Consumers all around the world are looking for and using products that help to protect them from health issues and strengthen their immune systems as they age. Reportlinker.com reported that the nutraceuticals market worldwide is projected to grow by more than USD 135 billion by 2025, with functional food and beverage products growing at nearly eight percent annually.
Nutraceutical is used to describe medicinally or nutritionally functional foods. Examples of nutraceuticals are daily natural food products like yoghurts, dairy products and breakfast cereals. They also include antioxidants, dietary supplements, vitamins and minerals.
Mintel reports that 41 percent of American consumers aged 35-44 are interested in beverage products that claim to boost the immune system, while 45 percent of Chinese consumers aged 55-74 who have preexisting health issues are eating healthier to improve their immune systems.
As such, many companies are focused on developing food and beverage products that help to boost immunity across all ages, from infants to the older generations. Micronutrients like vitamins A and C and zinc are some of the more common ingredients used in these products. Many supplements also offer immunity and digestive health benefits through probiotics and postbiotics. Others are expanding into botanicals using traditional and ancient medicines, which have natural and holistic healing attributes.
To formulate the right products for consumers, these companies need to consider several key things:
There are various factors affecting immunity. These include age, poor diet, excessive consumption of sugar and processed food, stress, inadequate sleep and lack of physical exercise.
Some products target parents with immunity-boosting products for kids, particularly infants who are highly susceptible to infections and diseases. Receiving the right nutrition at an early age is vital to building a strong immune system and to promoting health, growth and development.
Other examples include probiotics for pregnant women that help build the immunity of infants through the intestinal microbiome and zinc for children’s body resistance. Immunity-boosting micronutrients that contain zinc, magnesium and selenium, as well as vitamins of groups B, C, A and E and which help to reduce tiredness and improve appetite, sleep and body resistance, also play a vital role for seniors.
Consumers are becoming more aware of the importance and benefits of a healthy gut. In the United Kingdom, 66 percent of consumers believe that looking after their gut health is essential to overall wellness. Around 70 percent of the immune system is in the gut and gut bacteria helps immune system cells to develop, teaching the cells the difference between an antigen (an important factor of chronic inflammatory disorders), autoimmunity, infections and the body's cells and tissues.
While each person's gut microbiota is unique, the most influential factor for a healthy gut is environmental, including diet: supplements that help to improve the probiotic environment and food and beverage formulations containing probiotics, fermentation and prebiotics that improve wellness.
According to the Synthetic and Systems Biotechnology Journal, the consumption of probiotics significantly reduces the incidence of upper respiratory infection and flu-like symptoms. As such, brands are starting to explore the functional benefits of probiotics. For example, there is a new category of therapies for immune-mediated diseases using live human microbiome-derived bacteria.
According to Trends in Food Science & Technology, postbiotic is a term for metabolic byproducts or "beneficial waste products" of probiotic bacteria. Forms of postbiotics include organic acids or short-chain fatty acids, peptidoglycans and polysaccharides.
These bacteria, produced in our digestive tracts, could be key regulators of gastrointestinal health and could help to decrease inflammation and boost immunity. Mostly applied commercially in personal care products, postbiotics are now rapidly appearing in pharmaceutical and functional food and beverage products.
With consumers becoming more socially and environmentally conscious, they are also seeking out more products that use natural sources of nutrients like botanical substances for immunity such as ginger, camu-camu, elderberry and medicinal mushroom.
Botanical ingredients have long been used and are widely applied in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda as tonics for their immunity-boosting properties. Recently, companies have produced supplements formulated with echinacea extract to support acute respiratory tract infection, prevent flu, improve the immune system and promote respiratory system health.
A classical choice of botanical ingredient is turmeric standardized for curcuminoids. Turmeric aids in making our immunity stronger owing to the presence of curcumin which contains healing properties. However, because of the low percentage levels in standardized turmeric powder, it is difficult to reap all benefits by merely taking turmeric in small doses; that is why supplements are required.
Turmeric’s anti-inflammatory qualities help to ease cough and cold as well as act as a remedy for upper respiratory problems. It also boosts immunity, reduces symptoms and provides relief by suppressing inflammation and inhibiting viral replication, which is why it is highly valued as a natural resource in the wake of the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic.
Another popular ingredient is the sweet and sour elderberry fruit, particularly Sambucus nigra (commonly known as European elder) which has been used for centuries to fight upper-respiratory infections, supply the body with antioxidants and boost immunity in the form of teas and syrups. It is packed with vitamin C, dietary fiber and antioxidants in the form of phenolic acids, flavonols and anthocyanins.
Other companies have launched products containing maca, which provides natural energy, mental agility and bodily resistance. For example, the use of the Reishi mushroom is rapidly on the rise due to its ability to support healthy immune function and aid the body's response to stress.
My colleague Ramon J. Viñas had previously shared his views on how businesses can source for functional ingredients for nutraceutical products. You can read more of this interesting insight at How to responsibly source functional ingredients for nutraceutical products
Reach out to me if you are considering working with an experienced business partner for market-nutraceuticals solutions.
Tanja Schaffer is a doctor in chemistry, based in Switzerland. She is currently responsible for DKSH’s Business Line Pharmaceutical Industry globally (excluding Japan).