[Herald Interview] Microbiome key to personalized health supplements

While the human body is made up of about 30 trillion cells, the number of microorganisms, including bacteria, exceeds the number of cells to about 38 trillion, and they have a tremendous impact on our physical health.

With advanced technology, individuals will soon be able to analyze the genetic information of microbes in their gut to find personalized nutritional supplements with “optimal” effects, said Cho Yang-hee, vice president of Amway Korea, in an interview with The Korea Herald.

The microbiome, which is the genetic information of all the microorganisms and bacteria associated with the body, is key to judging which dietary supplements are best for your health, Cho said.

That’s why, in July 2020, Amway Global partnered with Holzapfel Effective Microbes, a South Korea-based company that researches microbiomes to develop personalized probiotics for gut health.

While everyone is born differently, and their races and hair colors vary too, human genes are still 99 percent the same. According to Wilhelm Holzapfel, an internationally renowned food microbiologist and Chief Technology Officer at HEM, who joined the interview, the microbiome make-up differs by around 80 percent for each individual.

“Even within a family, individuals have very different microbiomes,” said Holzapfel. “And microbiota (the microorganisms and bacteria) have a very profound impact on our health. It can affect our immune systems and even cognitive functions, ”he added.

Cho, who has a PhD in food engineering, explained how different each individual’s microbiome can be. When you draw on different colored papers with a red pen, the red might appear more purple on some papers and redder on others due to the paper’s different base coating, she said. “Microbiome is like the basecoat and that information is different for everyone.”

Good bacteria in the gut are desirable, but less so when one type dominates. Maintaining balance, or homeostasis, is paramount, said Holzapfel.

This led HEM to develop a technology called Pharmaceutical Meta-Analytical Screening (PMAS), which can be used to assess a person’s microbiome. HEM was founded in 2017 by Holzapfel and research professor Ji Yo-sep, both from Handong Global University in Pohang, South Korea.

As part of its Ohmygut service, HEM uses PMAS to extract gut microbiota from stool samples and replicate them to test what solutions are needed to transform gut microorganisms into healthy environments.

In collaboration with HEM, Amway aims to expand its range of personalized nutritional products that provide the “optimal” supplement for each individual, said Cho.

According to Holzapfel, his research company has collected data from about 2,000 Koreans and has been able to find recurring microbial patterns that they say can be divided into several categories based on their findings.

The South Korean dietary supplement industry has grown steadily to around 5 trillion won in 2020. That number is up 6.6 percent from last year, with interest in health and immunity growing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Personalization will be key for the industry at home and abroad, said the vice president of Amway Korea.

The trend is likely to gain traction in South Korea as well, as the government recently eased restrictions that allow companies to repackage existing products for dietary supplements that go on sale under certain conditions. It was previously not allowed for security reasons.

In a two-year regulatory sandbox program, the government authorized seven food companies, including Amway Korea, to sell repackaged nutritional supplements.

Amway Korea took advantage of the recent deregulation and introduced Nutrilite’s MyPacks, which contain personalized packages of Nutrilite’s nutritional supplements. Customers can take a quiz to find products that suit their needs and choose from different vitamin blends that target a range of functions, from increasing energy to reducing the effects of hangovers. Nutrilite is the company’s flagship nutritional supplement.

In the near future, Amway Korea plans to launch the microbiome assessment service along with its nutritional supplements, which will help maximize the effects of food intake.

Cho, who joined the direct selling company in 2006, described the industry here as very conservative and relatively slow to change.

“The Korean market is very conservative. Around 10 percent of the large local food companies have 90 percent of the market share here, and have been for decades, ”said Cho.

“This means that there hasn’t been a lot of competition, especially with global companies, and that the country is weak and slow for one on global agendas – clean labels, non-GMOs, and sustainability – that were on the discussion table long time in other markets. “

Amway Korea hopes to pave the way to bring such global trends to South Korea, Cho said.

“Virus outbreaks are more common these days. It is important for both government and food companies to continue educating and educating people about the importance of diet. “

By Jo He-rim ([email protected])

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