- Seed, a new company with some big names behind it, is about to break into the $38-billion probiotics industry.
- They aim to rely on real science to create their product, a probiotic designed to support the vibrant ecosystem of bacteria in your gut.
- Seed’s chief scientific officer is a microbiologist who chaired the World Health Organization panel that first defined the term “probiotics.”
- Investors include actors Cameron Diaz and Jessica Biel as well as entrepreneur Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund.
Seed, a new company with some big names behind it, is about to sprout onto the $38-billion probiotics scene – with a product that is designed to improve your digestion and health based on scientific research.
As supplements, probiotics are largely unregulated by the US Food and Drug Administration. That means that most of them don’t have any proven scientific results.
Seed aims to be different.
Backed by Cameron Diaz, Jessica Biel, Karlie Kloss, and Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, Seed launched today with a probiotic that is informed by peer-reviewed scientific research. The product’s ingredients were selected based on results of clinical trials.
The company is being steered by a team of scientists who study the microbiome, the delicate ecosystem of bacteria blossoming in our gut. Probiotics are meant to foster that ecosystem.
Ara Katz, one of Seed’s co-founders and CEOs, told Business Insider that the company wants to “improve the standards of probiotics and bridge microbiome science – not the commercialization and the dilution of the term, but actually reclaim the term ‘probiotics’ for science.”
Still, Seed’s probiotics are not drugs. As such, they cannot make claims to treat or prevent any condition or disease. But they can claim to improve overall health – which the probiotics industry thus far has largely failed to demonstrate it can do.
Here’s what to know about the new supplements and what they may be able to do for you.
Other probiotics likely never make it to your gut
For years, pricey pills that claim to improve digestion and wellness by fostering the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut have dominated the supplement scene. Probiotics are a big business, with a market that some analysts have said could rake in $64 billion in ingredient sales over the next four years.
But while the probiotic industry has boomed, the bacteria in our guts have failed to respond in kind.
Most scientific studies suggest the pills do very little to help our stomachs and may not provide any measurable benefits to overall health. That may be at least partially a result of the fact that very few of the beneficial bacteria in the supplements make it to our guts or stick around long enough to have an effect, Ian Orme, a professor of microbiology at Colorado State University, told Business Insider.
But an even bigger problem is that many probiotics don’t do much as they’re passing through your gut either.
“These are generic strains with limited benefits,” Raja Dhir, Seed’s other co-founder and CEO, told Business Insider.
A new kind of supplement could change that. Besides being designed to actually arrive where they’re supposed to, these supplements may work some of their magic as they’re passing through your digestive tract. Dhir said his team selected specific strains based on clinical trials tying them to specific benefits.
Synbiotics are the future of the probiotics industry
Seed’s supplement isn’t just a probiotic.
It’s a synbiotic, meaning that in addition to beneficial bacteria, it includes another ingredient called a prebiotic.
Prebiotics are designed to keep helpful microbes alive. The combination of the pre- and the pro-biotic is synergistic, meaning each ingredient is designed to enhance the other’s effect – hence the term syn-biotic.
Studies suggest that synbiotics accomplish their goal with a basic one-two punch: while the probiotic settles in and pushes out the “bad” bacteria, the prebiotic – essentially a sugar – acts as its food supply, ensuring the supplement sticks around and does its job.
“There’s kind of a notion that it’s two products in one,” Katz told Business Insider of Seed’s supplement.
More than that, however, the combination of the pre- and pro-biotic appear to be better suited to enable your gut to break down the ingredients in the probiotic into smaller, more beneficial pieces. That is something that some studies suggest could enable them to produce real results, whether they establish a semi-permanent home in your gut or merely pass through it regularly.
“Some specific strains of probiotics exert their benefits as what we call “transient passengers” in the gut,” Dhir said. “They don’t colonize, but there are benefits associated with them.”
That may be true, some studies indicate – so long as people take the supplements regularly. Seed’s capsules are designed to be taken as one capsule, three times a day.
For the first large-scale clinical trial of synbiotics last year, researchers working in rural India found that newborns who were given a synbiotic were at a substantially lower risk of developing sepsis, a potentially fatal condition characterized by severe infection.
Some small studies have suggested that synbiotics could provide benefits related to a range of other conditions influenced by the gut microbiome as well, including obesity, diabetes, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. But the FDA has yet to approve any drugs made using those ingredients.
Still, Gregor Reid, Seed’s chief scientific officer and a microbiologist at Canada’s Western University, believes the company is onto something.
“I started on this journey over 35 years ago when people laughed at the idea of probiotics,” said Reid, who chaired the United Nations and World Health Organization panel that first defined the term.
“It’s been a long journey but I think it’s exciting that all our work on the microbiome has led to this step. This really is the next phase of probiotics,” he added.
The science that went into Seed and future directions for the company
Before coming up with an ingredient list, Seed’s team looked at several peer-reviewed studies on strains of bacteria and kinds of prebiotics (the “food” for that bacteria).
Their final product reflects that work, Katz told Business Insider.
The company’s prebiotics are sourced from Scandinavian pine bark, Indian pomegranate skin, and a special type of mushroom. Its bacterial strains are the ones that several studies suggested were the most closely linked with measurable health outcomes – such as improvements in cholesterol and improved digestion.
One of those studies, published last year in the journal PLOS One, suggested that taking one of the strains of bacteria in Seed’s product was linked with reductions in LDL or “bad” cholesterol and increases in HDL or “good” cholesterol.
Another study published in 2010 in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology suggested that taking another strain of bacteria (also selected for inclusion in Seed’s final product) was tied to a reduction in unpleasant digestive symptoms like constipation and hard stools.
Those promising results could mean that someone taking Seed’s supplement might see moderate cholesterol and digestive benefits, but that effect is still untested for Seed’s final product.
Seed aims to finish its own clinical trials on their product this month, Katz said.
“We’re really aiming to raise the bar of how the scientific process is done,” she said.