Formulating with Prebiotics to Support Mental Well-Being

Apr 20

Stress and mental well-being management have been key consumer issues for years. But, the pandemic has accentuated underlying concerns:

  • 46% of 26-35-year-olds and 42% of 36-45-year-olds actively want to improve their mental health1
  • 86% of consumers say they experience complaints such as feelings of stress, excessive worrying and the inability to relax2

Looking ahead, people all over the world will be wanting to recover and protect their futures by building more resilience. And, in a crowded and competitive market companies are looking for ways to stand out and innovate by offering new formats with emerging ingredients, such as prebiotics*.

In this article, we will explore how formulating with prebiotics* to support mental well-being can help you meet consumer trend demands. Plus, we’ve included links to the materials our customers have found most helpful as they look to develop new products.

But first, let’s get started with some common questions we hear when talking with food, drink and dietary supplement brands.

What is the Gut-Brain Axis?

The gut-brain axis is a communication network that connects the gut microbiota and the brain via a number of routes including the nervous system, endocrine (hormones) and immune pathways, and metabolites produced in the gut for bidirectional communication.3-7

Over the years, it has become clearer that aspects of overall health are greatly affected by the gut and microbiota composition. Research suggests that gut microbiota composition impacts aspects of brain health and mental well-being, such as stress management and ensuring a good night’s sleep.5,8-10 This is all thanks to the gut-brain axis.

Recently, the gut-brain axis has been a major topic of discussion, research, and consumer interest. Emerging science reveals that the gut-brain crosstalk is a complex communication system to monitor gut functions as well as to connect emotional and cognitive centers of the brain with the gut.11

The gut microbiota has an important role in influencing these interactions.3 In times of stress, the brain may influence the composition of the gut microbiota that may also be associated with gut motility and visceral pain—think of the times when you are nervous before a presentation or performance.

Vice versa, alterations in the gut microbiota can also affect the brain and mental well-being via several direct and indirect pathways.12 Some of these communication pathways are based on neurotransmitters, cytokines and hormones and gut microbiota-derived metabolites that can modulate neuronal signaling.10

And there is more to come from additional studies that will help to develop a deeper understanding of the relationship between the gut and the brain. If you need support in shaping your marketing story around the gut-brain axis, or making the right claims understandable to the consumer, the BiotisTM team can help.

What are prebiotics*?

Prebiotics* are substrates that are selectively utilized by host microorganisms, conferring a health benefit. In other words, they are food for beneficial microbes which can provide multiple positive knock-on effects for active consumers.

Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) are prebiotics* derived from bovine milk. GOS are a complex mixture of over 100 oligosaccharides13 derived from an enzymatic conversion of lactose from cow’s milk, and it is an incredibly versatile ingredient.

GOS have been used for fortification in many years, notably in infant nutrition, and have been shown to increase the relative abundance of Bifidobacteria14 in the gut. Via the gut-brain axis, higher levels of these beneficial bacteria suggest to provide brain health benefits in pre-clinical and clinical studies, including reduced stress and anxiety levels.15-18

What is BiotisTM GOS?

Biotis™ GOS, from FrieslandCampina Ingredients, is a dairy-derived prebiotic which has been shown to influence the balance of the gut microbiota14,15,19,20 producing beneficial effects on gut health20-22 and mental well-being.15

It is a versatile, stable, long shelf-life ingredient that’s easy to incorporate into all kinds of formats. It has a clean sensory profile and is available as a transparent syrup or white soluble powder. Its flavour is neutral to slightly sweet, allowing varied and many application possibilities.

How can BiotisTM GOS help support mental well-being?

The potential of GOS in tackling stress and anxiety is an emerging area of research. Two recent scientific papers explored how BiotisTM GOS may have a positive impact on what we eat and how we feel.

  1. A recent study found that the daily consumption of Biotis™ improved mental well-being and reduced anxiety levels, while also increasing the abundance of beneficial Bifidobacteria in the gut microbiome.15
  2. Follow-up analysis on nutrient intake found that the participants who consumed BiotisTM GOS over four weeks consumed less sugar,23 which may indicate a positive impact on dietary habits.

Read this article for a deep dive into these papers and to see a summary of the findings and their relevance for consumers.

What are common claims for stress products?

 Common claims for supplements supporting stress and anxiety include:

  • Manage/control/regulate stress
  • Support with stress
  • Anti/combat stress
  • Promote stress resilience
  • Helps with stress

The key ingredients used to make a stress and anxiety health claim in supplements include vitamin B6, magnesium and potassium. Therefore, for new formulations, consider combining these back-to-basics vitamins and minerals with emerging ingredients like GOS prebiotics*. BiotisTM GOS, for example, can easily be incorporated into many different kinds of dietary supplements and functional food and drink formats due to its acid and heat stability.

Formulating with this combination of ingredients not only adds a trusted appeal to new formulations but may also allow for additional health benefit claims about supporting stress and mental well-being.

What kinds of products can you formulate with BiotisTM GOS?

Biotis™ GOS is suitable for a range of application areas such as supplements, bars, shots, yoghurt drinks and other convenient formats.

When you start a discussion with us, we will work to understand your needs and what you would like to offer to your customers. From there, we will develop tailor-made concepts that open the window to what’s possible with BiotisTM. Here are a few examples that you can use for inspiration:

  • D-stress Sachets: Powder sachets containing BiotisTM GOS to help support the stress and mental well-being of consumers.
  • Re-lax Shot: An all-natural drink that supports consumers throughout the day by helping to maintain normal stress levels.

Our application expertise will not only inspire you but also help shorten your development time since you won’t need to start from scratch.

Products with Biotis ingredients

*Mockups: For inspiration only

Where Can I Learn More About BiotisTM GOS?

To help you develop dietary supplements and functional food and drinks to support the stress levels and mental well-being of adults, we’ve put together a list of the materials covering the insights and scientific research that our audience has found most helpful:

Do you have a question that we didn’t answer in this article? Get in touch with the team at

*The scientific definition of a prebiotic is “A substrate that is selectively utilized by host microorganisms conferring a health benefit.” Gibson, GR., et al. Expert consensus document: The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) consensus statement on the definition and scope of prebiotics. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2017 Aug;14(8): 491–502. Whether the claim prebiotic can be used on consumer products depends on local legislation.


  1. Innova, Lifestyle & Attitudes Survey, 2020
  2. FrieslandCampina research through Zinklar, Q4 2021 (5 countries, n= 3,550)
  3. Grenham S, Clarke G, Cryan JF, Dinan TG. Brain-gut-microbe communication in health and disease. Front Physiol. 2011 Dec 7;2:94.
  4. Grossman MI. Neural and hormonal regulation of gastrointestinal function: an overview. Annu Rev Physiol. 1979;41:27-33.
  5. Mayer EA, Knight R, Mazmanian SK, Cryan JF, Tillisch K. Gut microbes and the brain: paradigm shift in neuroscience. J Neurosci. 2014 Nov 12;34(46):15490-6.
  6. Bonaz B, Bazin T, Pellissier S. The Vagus Nerve at the Interface of the Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis. Front Neurosci. 2018 Feb 7;12:49.
  7. Hoyles L, Snelling T, Umlai UK, Nicholson JK, Carding SR, Glen RC, McArthur S. Microbiome-host systems interactions: protective effects of propionate upon the blood-brain barrier. Microbiome. 2018 Mar 21;6(1):55.
  8. Mayer EA. Gut feelings: the emerging biology of gut-brain communication. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2011 Jul 13;12(8):453-66.
  9. Turnbaugh PJ, Ridaura VK, Faith JJ, Rey FE, Knight R, Gordon JI. The effect of diet on the human gut microbiome: a metagenomic analysis in humanized gnotobiotic mice. Sci Transl Med. 2009 Nov 11;1(6):6ra14.
  10. Dinan TG, Stilling RM, Stanton C, Cryan JF. Collective unconscious: how gut microbes shape human behavior. J Psychiatr Res. 2015 Apr;63:1-9.
  11. Carabotti M, Scirocco A, Maselli MA, Severi C. The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems. Ann Gastroenterol. 2015 Apr-Jun;28(2):203-209.
  12. Montiel-Castro AJ, González-Cervantes RM, Bravo-Ruiseco G, Pacheco-López G. The microbiota-gut-brain axis: neurobehavioral correlates, health and sociality. Front Integr Neurosci. 2013 Oct 7;7:70.
  13. Logtenberg MJ, Donners KMH, Vink JCM, van Leeuwen SS, de Waard P, de Vos P, Schols HA. Touching the High Complexity of Prebiotic Vivinal Galacto-oligosaccharides Using Porous Graphitic Carbon Ultra-High-Performance Liquid Chromatography Coupled to Mass Spectrometry. J Agric Food Chem. 2020 Jul 22;68(29):7800-7808.
  14. Walton GE, van den Heuvel EG, Kosters MH, Rastall RA, Tuohy KM, Gibson GR. A randomised crossover study investigating the effects of galacto-oligosaccharides on the faecal microbiota in men and women over 50 years of age. Br J Nutr. 2012 May;107(10):1466-75.
  15. Johnstone N, Milesi C, Burn O, van den Bogert B, Nauta A, Hart K, Sowden P, Burnet PWJ, Cohen Kadosh K. Anxiolytic effects of a galacto-oligosaccharides prebiotic in healthy females (18-25 years) with corresponding changes in gut bacterial composition. Sci Rep. 2021 Apr 15;11(1):8302.
  16. Thompson RS, Vargas F, Dorrestein PC, Chichlowski M, Berg BM, Fleshner M. Dietary prebiotics alter novel microbial dependent fecal metabolites that improve sleep. Sci Rep. 2020 Mar 2;10(1):3848.
  17. Schmidt K, Cowen PJ, Harmer CJ, Tzortzis G, Errington S, Burnet PW. Prebiotic intake reduces the waking cortisol response and alters emotional bias in healthy volunteers. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2015 May;232(10):1793-801.
  18. Burokas A, Arboleya S, Moloney RD, Peterson VL, Murphy K, Clarke G, Stanton C, Dinan TG, Cryan JF. Targeting the Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis: Prebiotics Have Anxiolytic and Antidepressant-like Effects and Reverse the Impact of Chronic Stress in Mice. Biol Psychiatry. 2017 Oct 1;82(7):472-487.
  19. Ladirat SE, Schoterman MH, Rahaoui H, Mars M, Schuren FH, Gruppen H, Nauta A, Schols HA. Exploring the effects of galacto-oligosaccharides on the gut microbiota of healthy adults receiving amoxicillin treatment. Br J Nutr. 2014 Aug 28;112(4):536-46.
  20. Schoemaker MH, Hageman JHJ, Ten Haaf D, Hartog A, Scholtens PAMJ, Boekhorst J, Nauta A, Bos R. Prebiotic Galacto-Oligosaccharides Impact Stool Frequency and Fecal Microbiota in Self-Reported Constipated Adults: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Nutrients. 2022 Jan 12;14(2):309.
  21. Teuri U, Korpela R. Galacto-oligosaccharides relieve constipation in elderly people. Ann Nutr Metab. 1998;42(6):319-27.
  22. Sairanen U, Piirainen L, Nevala R, Korpela R. Yoghurt containing galacto-oligosaccharides, prunes and linseed reduces the severity of mild constipation in elderly subjects. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2007 Dec;61(12):1423-8.
  23. Johnstone N, Dart S, Knytl P, Nauta A, Hart K, Cohen Kadosh K. Nutrient Intake and Gut Microbial Genera Changes after a 4-Week Placebo Controlled Galacto-Oligosaccharides Intervention in Young Females. Nutrients. 2021 Dec 8;13(12):4384.
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