With immune response in a constant state of adaption, consumers’ interest in long-term, natural approaches to health holds open the door for growth in this strong category.
Though the function of our immune system may change throughout each of our life stages, one of the biggest things we can do to help us be well and stay well is to have the proper nutrition to ensure our immune system is ready when we need it the most.
Wisconsin-based Kerry’s Donald Cox, PhD, research and development director—Wellmune, noted that looking at three distinct life stages—childhood, active adulthood and aging—general immune health concerns can include:
1. Childhood: Children’s immune systems are still developing so colds and other health issues can become more abundant because their bodies have yet to recognize and immediately attack many of the viruses that can impact their health.
2. Active Adults: By the time we enter the adult stage of life, our immune systems’ have matured and have learned to fight off most major pathogens, whether through natural exposure or vaccination. If we lead healthy lifestyles and have decent genetics, our immune systems should be in a relatively strong responsive state. But a major health issue adults face is the suppression of the immune system due to physical and physiological stress levels. Stress may prematurely age the immune system and can enhance the risk of illness such as upper respiratory tract infection symptoms as well as age-related diseases.
3. Aging: As people age, the body produces fewer immune cells; the communication between cells breaks down and responses to health challenges diminishes. For seniors and aging populations, the slow decline of immune function can significantly impact overall health and vitality yet the desire for an active lifestyle remains the same. To combat this, older adults are aware of the importance of their immune health and its implications on the development of major health issues both short and long-term. Seniors need clinically proven support to help aid healthy aging by helping improve the overall effectiveness of key immune functions.
Susan J. Hewlings PhD, RD chief science officer IgY Nutrition in Oklahoma, also pointed out that defining what can cause problems with immune health is a difficult thing to quantify because potentially all health problems are connected to the immune system. “Immunity is not static but in a constant state of adaptation in response to environment, lifestyle and the bacterial balance of the gut microbiome,” she said. “It appears that dysbiosis is at the core of the majority of health related issues including diabetes, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis and more.”
And, although consumers seem to show more interest in supporting their immune health during the winter months, said Elodie Ruffin, probiotics marketing manager with Lesaffre Human Care, “it is worth noting that they are increasingly aware of the need to maintain a powerful immune system at all times in order to stay healthy year-round.”
Modern Society=Immune Health Issues
Megan DeStefano, probiotics global marketing leader with DuPont Nutrition & Health in Wisconsin, pointed out that chronic inflammatory diseases account for much of the health care burden of Western societies, and the U.S. is no exception. “In the United States, we spend more on health care, yet we have poorer health outcomes, with greater prevalence of chronic diseases and shorter life expectancy than other Western societies, such as the U.K. Among the list of most prevalent inflammation-related diseases in the U.S. are allergies and asthma, and inflammatory diseases of the bowel, such as Crohn’s disease and colitis. The underlying causes of the most prevalent diseases are related to our modern society and all the technological advances it provides. The alteration of our natural microbiome is recognized as one of the contributing factors to this current state.”
Pinning down exactly who are affected by poor immune systems prove difficult. Tim Hammond, vice president, sales and marketing with Bergstrom Nutrition in Washington, agreed that the number of Americans who have some slight immunological issues is relatively high, though no concrete numbers exist for concerns that are difficult to diagnose and rarely reported. The primary causes stem from chronic inflammation and stress-related factors. Chronic inflammation can arise from environmental factors like toxins or lack of physical activity, and from dietary factors like high levels of sugar or toxins. Stress itself, whether physical or psychological, has an immunosuppressing effect and is ubiquitous in the fast-paced American culture.
On a positive note, according to Cox, consumers are taking a long-term approach to their health, moving from reactive, short-term fixes to a more pro-active, preventative approach. He pointed to a Natural Marketing Institute report (2015), which stated 76 percent of U.S. consumers said that consuming healthy, nutritious foods is important in how they achieve a healthy lifestyle. We believe this is leading to an increased understanding that immune health is the foundation to overall wellness is leading to a growth in consumer demand for functional products across multiple market segments.
“Because of this, consumers are paying more attention to the nutritional value of the ingredients in their foods and are looking for safe, natural and effective products that help benefit their overall health and wellness,” he said. “Consumers such as children and families, athletes and active adults, and aging consumers are looking to boost their immune health through nutrition and functional products in ways that are more convenient and natural.”
Today’s increasingly health-focused consumers “are going back to the basics” when it comes to what they eat, according to Nielsen’s Global Health and Wellness report and the overall survey results confirm the trend by revealing that the most important health attributes influencing purchase decisions are: fresh, natural and minimally processed. “More and more people are indeed turning to products containing natural ingredients, not only for themselves but even more so for their offspring,” said Ruffin. “Indeed, every parent wants what’s best for their kids and natural ingredients are perceived to be healthier and safer than standard products, although a formal definition of the term ‘natural’ has yet to be issued by the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration).”
According to Euromonitor International, the American dietary supplements market targeting immune health has been consistently growing for several years (+9.5 percent CAGR between 2010 and 2015) and is estimated to be more than 1.5 billion dollars.
In addition, Euromonitor estimates global sales of healthy food and beverage products are to reach $1 trillion by 2017.
Gilbia Portela, marketing manager NutraQ AS in Norway, made note of the Euromonitor stats and also pointed out that U.S. consumers of dietary supplements are generally concerned about immune health. “In the U.S., immune health consistently appears in the top five health concerns of supplement users, according to the Council for Responsible Nutrition Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements [2013/2014],” she said.
This is increasing to the demand for immune health ingredients for functional foods, according to Mike Bush, president of Ohio-based Ganeden, executive board president of the International Probiotics Association. “The market for immune health ingredients continues to grow, especially in foods and beverages,” he said. “Overall health, including immune health, is becoming a large focus for consumers. A recent consumer survey shows that consumers want ingredients that support immune health in a variety of categories. For example, out of the respondents who did not typically purchase snacks, healthy consumers would be 34 percent more likely to purchase a snack product if it had immune benefits.”
Peter Agostino, vice president, product development with Florida-based Viva 5 Corporation, agreed and added that probiotics are the next wave of immune supplements. “It is now well established that 70 percent of the human immune system is tied to the gut. As our gut flora is tied to our body’s immunity, supplementing with probiotics helps bolster immune defense. Highly researched probiotic strains are becoming more popular in the category. Probi probiotics, for example, have more than 50 clinical studies attesting to their quality, safety and efficacy.”
Trends and News
Suppliers have named a number of trends they are seeing in the immune health category, such as a segmentation of the offering. “We are seeing more and more products targeting a specific portion of the population: seniors, children, athletes, travelers,” Ruffin observed. “Our immune health is constantly challenged through our daily lives and we are seeing the launch of products adapted to each of these occasions which could deplete our natural defenses. Innovative formats are also gaining grounds, such as gummies and a wide variety of functional foods and drinks, offering fun and creative alternatives to pills and powders.”
“The market has moved beyond straightforward vitamins and minerals associated with the immune system and into new products with benefits beyond addressing deficiencies,” added Hammond. “Consumers are looking for broader solutions to a complicated issue.”
At DuPont, DeStefano offered more trend insight. “We have seen the immune health category evolve from a reactive-only approach—‘I have a cold and need something to help me with my symptoms’—to also include a proactive approach to managing immune health— ‘help me stay healthy, so I don’t catch a cold.’”
She noted while consumers are spending more time proactively managing their health, they are also expanding the ways in which they think about health and wellness. “Consumers consider food and nutrition just one piece of the puzzle for maintaining immune health, they are also starting to consider stress management, sleep quality and other softer pieces of wellness, when considering their health management. To be successful, it will be important for food, beverage and supplement manufacturers to understand how their products fit within consumers’ ever-evolving definition of health and wellness.”
There are clearly strong trends in favor of natural immune health and rising sales in this category. However, there is still a gap between interest in functional foods and beverages and actual purchasing behavior. In a 2013 U.S. consumer study, 88 percent of consumers were interested in purchasing functional foods and beverages to “improve immune system,” but only 40 percent were actively purchasing in this area (Datamonitor, Health & Wellness Trends in Food & Drink, April 2013). “We believe this is why we have seen strong growth in immune health over the last few years and that there is still room for continued strong growth in this category,” DeStefano continued.
Ganeden has also seen a new focus on digestive health in connection with immune health, said Bush. “Seventy percent of the body’s immune cells are located in the digestive system—which means digestive health has an impact on immune health. The immune cells in your digestive tract share the space with over 400 species of naturally occurring bacteria—both helpful and harmful. Keeping a healthy level of the ‘good’ bacteria, or probiotics, is key to maintaining both digestive and immune health. Thanks to our patented and science-backed strain, GanedenBC30, consumers can now get their daily dose of probiotics through everyday foods and beverages (even outside of the refrigerated dairy category), without taking a pill.”
Ruffin, too, said Lesaffre is witnessing the rising popularity of functional foods and beverages among consumers who are looking to consume products offering a specific health benefit in order to achieve wellness through diet. “Indeed, functional foods commonly refer to foods which may have a positive effect on health extending beyond basic nutrition. Nowadays, strolling through the aisles of your favorite grocery store, it is not uncommon to see cereal bars and chocolate enriched in probiotics or specialty coffee designed to support the immune system, etc.”
According to Hewlings, the connection between dysbiosis and immunity and the role that pro and prebiotics can play in correcting dysbiosis and thereby improving immune function. In addition, the research indicating that 70-80 percent of the immune system originates in the GI (gastrointestinal) tract has changed the way we look at health.
“I think this scientific awareness has lead to the recognition that many of the lifestyle diseases are connected to obesity and dysbiosis and its effect on immunity and the associated inflammation,” Hewlings said. “Which in turn is connected to the concept that an unhealthy diet harms your short and long term health beyond just being overweight. The discovery of the role that the GI tract plays in lifestyle disease, immunity, inflammation, cognitive function, diabetes and so much more has advanced health and medicine and helped to change the way we look at disease. We no longer look at diseases as disconnected separate conditions, instead there is awareness in the medical community and now the mainstream that these diseases are connected and need to be addressed as such. Addressing GI tract health and any potential dysbiosis is the place to start in improving overall health that therefore automatically addresses the underlying cause of so many conditions. In addition to a healthy diet, pro and prebiotics help to correct dysbiosis.”
IgY Nutrition’s IgY Ma works along with probiotics in that it helps to change the composition and activity of the microbiome, according to Hewlings. IgY antibodies contained in IgY Max help the body eliminate only the harmful bacteria and leave the good microbes intact. IgY antibodies are antibodies from chicken eggs. They work by significantly reducing harmful bacterial adhesion and growth in the GI tract helping to minimize inflammation by decreasing cytokines and HSCRP.
Ingredient and Product Offerings
As Cox mentioned, consumers are looking for more convenient and natural products that are clinically proven to keep them healthy, daily. In the children’s category, gummies and ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages are big, he said. For example, Wellmune was recently incorporated in to two new dairy based products and a children’s gummy, Olly Kids Mighty Immunity, released by Olly at Target stores.
“In the sports nutrition market, we’ve typically seen products that focus on building muscle or fueling endurance, Cox added. “But clinical studies demonstrating the impact of high-intensity exercise on the immune system has athletes, coaches and nutritionists focusing on ways to help athletes stay well so training days and performance goals are not missed. We see an opportunity and trend for product manufactures to create innovative stand-alone or dual benefit products focused on immune health for athletes. These products can also have crossover appeal to recreational athletes eager to emulate the elite athletes they admire. Two new products with Wellmune highlight the demand for immune support for athletes, including: BodyShield Immunity Plus, by Healthspan Elite, a leading U.K. sports supplement company, and Gold Standard BCAA Train + Recover, by Optimum Nutrition, Inc., a leading sports nutrition manufacturer based in the U.S.
While Wellmune is a natural yeast beta 1,3/1,6 glucan, probiotics are also leading the charge in the category. Hewlings said, “There are the familiar ingredients such as vitamin C and zinc and echinacea, but vitamin D and elderberry have risen to the forefront. However, the top ingredient in the immune market is probiotics. Probiotic foods were a nearly $7 billion industry in 2013, according to NBJ, and is projected to jump to nearly $10 billion by 2018. The probiotics supplements market, which brought in approximately $1.2 billion in 2013, is expected to almost double in size by 2018.
DuPont’s ingredient offerings include HOWARU Protect Adult (Bl-04 Bifidobacterium lactis), a clinically documented probiotic solution that helps active adults stay healthy. HOWARU Protect Sport (Bifidobacterium lactis Bi-07 and Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM) is a documented probiotic solution to help physically active adults stay healthy for optimal sports performance. HOWARU Protect Kids (Bifidobacterium lactis Bi-07 and Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM) is a blend of probiotics that helps promote optimal health in children and helps keep children healthy. HOWARU Protect EarlyLife (Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001) supports immune health of expectant mothers and infants.
A study on HOWARU Protect EarlyLife showed the prevalence of eczema at two years of age was decreased by 49 percent in the group taking HN001 and persisted until six years of age when the presence was found to be 44 percent lower in this same group.
• At four years of age in the group supplemented with HN001, the relative risk of rhinoconjunctivitis (rhinitis and red eyes) was found to be 62 percent less
• At six years of age, the group supplemented with the probiotic had decreased cumulative presence of positive skin-prick tests (indicating allergic sensitization) by 31 percent.
At Lesaffre Human Care, Ruffin said, with its ability to increase human sIgA levels (our first line of body defenses) by creating a twofold protective effect, the company’s LifeinU Bacillus subtilis CU1 can help maintain a powerful immune system at all times, helping consumers stay healthy and perform well every day. “It can also provide long-term support to healthy people at risk of weakened immune defenses, such as the elderly, people suffering from chronic stress, undergoing intense training, etc.,” she said. Being highly stable, LifeinU BSCU1 can survive extreme conditions; which allows it to deliver its health benefits through a diverse range of dietary supplements as well as food and beverage applications. Offering immune support without side effects or habituation, LifeinU Bacillus subtilis CU1 is a safe and effective prevention strategy; perfect to empower consumers’ immune response.
“It is important to keep in mind that not all probiotics will have the same action and efficacy as the effects are strain-dependent,” Ruffin said. “As live microorganism, they can also be affected by their environmental conditions and it is important to make sure that the strains chosen are capable of surviving manufacturing processes and exposure to the gastrointestinal tract. Therefore, there is a need for scientific evidence of the beneficial effect of each strain before it can enter the market as a health-promoting ingredient.”
Categories such as probiotics and immunobiotics are gaining traction for immune health Agostino confirmed. “The most promising types of products shown to counteract upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) as well as other infections at different locations of the body are probiotics and immunobiotics.
As for probiotics, well-designed clinical trials have demonstrated that specific probiotic strains can be used as preventive and therapeutic agents in upper respiratory tract infections with good results, both in adults and in children.
In a recently published Cochrane review it was stated that probiotics were found to be better than placebo in reducing the number of participants experiencing episodes of acute URTI by about 47 percent and the duration of an episode of acute URTI by about 1.89 days. Probiotics may slightly reduce antibiotic use and cold—related school absence. Side effects of probiotics were minor and gastrointestinal symptoms were the most common.
Immunobiotics, such as Immuno-LP20, are a recent advancement in probiotic research. “They are microbes that promote immune system health by stimulating various mechanisms of gut immunity, Agostino said. “Immunobiotics share traits with probiotics but work more directly to influence the 70 percent of our immune cells located in the digestive system promoting immune function,” Agostino said.
The GanedenBC30 probiotic is used in more than 500 food and beverage products internationally, many of which promote immune health benefits, Bush said. “Our studies show that when consumed daily, GanedenBC30 supports the immune system and helps the body make the right choices to defend itself. Because of Ganeden’s peer-reviewed and published research, the claim can be made on product packaging that GanedenBC30 supports immune health.”
Another ingredient option is Bergstrom Nutrition’s OptiMSM, which benefits the immune system by addressing chronic inflammation through reducing levels of inflammatory cytokines within the body and maintaining a proper inflammatory response. MSM also supports glutathione, an internal antioxidant that is fundamental for healthy immune function and prevents immunosuppression caused by strenuous activity.
The Focus for Formulators
At Kerry, Cox concluded that “It is our belief that efficacy is key,” and stressed that successful functional food, beverage and supplement products start with safe, efficacious ingredients supported by numerous peer-reviewed clinical studies. When evaluating the efficacy of an ingredient, formulators should ask four questions:
• What peer-reviewed research supports the health benefit of the specific functional ingredients under consideration?
• What benefit claims does the research support?
• Are the claims compelling enough to help increase market share?
• Will the claims and supporting research withstand scrutiny from regulators and consumer interest groups?” NIE
Immune Health Ingredient Go-tos
Hilde Raa, scientific manager with NutraQ AS, said nutritional factors, such as vitamins C, D and selenium, have been used as immune health ingredients for many years. “They are essential for the normal function of the immune system, and many people do not get enough of those through their normal diets.”
Vitamin C has a strong reducing potential and its key role is to maintain the redox balance in cells and tissues, she said. “Vitamin C is involved in numerous metabolic processes in the body, but is also involved in immunological functions within both the innate and the acquired parts of the immune system. Immune cells use vitamin C as an intracellular radical quencher. During infections, when reactive oxygen species (ROS) accumulate within the immune cells, the consumption of vitamin C increases. This results in a decline in the concentration of vitamin C and need for additional supply. A number of studies in humans and other species underline the functional significance of vitamin C in infection resistance [Hemilä 1999], and it has even been suggested to work in synergy with yeast beta-glucan in stimulation of immune system [Vetvicka 2014].”
In addition, “Beyond its classical role on bone metabolism, vitamin D has now been widely accepted as an important factor for proper function of the immune system. Vitamin D plays important roles in signalling during both the adaptive and innate immune response to viral and bacterial infection, and epidemiological observations have revealed that there is a link between vitamin D deficiency and susceptibility to upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) [Ginde 2009].
“Selenium is an essential micronutrient. It is present in soil and enters the food chain through incorporation into plant proteins. The selenium level in Scandinavian soil is low, thus plants and grains produced here contain less selenium than those grown elsewhere, and people living here risk getting too little selenium though their diet. Selenium is incorporated into proteins to make selenoproteins, a class of enzymes, which is important for many biochemical processes in the body, including regulation of immune responses. Selenoproteins are necessary for proper function of both the innate and the acquired parts of the immune system. In immune cells, selenoproteins perform antioxidant functions, carry out protein folding and promote certain cell signalling events during activation [Huang 2012].”
For More Information:
Bergstrom Nutrition, (360) 693-1883, (888) 733-5676 ((888) SEEK-MSM)
DuPont Nutrition & Health, (800) 255-6837
Ganeden, (440) 229-5200
IgY Nutrition, (405) 242-5380
Kerry, (608) 363-1200
Lesaffre Human Care, +33 3 20 66 68 34
Nutra Q AS, +47 21 95 12 00
Viva 5 Corporation, (727) 871-8124