Trusting the gut: Digestive aids grow in importance among consumers

As consumers grow more aware of the link between gut health and their overall health, digestive aids are becoming part of their daily routine.

Given that stress, poor eating habits, aging and lifestyle changes are the leading causes of mild to moderate gastrointestinal issues, it is no wonder consumers are turning to over-the-counter products in record numbers these days. 

In the past, digestive troubles were mainly linked to mature adults due to their aging gastrointestinal tract and side effects experienced from medications. Now, the highest self-reported incidence is mainly among millennials between the ages of 25 and 42 years old. More than three-quarters of these consumers said they experience digestive issues anywhere from daily to three times a week.


Medical professionals said considering the events of the past year they are not surprised that the number of people dealing with digestive issues is on the rise. Studies have found that nearly a third of consumers end up with gastrointestinal issues after dealing with stressful situations. Gender plays a role as well, with women reporting having significantly higher amounts of digestive issues, especially those between the ages of 18 and 34 years old. Children are also prone to experiencing digestive concerns, and studies show gas, indigestion and upset stomach are among the leading conditions kids complain about the most.

Antacids still are one of the primary products consumers turn to when heartburn strikes, but increasingly, consumers are turning to probiotic and prebiotic products to help relieve their digestive woes. Some are increasing their fiber intake via supplements and drinks, while others look to digestive enzymes for relief. Mordor Intelligence pegged the U.S. digestive aid market size at $2.9 billion in 2020, projecting annual growth of 6.9% through 2026. 

Changing market
While digestive issues are nothing new, Barbara Apps, digestive line product manager at Boiron, based in Newtown Square, Pa., said the stress brought about by the pandemic has compounded consumers’ digestive problems in the past year. Apps said prior to the pandemic, most Americans were already experiencing some level of digestive discomfort on a regular basis, but the pandemic took things to a level previously not seen.

“Consumers are experiencing a new change in their daily routines and coping with stress by reaching for comfort food, which tends to be high in fat and sugar,” Apps said. “Putting on weight, as many of us have during the quarantine, is a contributing factor to the rise in digestive issues being seen.”

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Jason Mitchell, CEO of Topeka, Kan.-based Probulin, said that anytime there is a phenomenon that creates a concern for immune health, consumers often look to supplemental tools to support their body and even their immune system. Mitchell said sales of vitamin C, elderberry and probiotics are among the top choices in the arsenal. Consumers are beginning to view probiotics as one of the essential everyday supplements they should take to support and maintain digestive and immune function, he said. That behavior is a departure from the past when most people who took probiotics did so only when their digestive system was out of balance.

“Time will tell if the past year alters how people use probiotics in the future and if these events created a desire to be more consistent about taking daily immune support,” Mitchell said.

With more people over consuming food and beverages, digestive aids are in higher demand than usual, said Louis Machin, managing director at Lifelab Health located in Coconut Creek, Fla. “At the same time, we are seeing interest in organic products increasing as consumers seek out healthier alternatives that are free of artificial colors, dyes and ingredients,” he said. “This, combined with supply chain challenges, has opened the door for lesser-known brands to be introduced to consumers.”

“Time will tell if the past year alters how people use probiotics in the future and if these events created a desire to be more consistent about taking daily immune support,”
Jason Mitchell, CEO of Probulin.

Andrea Burton, technical advisor at ADM Protexin in Doral, Fla., said the pandemic has served as a catalyst in helping consumers be more aware of the connection between their baseline health and the overall impact of the virus. Burton anticipated digestive health will continue to be a priority for consumers beyond the pandemic as more information becomes available linking gut health to one’s overall physical and mental well-being. 

“Given the connection between gut health and immunity, there is an expectation that post-COVID consumers will turn their attention to preventative measures they can take to improve their gut health,” Burton said. 

As new evidence comes to light on the correlation between the balance of bacteria in the gut and mental health conditions, interest in live bacteria supplements is expected to rise even more. ADM Protexin’s Bio-Kult Advanced was recently used in an Oxford study examining low mood. The double-blind placebo-controlled trial showed a 20% improvement in mood for those in the placebo group versus a 50% improvement in mood in those taking Bio-Kult. The probiotic group also reported a 50% improvement in their concentration.

Studies examining if live bacteria supplements can improve overall symptom severity in IBS patients also are underway.

a close up of a bottle

Along with digestive aides, immune support supplements have begun receiving attention as of late. As people are starting to travel and attend large events again, they are looking to provide their bodies with the essential vitamins it needs to have a strong immune response. According to Mike Frink, vice president of business development at Castle Rock, Colo.-based APAX USA, wellness shots are hot right now. The company currently markets the FeelGood Superfoods brand. “Consumers are not interested in another pill or capsule to take, and shots are a convenient way to add more nutrients to your diet. We are seeing many shoppers pick up wellness shots at the checkout counter because they can be enjoyed immediately for an instant, healthy boost,” Frink said.

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It is clear that a new shift in buying habits is emerging as consumers’ mindset regarding health care moves from being reactive to proactive, said Chuck Tacl, senior vice president of sales and business development at Mason Vitamins in Miami Lakes, Fla. Tacl said that as consumers continue to be educated about the benefits of preventative care, they are turning to dietary supplements, as well as food and beverages, to help achieve this. 

He said product forms such as gummies, stick packs and effervescent products are growing the fastest as consumers focus on addressing multiple aspects of their health, including digestion, immunity, sleep and mental health. “Consumers’ mentality today regarding their health and wellness is all about prevention,” Tacl said.

“Consumers are not interested in another pill or capsule to take, and shots are a convenient way to add more nutrients to your diet,”
Mike Frink, vice president of business development at Castle Rock.
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Not Just for Adults
Digestive products often target the needs of adult consumers, but increasingly the market for children-specific remedies has been expanding. Sara Hilliard, senior marketing director of Infirst Healthcare in Westport, Conn., said most products that address digestive symptoms are designed for either adults or infants, leaving a gap in pediatric digestive health care for kids between the ages of 2 to 11 years old. The company created its Mylicon product line to address this gap.

“The few children’s stomach remedies that have been on the market are limited to antacids and do not address the discomfort caused by gas and bloating. Many of these options are not all-in-one/multi-ingredient solutions,” Hilliard said. 

For infants, probiotics have become one of the fastest-growing segments in digestive health. Hilliard said more people are realizing that probiotics can be safely used in all stages of life to promote overall digestive health, support healthy immune function and replenish beneficial bacteria that can be depleted by antibiotic use. Additionally, Hilliard said there is scientific evidence that certain strains of probiotic bacteria can reduce the symptoms of colic.

Trending Now
The microbiota gut-brain axis continues to be a particular area of focus at ADM Protexin, with research ongoing into how the composition of the gut’s bacteria may influence mental health, cognition and neurodegeneration. The company recently introduced Bio-Kult Boosted, a combination of 14 strains of bacteria at a minimum concentration of 8 billion live microorganisms per capsule, plus vitamin B12, which contributes to the normal functioning of the immune system, normal psychological function, and the reduction of tiredness and fatigue.

Much of the growth in the digestive aid category is coming from consumers who are adding probiotics to their daily routine and experiencing meaningful benefits, said Probulin’s Mitchell. He said this interest is fueling researchers to explore additional applications and delivery forms. His company, for instance, has developed a topical probiotic extract that supports skin health. “We are nearing the point that a probiotic could someday become an essential nutrient with an assigned RDA value,” Mitchell said. “Research certainly supports the use of probiotics and how important they are.”

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“Given that 70% of our immune system resides in our gut, our digestive and immune health are intricately linked,” Mitchell said. Probulin’s newest product, Total Care Immune Probiotic, supercharges that connection by adding 100 mg of Eldermune (equivalent to 4,225 mg of whole elderberry) to a specially formulated blend of 10 probiotic strains. It is all encapsulated, with prebiotics and postbiotics, in Probulin’s MAKTrek 3-D probiotic delivery system.

FeelGood Superfoods recently introduced its Immune Support Shot. It is the first all-natural, vitamin-enhanced daily fruit and veggie shot designed specifically to improve and support the immune system. Frink said the FeelGood Immune Support Shot differs from other wellness shots because each ingredient was specifically chosen based on evidence-based medicine and/or support from clinical data. “It is an easy, convenient way to get more fruits and vegetables daily, plus essential vitamins for immune support,” he said. 

Bausch Health, based in Laval, Quebec, has introduced Envive, a daily probiotic supplement. Each capsule contains 12 billion CFUs of five clinically studied probiotic strains. In a four-week study, Envive was shown to reduce the frequency and severity of digestive issues, including diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating and discomfort in as little as two weeks when taken daily. The OTC product can be taken with or without food and does not need to be refrigerated. 

In a company-issued press release, Joseph Papa, chairman and CEO of Bausch Health, said Envive was introduced in response to an unfulfilled need identified in the market. As company officials noted, stress and diet choices, among other causes, can disrupt the healthy balance of good and bad bacteria. When this imbalance occurs, it can affect overall digestive health.

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Papa cited research which indicated that most Americans experience one or more digestive symptoms each week. “We specifically developed and clinically tested Envive to offer consumers a preservative-free, multi-strain probiotic designed to address the most commonly experienced GI symptoms,” Papa said in a statement.

a close up of a bottle

Offering digestive supplements in a variety of formats has been the approach of i-Health, makers of Culturelle. The company’s probiotic products come in various formats, including capsules, chewables, powders, liquid drops and gummies. The Cromwell, Conn.-based company also offers children’s and baby-specific probiotics, as well as a women’s-specific product. Company officials said it was important to offer its probiotic products in varying strengths that range from 10 to as much as 20 billion CFUs, so that consumers could best match their needs to the right product strength. 

Lifelab Health continues to innovate in the digestive space as well. Its most recent introduction, NuSyllium Ultra USDA certified organic fiber, is free of sugar and contains twice the psyllium fiber husk (7 g) per teaspoon as similar products on the market.

Avrio Health, based in Stamford, Conn., recently introduced two dietary supplements addressing digestive issues under their Senokot label. Its Laxative Gummies, which are made from the senna plant, now come in a blueberry pomegranate flavor. Avrio Health also launched Senokot Dietary Supplement Laxative Tea, made from organic senna and chamomile that offers overnight relief of occasional constipation.


Boiron’s homeopathic solutions, Acidil and Gasalia, meet a wide range of digestive health needs, including acid indigestion, gas, bloating and upset stomach. The convenient meltaway tablets are unflavored and require no food or water to take. “The tablets easily and discreetly melt in the mouth for digestive symptom relief whenever symptoms strike. They may also be taken before a meal containing a known trigger food,” Apps said. 

The newest member of the Boiron digestive line, Diaralia, is free of aspirin and can be used for both adults and children over 6 years old. “It is palatable for a child to take and there is no swallowing involved. For travelers, the hygienic packaging of the meltaway tablets in blister sleeves and portability is appealing,” Apps said.

Infirst Healthcare recently expanded its Mylicon line with an all-in-one antacid/antigas product for children as well as new probiotic drops for infants. Children’s Mylicon is the only pediatric tummy relief product that contains both calcium carbonate and simethicone for more complete all-in-one relief for kids. Available in a cherry-flavored chewable tablet, “Children’s Mylicon Tummy Relief for Kids works quickly to relieve upset tummies due to bloating, gas, discomfort from acid indigestion and overeating,” Hilliard said.

 Infants’ Mylicon Daily Probiotic Drops include one of the most researched strains of probiotics. In addition to promoting overall digestive health and supporting a healthy immune system, recent studies the company said recent studies show that daily supplementation with Infants’ Mylicon Probiotic Drops is effective over time in managing colic and reducing daily average crying/fussiness time by at least 50%.

Mason Vitamins supplies more than 19 different digestive health aid supplements in tablets, capsules, gummy and softgel forms. Most recently, the company introduced two digestive products, including Advanced Probiotic XI, which supports digestive and immune health with 30 billion CFUs from 11 probiotic strains. Mason also released an Ultra Plant Based Digestive Enzyme formula, featuring bromelain, lactase, papain and other enzymes that promote healthy, comfortable digestion by breaking down protein, starch and fats.