Consumer demand for nutrition and supplement products is forecast for continuous growth thanks to a growing awareness of health, wellness and disease prevention.
Within the biotics space postbiotics are emerging as a hot topic. While probiotics and prebiotics are well established in the gastrointestinal (GI) and immune health categories, postbiotics are still a novel concept and the science behind their use and impact on health is still emerging.
Studies have shown that the immunomodulation effect of a postbiotic can be more direct than probiotics. Although probiotics and postbiotics both have an in vitro immunomodulation effect, certain postbiotic strains have been shown to cause a higher increase in IL-12 production in macrophages.1
As IL-12 production plays a critical role in the defence against infectious diseases, this can have a beneficial effect on the immune system.1 These increases cause changes in the Th1-mediated immune response by stimulating IL-10 and IL-12 proliferation, IFN-ɣ production in splenocytes, and IL-12 secretion in dendritic cells.1
Therefore, the postbiotic immunomodulation effect is not only more direct than that of probiotics, its health benefits can be conferred while eliminating potential negative probiotic effects. Postbiotics can be a safer option for immune-compromised individuals, such as the elderly or transplant patients.1
Postbiotics also offer significant potential for product innovation, especially in conditions where probiotics cannot thrive. One of the key advantages of postbiotics, compared with probiotics is their stability. This makes them less sensitive to storage conditions and efficient in a range of delivery systems in convenient dosage formats, such as tablets and capsules that consumers can take anytime, anywhere. This flexibility represents huge market opportunities.
Postbiotics: Commercialization challenges
Globally, the postbiotic market is concentrated mainly in the US, Japan and Europe where products have been positively received thanks to their association with probiotics, prebiotics and gut health.1 Yet despite opportunities in postbiotic development and application, postbiotic ingredients still need to overcome a number of barriers in order to fully realise their commercial potential.
While the definition and concept of probiotics has been widely accepted for over 20 years, and has an industry and regulations built around it, the postbiotic market is still a novel concept representing a new generation of biotics.
Arguably the most pressing challenge for postbiotics is one of gaining market acceptance by consumers, many of whom are unable to differentiate between probiotics and postbiotics. This is not altogether unsurprising. Unlike probiotics, there is no clear regulatory framework for postbiotics in many countries and there lacks a widely accepted consensus as to what a postbiotic is.
Described in varying terms, as a live organism that is ‘inactivated’, ‘heat-treated’ or ‘heat-killed’ – as well as ‘paraprobiotic’, a term used in journals published before 2021 – its various terminologies make it difficult for the industry, regulators and consumers to comprehend. In short, confusion exists around the definition of postbiotics and this continues to prompt debate.2,3,4
In 2019, a meeting of international scientists from fields including probiotics and postbiotics, gastroenterology and microbiology, led to the publication in May 2021 by ISAAP of a consensus definition of the term ‘postbiotics’ which better describes the preparation of inanimate microorganisms, with or without their cell components or metabolites that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit to the host.5
However, some believed this definition was too broad and it was not unanimously accepted. In November 2022, the debate continued with a panel entitled ‘Postbiotics, definition and scopes’ at the 9th Beneficial Microbes conference in Amsterdam with the aim of advancing the discussion about postbiotics.5
As well as requiring a clear definition, defining clear quantification methods is an additional challenge for postbiotic products to overcome. Depending on the technology for the preparation of inanimate cultures, postbiotics can contain non-viable whole cells, metabolites, cell fragments or fermentation products.
The original 2013 definition of postbiotics, which focuses on metabolites produced by probiotics, prompted the concern that requiring a postbiotic to be derived from a probiotic creates an unnecessary burden of first meeting the criteria for a probiotic before developing a postbiotic.2
Another challenge for postbiotics is that while the regulatory landscape continues to evolve, it continues to vary greatly between different countries – and this impacts how the market perceives and allows the use of postbiotics. In APAC, countries including South Korea China, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam and Taiwan, are using postbiotics commercially, with regulators updating statute guidelines and postbiotic companies pressing for product registrations.
Meanwhile, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been working towards the harmonization of technical standards for traditional medicines and health supplements since 2004. For the biotics sector, this will affect the product in which the postbiotic may be used, in terms of health claims that can be made.
Addressing the issue of quantification methods, both to advance research and to provide regulatory bodies with required approaches to regulate non-viable microbes, is an ongoing process.
Postbiotics: The path to commercialization
LAC-Shield™ (heat-killed Lacticaseibacillus paracasei MCC1849) has achieved significant commercial success, making the seemingly impossible possible. The strain was selected from the several thousand of lactic acid bacteria stocked by Morinaga Milk and has been used by more than 500 companies in more than a thousand supplement, food and beverage products.
In this Spotlight On broadcast in partnership with Morinaga Milk, our panel will delve into the challenges facing the wider-reaching commercialization of postbiotics. Experts from Morinaga Milk, regulatory and academia will discuss the various preparation methods for postbiotics and their impact on composition and activity. We will also explore ways in which to educate consumers about the differences between the various biotics in order to establish a common terminology.
Register here for Postbiotics: The path to commercialization and join us on 29 February to learn more about the complex landscape of postbiotics and discover effective strategies to overcome commercial challenges and achieve success.
1. Yeşilyurt, N,; Yılmaz, B.; Ağagündüz, D.; et al. (2021). Involvement of Probiotics and Postbiotics in the Immune System Modulation. Biologics 1, no. 2: 89-110.
2. Tsilingiri, K. & Rescigno, M. Postbiotics: what else? Benef. Microbes 4, 101–107 (2013).
3. Aguilar-Toalá, J. E. et al. Postbiotics: an evolving term within the functional foods field. Trends Food Sci. Technol. 75, 105–114 (2018).
4. Patel, RM.; Denning PW. Therapeutic use of prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics to prevent necrotizing enterocolitis: what is the current evidence? Clin. Perinatol. 40, 11–25 (2013).
5. ISAPP Science Blog. Definition of postbiotics: A panel debate in Amsterdam. 2022.