The firm said the product, Probi FerroSorb, offered a “new approach” for both probiotic products and deficiencies.
It focused on increasing uptake, not just intake of iron and this in turn could reduce side effects associated with high iron supplementation, it said.
The product is a combination of lactic acid bacteria lactobacillus plantarum 299v (LP299V), vitamin C, folic acid and a “carefully balanced amount” of iron.
The company also confirmed to us it had filed a 13.5 health claim, which it expected a response to by next year.
According to the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) register of questions, the claim reads: “Lactobacillus plantarum 299v increases non-heme iron absorption.”
Linda Neckmar, Probi’s director of consumer healthcare marketing and sales, said if successful the health claim would open up opportunities in Europe but otherwise the firm would “intensify medical marketing” and focus on exporting to the US and Asia.
The product will be officially launched in Sweden in February 2016 before being extended to other markets.
Neckmar said in a statement: “This will create an opportunity for continuous growth for the probiotic category.”
The announcement comes just weeks after the publication of a Probi-backed study in the British Journal of Nutrition, which suggested probiotics could increase iron absorption by around 50% from products fortified with bioavailable iron.
A total of 22 healthy women of reproductive age were given either fruit juice containing 5 mg of iron alone or an iron-fortified fruit juice with 109 or 1010 colony-forming units (CFUs) of Lactobacillus plantarum for four days.
Neckmar said women represented a significant market for the product given there susceptibility to iron deficiency and anaemia as well as their increasing familiarity with probiotics for other women's health issues like vaginal health.
However she said she did not want to limit probiotics to women’s health alone since iron deficiency affected such a wide range of people.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), two billion people – or more than 30% of the world’s population – are anaemic.
Much of this is due to iron deficiency and in resource-poor areas this is often exacerbated by conditions like malaria, HIV/AIDS, hookworm infestation, schistosomiasis and tuberculosis.
Reduced side effects
Neckmar said the company’s focus group had shown many cases of iron deficiency were going untreated because of the unpleasant side effects of taking high doses of iron.
The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) says side effects can include abdominal pain, constipation or diarrhoea, heartburn, nausea and black faeces.
Currently those who experience severe side effects may be prescribed ferrous gluconate instead. This supplement causes fewer side effects because it contains a less concentrated dose of iron but this also means it can take longer for iron levels to rise.
Neckmar said the increased absorption meant less iron was needed, which in turn could solve the issue of side effects for some.
This was the main point the firm was pushing, as opposed to reduction of constipation or diarrhoea through other gut health mechanisms traditionally explored by probiotics companies.