The future of immune health post-pandemic

The pandemic has brought the topic of immune defence into sharp focus. Many consumers are increasingly turning to functional foods and dietary supplements that help support the body’s own defences.

Eight manufacturers share their thoughts about the challenges and innovation potential they foresee in the “Immune Health” segment.

Doctor immunity
Due to the pandemic, the nutraceuticals industry has been seeing increased and ongoing demand in this category, as consumers have been reflecting on their health

Maryanne Mburu – senior key account manager – AstaReal

1.         How do you envisage the development of the immune health market? What role has the coronavirus crisis played in that?

In the past, sales of immune health products tended to peak during the traditional cold and flu season. But due to the pandemic, the nutraceuticals industry has been seeing increased and ongoing demand in this category, as consumers have been reflecting on their health. The demand for combined formulations with multiple benefits, and growing consumer awareness of the advantages of supplements that support the immune system, will further fuel the market.

2.         What challenges does the market face?

There are more products with immune health claims entering the arena than ever before. So, the market is getting very competitive. At the same time, though, this presents an opportunity to stand out from the crowd with higher quality products offering special ingredients and innovative dosage forms. There is also the chance to tap into additional consumer needs such as plant-based and more sustainable products.

3.         What’s the potential for innovation in the immune health segment?

Companies should differentiate their products by using unique ingredients and delivery formats. For instance, AstaReal astaxanthin offers product developers a broad range of combination and dosage options. Whether in capsule, liquid shot, sachet or soft gum format, the possibilities for developing astaxanthin products for immune support are almost limitless. Plus, it can be combined with a broad range of other immune-enhancing ingredients, such as vitamin D or C, selenium, zinc, pro- and prebiotics or curcumin. In addition, microalgae-based astaxanthin aligns with the emerging plant-based immunity products trend.

4.         Which immune-specific ingredients does your company offer?

AstaReal natural astaxanthin provides immune health support and promotes a healthy inflammatory response. Astaxanthin is a naturally occurring carotenoid derived from the microalga Haematococcus pluvialis. With its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating properties, natural astaxanthin has a strong ability to both balance and strengthen the immune system.

5.         Is your ingredient supported by scientific studies?

AstaReal natural astaxanthin is backed by over 60 human clinical studies, covering indications such as skin health, vision, muscle performance, cognitive function, heart health and immune health. An uncontrolled immune response allows chronic inflammation to build up in the body. Natural astaxanthin has been shown to help significantly decrease the expression of pro-inflammatory markers, thus providing potent anti-inflammatory protection.1 In addition, astaxanthin is able to enhance the capacity of lymphocytes – cells that allow the body to remember previous invaders and help destroy them. Furthermore, individuals receiving astaxanthin demonstrated activity of natural killer cells that are predominantly involved in innate immunity.

References:

  1. Park, J.S., Chyun, J.H., Kim, Y.K. et al. Astaxanthin decreased oxidative stress and inflammation and enhanced immune response in humans. Nutr Metab (Lond) 7, 18 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1186/1743-7075-7-18
Boost your immune system
Many consumers are increasingly turning to functional foods and dietary supplements that help support the body’s own defences.

Annelore De Boe – product manager Functional Fibres BENEO

1.         How do you envisage the development of the immune health market? What role has the coronavirus crisis played in that?

For many consumers, immune health has thus far been a seasonal issue usually relating to classic flu season. Only for vulnerable groups or those aged 65+ has the body’s own defence mechanism been a year-round topic. But COVID-19 has changed all that, as a stable immune system has become an ongoing discussion across all age groups and sectors of society. According to a worldwide consumer survey by market analyst FMCG Gurus 2020, two-thirds of respondents said they are more conscious of their immune system because of the pandemic. 50% said they are supporting their defences through healthy eating, and one in ten is taking additional dietary supplements.

What is also new is that when it comes to healthy eating, many consumers are now taking a holistic approach. Whether through dietary supplements or functional food, they choose what suits their daily routine best and – in the case of food – combines health benefits with indulgence.

2.         What’s the potential for innovation in the immune health segment?

Consumers are better informed than ever about the inter-relationships in the human body. For example, the beneficial effect of a normal body weight is widely recognized, and also controlled and well balanced blood glucose levels are increasingly seen to play a role. Conversely, diseases such as diabetes and obesity are risk factors for severe progress of COVID-19. And consumers are also aware of how important digestive health is, as a recent analyses by market researchers from Health Focus International revealed: 75% of participants said the positive effect of a healthy intestine includes “general physical health”, with two out of three linking it to a “functioning immune system”.

There are thus promising opportunities for the industry in this area. Take digestive health as an example: Today, science knows much more about how the microbiome can influence both gut health and the immune system, as well as overall wellbeing. This is why one focus of BENEO’s R&D is on the human gut microbiome, and how it can be positively influenced. 

3.         Which immune-specific ingredients does your company offer?

Our prebiotic dietary fibre from chicory root, named on the ingredient list as inulin and oligofructose, has been proven to support good intestinal function. The intestine is the body’s largest contact surface with the outer world and houses 70% of our immune system.

The gut microbiome, the multitude of bacteria that colonise it, contains beneficial microorganisms such as Lactobacilli or Bifidobacteria, but also those that can be harmful if they gain the upper hand. The daily consumption of prebiotic dietary fibre provides beneficial bacterial in the intestine with their “favourite food”. Chicory root fibre, in particular, is an ideal food source for bifidobacteria.

Inulin and oligofructose are among the very few proven prebiotics by the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) and are currently the only established prebiotics derived from plants. They can be used in a variety of ways, from dairy products, dairy alternatives, cereals, baked goods and confectionery, to baby food and infant milk.

4.         Are your ingredients supported by scientific studies?

More than 40 human intervention studies have examined the selective growth of bifidobacteria by inulin and oligofructose. And several studies have confirmed the link between gut health and the body’s own defences: A scientific study with seniors undergoing treatment for a diarrhoeal illness showed that those receiving inulin or oligofructose on a daily basis had a lower recurrence rate, and required significantly less hospitalisation.1

In addition, a large-scale randomised control study involving more than 200 kindergarten children demonstrated improved immune responses. During the winter months, the children consumed prebiotic fibre from chicory root daily for six months. The result: the number of medically confirmed febrile infections decreased significantly, and there was a significant increase in bifidobacteria in the intestine.2 In addition, it was shown that with antibiotic therapy and simultaneous prebiotic fibre intake, the usual antibiotic-related disturbance of the intestinal flora was significantly reduced, and the number of bifidobacteria was significantly higher compared to the control group.3

5.         What challenges does the market face?

The pandemic has accelerated interest in healthy nutrition in general, with particular interest in products relating to gut health and immune defence. This trend looks set to continue – also post-pandemic. Our prebiotic dietary fibres are particularly in demand, as they fulfil several important consumer needs in terms of healthy nutrition. In order to meet the challenge of keeping up with this demand, and to reliably meet the increased need for prebiotic dietary fibres in the future, BENEO has invested more than EUR 50 million in its plant in Pemuco, Chile.

References:

1.         Lewis S, Burmeister S, Brazier J (2005) Effect of the prebiotic oligofructose on relapse of Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhea: a randomized, controlled study. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 3 (5): 442–448.

2.         Lohner S, Jakobik V, Mihályi K et al. (2018) Inulin-type fructan supplementation of 3 to 6 year-old children is associated with higher fecal bifidobacterium concentrations and fewer febrile episodes requiring medical attention. J Nutr 148(8): 1300–1308. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6074834/pdf/

3.         Soldi S, Vasileiadis S, Lohner S et al. (2019) Prebiotic supplementation over a cold season and during antibiotic treatment specifically modulates the gut microbiota composition of 3-6 year-old children. Benef Microbes 10(3): 253–263. https://www.wageningenacademic.com/doi/pdf/10.3920/BM2018.0116

Andrea Zangara – head of Scientific Communications & Marketing Euromed

1.         How do you envisage the development of the immune health market? What role has the coronavirus crisis played in that?

Until 2020, the immune health market was very much seasonally dependent, with sales peaks during autumn and winter – the classic time for colds and flu. But the coronavirus pandemic means people around the world are changing the way they view their health. Immunity is at the forefront of public consciousness like never before, and immune-supporting products are now booming all year round. Additionally, consumers are increasingly realising the importance of heart wellbeing to reduce the risk of mortality and viral morbidity, and are therefore taking a preventive approach to heart care. This is reflected in a spike in demand for cardiovascular health ingredients.

2.         What challenges does the market face?

The pandemic has fuelled two things: increasing consumer demand for safe and effective botanicals, along with raw material shortages due to logistical problems. This opens the door for counterfeit material to enter the supply chain, meaning adulteration has become an even more important concern than before the crisis. Full traceability is a key tool of the industry to prevent adulteration and guarantee quality. For this reason, suppliers should have an integrated supply chain in place, where each step – starting with the raw materials – is traceable and accountable.

3.         Which immune-specific ingredients does your company offer?

We offer a broad range of natural, pharmaceutical-grade botanical extracts. In terms of immune health, our portfolio includes standardised extracts that are able to directly modulate immune response – such as echinacea – and those that strengthen the body’s natural defences, such as ginseng and rhodiola. Euromed R&D is quickly responding to the increased demand for immunomodulating ingredients. Our labs are currently developing new items such as ashwagandha, astragalus, elderberry and other extracts. Gut microbiome health should not be underestimated either. For an efficient immune response, our Cynamed™ artichoke flower extract combines the traditional digestive and antioxidant properties of artichoke with the prebiotic activity of inulin, naturally present in the edible part of the plant. For cardiovascular health, a major predictor of COVID-19 outcome1, we offer pomegranate and olive fruit extracts Pomanox and Mediteanox.

4.         Are your ingredients supported by scientific studies?

Extracts of echinacea are traditionally used to support the body’s immune system, and prevent and treat infections. This is backed by a long history of research, which provides evidence for echinacea’s immune-enhancing2, antibacterial3 and antioxidant effects4, among others. The immune modulatory effects of adaptogens such as ginseng and rhodiola are also supported by traditional use and a large body of research5,6. Euromed’s artichoke extract has been shown to increase the production of beneficial Bifidobacteria in an in-vitro trial using the SHIME model (Simulator of the Human Intestinal Microbial Ecosystem) and therefore has strong prebiotic potential.7 Several published studies8-11 with Pomanox and Mediteanox confirm the well-known heart-healthy properties of pomegranate and olive polyphenols12-14, and a study investigated the cardiovascular properties of their combined administration to middle-aged people. After eight weeks of daily intake, participants initially showing altered, but asymptomatic endothelial functions and elevated levels of oxidized LDL cholesterol, displayed significant improvements in these early key markers of cardiovascular disease, compared to a placebo.15

5.         What’s the potential for innovation in the immune health segment?

There are still many plants that have not been adequately investigated for their active ingredients and potential. There are also well-known herbal extracts that may have unexplored immune potential. A noteworthy example is milk thistle: Euromed milk thistle extract has been extensively researched in clinical trials recently reviewed16, and showing liver support as the major indication for the extract. However, antiviral properties of its flavonoid component silibinin17 are now emerging too: a clinical study (SILCOVID19) is currently testing the therapeutic efficacy of Euromed-processed silibinin in the prevention of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) in patients hospitalized with COVID-1918. I think that there will be some further findings in the future on how we can better support our immune health with natural products, and through a more holistic and comprehensive approach. R&D in this area has great potential and we will definitely see promising new study results, and interesting product developments, over the next few years.

References:

1.         Guo T, et al. JAMA Cardiol 2020. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamacardio.2020.1017.

2.         Rehman J et al. Immunology Letters 68, 391-359 (1999).

3.         Thompson KD. Antiviral Research 39, 55-61 (1998).

4.         Hu C et al. J Agric Food Chem 48, 1466-1472 (2000).

5.         M. Riaz et al.Trends in Food Science & Technology 83 (2019) 12–301.

6.         Recio MC et al. Planta Med (2016) 82: 952–960.

7.         Van den Abbeele P et al. Nutrients. 2020 May 26;12(6).

8.         Ramirez-Tortosa C, et al. Antioxidants (2019), 8, 393.

9.         Vilahur G, et al. Rev Esp Cardiol (Engl Ed). (2015) 68(3):216-25.

10.       Stockton A, et al. EC Nutrition 2.4. (2015) 396-411.

11.       Stockton A, et al. J Nutr Sci. (2017) 6: e39.

12.       EFSA Journal 2011;9(4):2033.

13.       Aviram M, Rosenblat M. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:382763.

14.       Wang D, et al. Front Pharmacol. 2018 May 24;9:544.

15.       Quirós-Fernández R, et al. Nutrients (2019), 11, 640.

16.       Gillessen, A., Schmidt, H.HJ. Adv Ther 37, 1279–1301 (2020).

17.       Lovelace ES, et al. PLoS One. 2017; 12(2): e0171139.

18.       Bosch-Barrera, J et al. J. Clin. Med. 2020, 9, 1770.

Oliver Wolf – head of B2B Marketing (global) GELITA         

1.         How do you envisage the development of the immune health market? What role has the corona virus crisis played in that?

Regarding immune health, a trend could already be observed in the years prior to 2020. However, the corona pandemic has sparked even stronger market growth. Now, more than ever, people want to actively support their immune health, having become much more aware of its importance. This is fuelling sales of dietary supplements that promise beneficial effects on the immune system. It’s also why more and more manufacturers are trying to develop new product concepts to launch in this thriving market.

2.         What challenges does the market face?

There are already many ingredients and product concepts in the field of immune health. While this shows that demand is high, it can also make it difficult for new products to break into the market. That said, it’s safe to assume that the desire to protect oneself against infections will remain, even after the pandemic. This means people will continue to look for further ways to strengthen their immune system, and no doubt turn to innovative new offerings.

However, for consumers, the connection between immune health and collagen is still very new in this context. As a manufacturer of BCPs, we are therefore faced with the task of establishing an ingredient that is still relatively unknown in the field of immune health in what is, for us, a new market.

3.         Which immune-specific ingredients does your company offer?

With IMMUPEPT we have developed the first immune ingredient based on collagen peptides. These specific Bioactive Collagen Peptides (BCPs), are offered in two different variants: IMMUPEPT 25, for a positive effect on the skin barrier of defence, the extracellular matrix (ECM) and immune modulation; and IMMUPEPT 50, that additionally contains specific BCPs which support bone metabolism, and healthy bones are closely related to a healthy immune system.

Furthermore, these BCPs stimulate fibroblasts – the most abundant cells of the connective tissue – to produce collagenous fibres, which are not only the main structure-forming fibres of the ECM but also have an immunoregulatory function, in that they can help reduce inflammation.

In addition, the specific BCPs in IMMUPEPT 50 help support bone health by optimally regulating the metabolism of bone cells. Today, we know that there is a connection between bones and the immune system, not only because all immune cells originate from the bone marrow, but also because bone cells stimulate immune cells and vice-versa.

4.         Is your ingredient supported by scientific studies?

The effectiveness of the BCPs contained in IMMUPEPT has been scientifically confirmed. A variety of studies show that specific BCPs optimally regulate the metabolism of target connective tissue cells in the skin, bones and extracellular matrix, stimulating the biosynthesis of collagen and of several other immune-functioning ECM proteins.

New product-specific trials also indicate that the BCPs in IMMUPEPT have the potential to directly regulate key factors important for an effective immune response – inflammation, tissue damage, and oxidative stress – showing an immune-modulatory effect for IMMUPEPT.

5.         What’s the potential for innovation in the immune health segment?

Most products available in the field of immune health focus on vitamins and minerals. But in recent years, other ingredients have become increasingly important in this segment – one being collagen. While this protein has long been used in the area of joint health and beauty-from-within products, its importance in the context of immune health is now also being recognised, and a more “holistic” approach to this topic has been developed. That’s because many processes relevant to immune health also involve collagen-rich tissues, such as the skin, the extracellular matrix and the bones.

Jutta Schock – head of Marketing, GoodMills Innovation

1.         How do you envisage the development of the immune health market? What role has the coronavirus crisis played in that?

The immune health market has clearly been a winner during the crisis. Until now, the general population was primarily concerned with getting through seasonal waves of colds and flu – in other words, a classic autumn-winter issue. However, that has changed fundamentally since the outbreak of the pandemic, with immune health now a year-round topic across all age groups. I think strong immune defences will become increasingly important in the future too. Even if we eventually get coronavirus under control through sufficient vaccination and medication, we will be more mindful of how life can change so suddenly. From BSE to bird flu and swine flu, zoonoses are not a new phenomenon but never has one had such a deep impact on our lives, or our previous carefree attitude. I guess face masks will become an accepted utensil during the classic cold and flu season.

2.         What challenges does the market face?

The pandemic has caused the demand for immune strengthening solutions to seemingly grow day by day. It is therefore up to the industry to react quickly and commercialize efficiently. Being a solutions provider, customers can rely on our agility and versatility. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel – we have always worked on health-promoting ingredients. With our range of dietary fibres and innovative whole grain solutions, we target the heart of a strong immune system: a healthy gut. Pursuing a value-added approach for our customers, we focus on converting sound science into innovative concepts and easy to implement solutions.

3.         What’s the potential for innovation in the immune health segment?

I see great potential for the food industry because the moment a topic becomes uppermost in people’s minds, they start to look for a holistic solution – and that begins with nutrition. During lockdown, consumers have been doing more cooking and baking; in other words, paying closer attention to what they eat. However, this does not mean that the functional food sector is becoming less important – quite the reverse. Foods with health benefits relating to the immune system are a valuable nutritional boost for some and, for others, the ideal way to compensate for dietary deficiencies. After all, not everyone has become a passionate cook, and many people have found themselves turning to comfort food in those challenging times, such as sweets, ice cream and savoury nibbles.

When it comes to staples such as breakfast products or baked goods, consumers want added benefits in terms of immune health – as shown by a recent survey. Here, there are numerous possibilities, and we look forward to developing promising concepts and positionings with our customers. It’s also worth considering that so-called “sins” don’t necessarily have to be that bad after all. Just imagine convenience pizza that is additive-free, chips based on legumes that are higher in protein and nutrients, and chocolate cookies with less sugar and more fibre. We can achieve all this with our ingredients and thus contribute to a healthier diet.

4.         Which immune-specific ingredients does your company offer?

The portfolio of GoodMills Innovation is based on cereals and legumes, with the following ingredients particularly suitable for positioning in the area of immune health.

  • Wheat germ concentrate SpermidinEVO

SpermidinEVO is rich in spermidine – a natural substance that, according to recent research1,2, has a positive effect on autophagy, the self-cleaning process of cells. Spermidine thus plays a role in a healthy immune system and a slowing down of the ageing process. With sufficient dosage, health claims (EU) are also possible: folic acid allows a claim with regard to the immune system, and vitamin E a claim relating to cell protection.

  • Rutin X from Tartary buckwheat

The ingredient Rutin X, from the raw material tartary buckwheat, is rich in the trace element zinc and contains the bioflavonoid rutin in a quantity one hundred times higher than the more common buckwheat. Zinc has been proven to contribute to a functioning carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism, protects cells from oxidative stress and is also an important building block of the immune system. Rutin is an effective antioxidant too. In Asian medicine in particular, the secondary plant substance is believed to lower blood pressure and blood sugar. Depending on the dosage of Rutin X in baked goods and confectionery, pasta, dairy products or even fitness drinks, various zinc-related health claims (EU) can be made.

  • Fibre concentrate GOOD Fibres 10+1

GOOD Fibres 10+1 is a high-fibre compound from ten different sources, including cereals, vegetables and fruits. It therefore provides valuable food for the intestinal flora, which plays a key role in immune defence. Thanks to the special composition of the innovative product, EU health claims relating to the immune system and intestinal health are possible with sufficient dosage.

5.         Are your ingredients supported by scientific studies?

Our overriding goal is to combine health and enjoyment. And wherever possible, we want to enable our customers to make EU health claims. This means we create the opportunity for companies to perfectly position their end products so that consumers can quickly and easily understand the added health benefits. The Health Claims Regulation specifies which ‘immunity’ claims may be made for certain levels of specific ingredients. There are precise regulations and legal requirements as to what we as a company are allowed to say. Scientific recognition is provided by EFSA, the European Food Safety Authority.

References:

1.         Madeo, F et al. Spermidin in Health and Disease. Science, Jan 2018; Vol. 359, Issue 6374, Seite 410 (DOI:10.1126/science.aan2788).

2.         Kiechl, S et al. Higher spermidine intake is linked to lower mortality: a prospective population-based study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; Aug 2018, Vol.108, Issue 2, Seiten 371-380.

Filip Van Hulle – senior manager Kaneka Pharma Europe

1.         How do you envisage the development of the immune health market? What role has the coronavirus crisis played in that?

The pandemic has taught everyone new things, such as wearing masks to protect against the virus. Yet nutrients are important for prevention too. Before COVID-19, the immune health market was mainly focused on flu season and children. But now people have learned that immunity is an important topic for all ages, all-year round. Consumers are reflecting on their wellbeing, taking more exercise and trying to live healthier lives. They are also searching for solutions to help improve their overall health. As a result, there is increasing interest in nutritional strategies that support several areas simultaneously, such as more energy, improved endurance, a healthy heart, strong immune system and better mental wellbeing, particularly during these challenging times. The micronutrient ubiquinol targets all of these areas.

2.         What challenges does the market face?

Traditional immune-related ingredients such as vitamin C, D or zinc are well established and known to consumers. They hold a big market share, which can be challenging for new product development. Another challenge may be that while some products are permitted to carry immunity health claims at low doses of a specific ingredient, larger doses are actually needed to show an effect.

3.         What’s the potential for innovation in the immune health segment?

While science does not yet know everything about immunity, it’s accepted that it plays a role throughout the entire body. Therefore, it seems logical that support should come from nutrients that are active in the whole body too. The pandemic has also shown that consumers want to learn more about immune health and how best to support it. Brands can use this engagement to shape their products and communication in favour of science-backed solutions. They can create premium dietary supplements containing value-added specialty ingredients. Nutrients such as Kaneka Ubiquinol™ that are backed by scientific research will appeal to health-conscious shoppers looking for additional immunity benefits. In addition, consumers are eager for products that combine a number of benefits in one package. Immune support definitely relies on more than one nutrient. The versatility of ubiquinol means it can be combined with numerous other ingredients, such as vitamins, minerals or natural extracts – e.g. a combination of ubiquinol with vitamin C seems to work well. Many people with COVID-19 have problems with their lungs. If lungs are ‘attacked’ by harmful environmental influences or pathogens, the body’s own antioxidants – vitamin C and ubiquinol – are the first to be impacted. So the synergy between both nutrients could lead to better lung protection.

4.         Which immune-specific ingredients does your company offer?

Ubiquinol is the directly active form of coenzyme Q10, and plays a crucial role in cellular energy production. The tissues and cells involved in immune function have significant energy needs and therefore require a substantial supply of ubiquinol. As we age, our ubiquinol levels have been shown to decline. Supplementation with Kaneka Ubiquinol can bridge that gap.

5.         Is your ingredient supported by scientific studies?

Numerous studies confirm that Kaneka Ubiquinol has a significant impact on supporting immunity. Researchers found that people with influenza had far less ubiquinol in their body than healthy people.1 This was confirmed across three influenza seasons. We can thus assume that the body needs ubiquinol to protect itself. It is also known that influenza virus-induced dysregulation of the inflammatory response, commonly known as the ‘cytokine storm’, can significantly contribute to morbidity and mortality. Ubiquinol is able to attenuate markers of inflammation and down-regulate pro-inflammatory signalling. Since there seems to be a link between healthy ageing and good immunity, antioxidants such as ubiquinol could be helpful for people of all ages. Plus, the stronger the immune system, the better the vaccination will work.

References:

  1. Chase M. et al.: Coenzyme Q10 in acute influenza. Influenza Other Respir Viruses. 2019 Jan; 13(1): 64–70. doi: 10.1111/irv.12608

Michel Burla – CEO Nutriswiss AG

1.         How do you envisage the development of the immune health market? What role has the coronavirus crisis played in that?

The pandemic and the first reports of a possible vitamin D deficiency in the deceased victims made the general public more aware of the issue. At the same time, many people who had not previously paid much attention to strengthening their immune system became increasingly conscious about the fragility of their own health. Earlier recommendations had tended to be of a general nature, such as a eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of exercise and sufficient sleep, etc.

The market has responded to the pandemic but is still fragmented. The immune health segment includes numerous supplements, such as vitamins, minerals, plant extracts, probiotics, amino acids and omega-3 fatty acids, and dosage forms including capsules, tablets, sticks and liquids or solutions. Depending on the source information, the global market is estimated to be worth around US$20 billion with growth in the high single digits.

2.         What challenges does the market face?

There is still significant uncertainty. Health supplements cannot always compensate or cure lifestyle-associated deficiencies; it is simply not possible to ignore the fundamental requirements of a balanced diet, exercise and sleep. The measures taken to cope with the pandemic in many countries tend to add to the stress that has a negative effect on the immune system. The closure of sports facilities, gyms and restaurants, combined with worries about jobs and loved ones, cannot be counteracted by a plant extract. At the same time, products that have been forced to market too quickly create exaggerated — and unsubstantiated — expectations that further unsettle consumers. Concepts and products that address the long-term needs of an aging, increasingly health-conscious population, by contrast, will still be in demand after the crisis.

3.         What’s the potential for innovation in the immune health segment?

The immune health segment offers great potential, particularly in the area of omega-3 products. Before the pandemic, omega-3 was in demand as an ingredient with a recognised effect on the immune system, especially in infant formulas; now, there is growing demand for similarly enriched functional foods for adults. On the one hand, omega-3 fatty acids activate immune cells such as neutrophil granulocytes, macrophages and killer cells.1 On the other hand, mediator molecules such as prostaglandins are also triggered, subsequently bringing the immune system into a state of greater readiness.

4.         Which immune-specific ingredients does your company offer?

Nutriswiss AG specialises in refining and enhancing superior-quality oils that are characterised by a high degree of purity; as such, they are in great demand in both the food and pharmaceutical industries. In terms of their effect on the immune system, omega-3 fatty acids play an important role, but so do fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins C, A and E (tocopherol).

Preserving the important micronutrients and simultaneously eradicating harmful substances from the oils is our core competence. Only last year, we established a new short-path distillation (SPD) technology in our plant to purify crude oils. It’s particularly gentle, effective and subjects the raw materials to minimal thermal stress. Given that the focus of numerous orders is now optimizing the omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid ratios, as well as enriching the final product with other micronutrients, SPD enables us to produce high-purity blends with completely neutral sensory properties that meet the very specific requirements of our customers.

5.         Are your ingredients supported by scientific studies?

The coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing quest for an effective therapy has also given a boost to omega-3 fatty acid research. In December 2020, for example, a scientific review paper was published that discussed the possible antiviral effect of supplementation with the polyunsaturated fatty acids EPA and DHA against COVID-19.2 It was suggested that omega-3 maintains the functionality of cell membranes, specifically activates immune cells and plays an important role in the inflammatory processes of immune defence. These essential fatty acids also inhibit viral replication by inducing the production of interferon.3 The author of the study concluded that supplementation may be useful both prophylactically in at-risk groups and in affected individuals.

References:

1,2.      Hathaway D, Pandav K, Patel M, et al. Omega 3 Fatty Acids and COVID-19: A Comprehensive Review. Infect Chemother. 2020;52(4):478-495.

3.         Eslamloo K, Xue X, Hall JR, Smith NC, Caballero-Solares A, Parrish CC, Taylor RG, Rise ML. Transcriptome profiling of antiviral immune and dietary fatty acid dependent responses of Atlantic salmon macrophage-like cells. BMC Genomics. 2017;18:706.

Laura Ingenlath – quality manager Taiyo GmbH

1.         How do you envisage the development of the immune health market? What role has the coronavirus crisis played in that?

Most people are aware of the importance of a well-developed and fully functional immune system to defend against and fight diseases. As such, many more consumers are now focusing on a health-oriented lifestyle that will strengthen their immune system for both the present and the future. At Taiyo, we are already feeling the increasing demand, especially for our 100% natural dietary fiber Sunfiber. As a water-soluble fiber, it supports health-promoting bacteria at the intestinal mucosa — the inner lining of the intestinal tract —and improves their ability to defend against pathogenic invaders. These “good” bacteria also promote the production of immunoglobulins and antibodies. It is known that many COVID-19 patients suffer from gastrointestinal problems. More than 50% experience digestive discomfort and about 47% suffer from digestive and pulmonary disorders (Pan et al. 2020). Dietary fiber, which increases the diversity of intestinal bacteria, can strengthen the human immune system.

2.         What challenges does the market face?

For manufacturers, the supply chain is becoming even more important than before. Wherever a market delivers profits, counterfeiters are not far behind, and this is especially true for tea and tea extracts. Taiyo has therefore developed an “Adulteration Free” campaign that ensures that our green tea extracts are 100% natural and free from adulteration.

3.         What’s the potential for innovation in the immune health segment?

For consumers who do not want to take tablets or capsules to strengthen their immune system, hybrid beverages and functional foods offer a good alternative; and, from a manufacturer’s point of view, they offer great potential for innovation. Even soft drinks, bars or snacks that are perceived to have a rather “unhealthy image” gain added nutritional value when augmented with healthy ingredients. There is considerable work to be done, though; whereas natural and synthetic vitamin C are readily available, polyphenols cannot easily be synthesized. Owing to the immense importance of the gut for the immune system, microbiome-supporting ingredients and products are also gaining increasing significance. Taiyo, together with manufacturers in the relevant market segments, is developing innovative concepts with natural polyphenols and dietary fiber to strengthen the gut.

4.         Which immune-specific ingredients does your company offer?

Nutrient delivery systems: In the event of an acute attack on our immune system, it needs more nutrients to generate energy for defense. With SunActive, Taiyo offers a patented, secured nutrient delivery system with high bioavailability based on micronized and microencapsulated minerals and enzymes (Q10, Mg, Zn, Fe). A special technology eliminates the metallic or soapy taste of the minerals. It also makes it less reactive to other product components and substances in the human body.

Antiviral and antibacterial polyphenols from plants, fruits, fruit extracts and tea: polyphenols are natural antibodies that suppress the adhesion and penetration of viruses and bacteria, protect against infections and inhibit the reproduction of germs in the body. The Taiyo product range includes, for example, SunAmla with polyphenols from the Indian amla fruit, SunCran Naturelle, a 100% natural organic cranberry juice powder combined with Sunfiber, Moringa Extract S (particularly rich in glucomoringin GMG), and catechin-rich Sunphenon/Teavigo from high-quality green tea leaves.

Water-soluble dietary fiber: Sunfiber is a partially hydrolyzed, tasteless, colorless and odorless dietary fiber from the guar bean (partly hydrolysed guar gum, PHGG) that has been shown to lower the glycemic index of a meal, promote mineral absorption and improve transit times. The ISO-certified fiber is also low FODMAP, making it tolerable for people with irritable bowel syndrome.

5.         Are your ingredients supported by scientific studies?

To stay with the fiber example, more than 150 studies have looked at the links between a high-fiber diet and the composition of the microbiome or the gut-lung connection. Taiyo’s Sunfiber (PHGG) was tested for its ability to be metabolized by bacterial strains, predominantly of the genera Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, in a yet-unpublished laboratory analysis from 2020. As a result, growth derived from Sunfiber as the sole carbohydrate source could be measured in all 19 strains of the two genera.

References:

1.         Pan, Lei; Mu, Mi; Yang, Pengcheng; Sun, Yu; Wang, Runsheng; Yan, Junhong et al. (2020): Clinical Characteristics of COVID-19 Patients With Digestive Symptoms in Hubei, China: A Descriptive, Cross-Sectional, Multicenter Study. In: The American Journal of Gastroenterology 115 (5), S. 766–773. DOI: 10.14309/ajg.0000000000000620.



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