiting harmful microbiota and supporting health-promoting microbiota. Specifically, the researchers found evidence that yeast beta-glucan significantly decreased the ratio of Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes. Multiple studies by other researchers have linked a higher ratio to obesity.13
A closer analysis of the effect of yeast beta-glucan on the gut microbiota revealed the molecule can selectively promote the growth of Bifidobacterium. Inulin, a widely studied prebiotic, also promotes Bifidobacterium growth.14 The researchers, while confirming the effect of inulin on Bifidobacterium, identified a potential advantage of yeast beta-glucan over the established prebiotic, finding that it was able to better promote the growth of Bifidobacterium longum.
The effect on B. longum is potentially important. Researchers have linked B. longum to the alleviation of gastrointestinal disorders, the modulation of immune function, relief from allergy symptoms and effects on neurological activity via the gut-brain axis.15,16
Another study of Angel Yeast’s beta-glucan provided more evidence that acting on the gut can cause changes in the brain.17 The researchers studied yeast beta-glucan in an animal model of Alzheimer’s disease, generating evidence that the molecules regulate microbiota associated with cognition and reduce neuroinflammation and brain insulin resistance.
Angel Yeast is supporting research into the gut health applications of yeast beta-glucan as part of its push to ensure it has all the evidence and capabilities needed to underpin the launch of validated products, from manufacturing scale and standardization, to patents and clinical data. Through the investments, Angel Yeast has turned its beta-glucan into an option for manufacturers that want to provide a prebiotic in supplements, yogurts, sports nutrition products and functional beverages.
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