A new kind of probiotic could change the $38 billion market by relying on real science — and Cameron Diaz and Peter Thiel are into it

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  • 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 scientific advisory board includes 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.

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 is slated to launch this week 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

abs situps workout fitness exercise woman gym sit upsFor 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 even provide any measurable benefits to our overall health at all. That’s because 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 a new kind of supplement could change that.

Synbiotics are the future of the probiotics industry

prescription-pills-medicine-in-handSeed’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 two 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 using a 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.

In 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).

The final product — capsules that are designed to be taken three times a day — 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 studies suggested were the most closely linked with measurable health outcomes.

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.

That promising result could mean that someone taking Seed’s supplement might see moderate cholesterol benefits, but that effect is still untested for Seed’s final product.

Seed aims to finish its own clinical trials on the product this month, Katz said.

"We’re really aiming to raise the bar of how the scientific process is done," he said.

SEE ALSO: Why a pill with barely any health benefits could be the ‘most important’ new supplement in 20 years

DON’T MISS: The $37 billion supplement industry is barely regulated — and it’s allowing dangerous products to slip through the cracks

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