Unilever has partnered with the gut microbiome experts at Holobiome to identify food and drink ingredients that could positively impact mental well-being by targeting the gut-brain axis.
There is increasing awareness of the importance of the gut microbiome – the trillions of microbes inside us – and its critical role in our overall health and well-being. Many scientists now consider the gut microbiome an essential organ, with 70% of the immune system existing in the gut and 90% of the body’s mood-elevating serotonin produced there.
The gut-brain axis allows communication between the gastrointestinal tract, the microbes within it, and the brain. A major driver of this communication is the exchange of chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters and their precursors; these neurotransmitters can have a stimulatory or calming effect on the body. Holobiome has identified key bacteria that communicate to the brain via neurotransmitter signaling in the gut using its discovery platform to map the microbiome and its influences.
Unilever and Holobiome’s research partnership aims to identify specific food ingredients that interact with these key bacteria. The long-term ambition is to enhance these ingredients in certain foods and refreshment products across Unilever’s portfolio to naturally boost levels of certain calming neurotransmitters in the gut, improving mental well-being.
Carla Hilhorst, executive vice president R&D Foods & Refreshment at Unilever, said, “More than 70% of consumers are concerned that stress and anxiety are having an impact on their health. In turn, consumers are increasingly seeking food and drink products that can positively impact their overall health and mental well-being. Through our partnership with Holobiome, we look forward to understanding more about the way ingredients interact with the gut microbiome. This research offers exciting opportunities for our future food and drink formulations enabling us to deliver drinkshier products boldly.”
Philip Strandwitz, Holobiome, chief executive officer and co-founder, said, “Everyone knows the saying ‘You are what you eat’. The microbiome is an important part of that relationship, and it appears to impact nearly every aspect of our biology. As such, it’s important to understand how the food we eat influences our microbial passengers and the important functions they perform.”
“If we can map this out at an individual ingredient level, there’s an opportunity to make more informed dietary choices and improve health via multiple marketplaces. Our platform – powered by our Human Microbiome Atlas, which contains nearly all known gut microbiome members – allows us to make this map for specific functions related to the gut-brain axis. We’re excited to work with Unilever and help explore the future of food.”
The screening process will seek ingredients that have a prebiotic potential. Prebiotics are food for the beneficial microbes that live in the gut. Many ingredients used in Unilever’s products, such as dietary fibers and some polyphenols, are classified as prebiotics. This research is expected to continue over the next year, with findings expected by the end of 2022.