Unilever has partnered with the gut microbiome experts at Holobiome to identify food and drink ingredients that could have a positive impact on mental wellbeing by targeting the gut-brain axis.

“There is increasing awareness of the importance of the gut microbiome – the trillions of microbes that live inside us – and the critical role it plays in our overall health and wellbeing,” according to Unilever. “Many scientists now consider the gut microbiome an essential organ with 70% of the immune system existing in the gut1, and 90% of the body’s mood elevating serotonin produced there.”

The gut-brain axis allows communication between the gastrointestinal tract, the microbes within it, and the brain. A major driver of this communication is the exchange of chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters and their precursors; these neurotransmitters can have a stimulatory or calming effect on the body. Using its discovery platform to map the microbiome and its influences, Holobiome has identified key bacteria that appear to communicate to the brain via neurotransmitter signaling in the gut.

Unilever and Holobiome’s research partnership aims to identify specific food ingredients that interact with these key bacteria. The long-term ambition is to enhance these ingredients in certain foods and refreshment products across Unilever’s portfolio to naturally boost levels of certain calming neurotransmitters in the gut, in turn improving mental wellbeing.