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Healdsburg company makes ‘food’ for the gut’s bacteria

A Healdsburg company wants you to take better care of the good bacteria living in your gut.

ISOThrive is the name of the business and of its flagship product, a “prebiotic” that aims to boost the growth of beneficial bacteria residing in the body’s lower digestive tract.

A prebioitic is distinct from a “probiotic,” which refers to live microorganisms intended to provide health benefits and found in such products as yogurt. One way to think about the difference is that prebiotics are food for the probiotics, said ISOThive co-founder and CEO Jack Oswald.

The beneficial bacteria “don’t have little battery packs,” Oswald said. “They need to be fed.”

A relatively small but growing group of Americans are consuming probiotics and prebiotics. Nearly 4 million adults used them in 2012, a four-fold increase in five years, according to the National Institutes of Health. Excluding vitamins and minerals, probiotics and prebiotics together that year were the third most common dietary supplement after fish oil/omega-3 fatty acids and glucosamine/chondroitin.

The human digestive tract contains 100 trillion bacterial cells, according to the Sacramento-based International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics, which contains both academic and industrial scientists. The bacteria, or “intestinal microbiota,” are important to health.

Prebiotics, the association reports, can improve digestive function, support the body’s natural defenses, improve mineral absorption and regulate energy balance and the desire to eat.

Prebiotics, including oligofructose and inulin, can be found in such foods as onions, garlic, bananas, chicory root and Jerusalem artichokes.

Other companies sell prebiotic supplements. But ISOThrive is the “first naturally fermented” prebiotic on the market, the company says.

ISOThrive provides a type of complex carbohydrate, maltosyl-iso-malto-oligosaccharides, which is found in such naturally fermented foods as kimchi and sauerkraut.

Fermentation was once an important method of food preservation, said Dr. Peter Swann, the company’s co-founder and chief medical officer.

But since the age of refrigeration, “people stopped eating fermented foods in any kind of quantity.”

Oswald and Swann started ISOThrive three years ago and in January released the supplement. It typically costs $39.99 for a 30-day supply and is sold mainly online.

ISOthrive has about 10 employees, with a research lab in Virginia and production at a contract manufacturing facility outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin. But the company is based in Healdsburg, Oswald said, “because I want to be here.”

Similarly, he said he helped found ISOThrive partly for personal reasons after seeing a significant improvement in his own health by adding fermented fibers to his diet.

“The only way I knew I could access it every day was to start a company,” Oswald said.

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 707-521-5285 or robert.digitale@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @rdigit

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