Consumers are becoming more discriminating when it comes to preventive and protective immune health.
It’s around this time of year that immune health is on the top of everyone’s minds—cooler months are on the horizon, kids are back to school in germy classrooms, parents are stressed out with new schedules, and everyone is feeling a little bit run down. So it should come as no surprise that immune health, which affects everyone, young and old, is the No. 2 most desired functional benefit behind general health, and 88 percent of consumers say they are interested in foods and beverages with immune health benefits. Such demand for immune and digestive health products has led to a market that is expected to reach $14.9 billion next year, according to Datamonitor.
Aside from seasonal viral and bacterial concerns, consumers have also become very concerned about the immune system’s relationship with stress response, persistent organic pollutants (POPs), and hormone balance, said Jack Grogan, CH, chief science officer at Michigan-based Uckele Health & Nutrition, a contract manufacturer that offers a wide range of immune health formulas. “As potential threats to immune health increase in the form of environmental hazards and toxins in our food and water supply, the consumer has become more sophisticated and vocal in preventative and protective selfinterest,” he said.
Factors such as stress, aging and environmental toxins may contribute to a weakened immune system, and consumers are looking for ways to strengthen their defenses, agreed Michael Bush, senior vice president at Ohio-based Ganeden Biotech, a probiotic ingredient manufacturer.
But regardless of the reason why consumers may want these products, improving the immune system is absolutely beneficial at any age and for any lifestyle. “Whether an individual needs assistance with health concerns, are travelling to areas with known bacterial issues or are just trying to hedge themselves against the symptoms associated with the common seasonal cold, immunity support products are on the market to assist,” said Bret Wyant, vice president of sales at Nebraska-based American Laboratories, Inc., a supplier that specializes in digestive enzymes, hydrolyzed proteins and flavors.
Traditional immune health ingredients include echinacea, zinc, as well as some vitamins. “In addition to supporting the immune system, it is now known that vitamin C is necessary for the growth, development and repair of all body tissues,” said Grogan.
Antioxidants have been prominently recognized by their ability to neutralize free radicals by blocking the process of oxidation, Grogan explained, offering vitamins A, C, E and beta carotene as examples.
Phytonutrients are also recognized for showing value in controlling the effects of excessive free radicals and their negative impact on health, he continued. “The popular super fruits and greens contain examples of phytonutrients like pomegranate extract, fructooligosacharides, acai berry extract, mangosteen powder, turmeric root, cranberry, blueberry, elderberry and cherry extracts, raspberry powder and resveratrol,” Grogan said.
Glandular extracts, such as thymus, bone marrow and pituitary also support healthy immune system function by supporting the glands and the messaging system for optimal immune response, according to Grogan.
Using these traditional ingredients, Uckele Health & Nutrition has recently introduced two formulas targeted for immune support that can be taken during acute immune system challenges, or as a preventative to maintain a healthy immune system.
The first is Immuno-Comp, which supports the immune system through several pathways and is comprised of a balanced blend of vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, glandular extracts and enzymes that can help support a balanced immune function.
Also available is Uckele’s Anti-VRL to support immune function related to viral exposures. “It offers support for liver function and detoxification to maintain natural viral defenses during times of increased immune challenge,” Grogan said. The formula includes a balanced blend of botanicals, amino acids, selenium and a specific milk protein to support the immune system.
And finally, another traditional ingredient for immune health is arabinogalactan, an immune modulating form of fiber with positive benefits on gut related immune function. “Combined with prebiotics and probiotics, it provides potent support for the immune system at the site of the gut lymphatic ducts, which comprises 70 percent of the immune system, that surrounds the digestive tract, making the gut the first line of defense function against the exposure to foreign substances,” said Grogan.
Pre & Probiotics
Since 70 percent of the immune system is housed in the digestive tract, it makes sense that a healthy digestive system would benefit the immune system, said Ganeden Biotech’s Bush, pointing a growing demand for probiotics.
“The demand for products fortified with probiotics and other immune supporting ingredients is definitely increasing, and consumer awareness of probiotics and their interaction with the immune system continues to grow,” he said. “It is estimated that 80 percent of consumers know what probiotics are and associate them with health benefits.”
Probiotics are becoming so popular, in fact, that the global market of probiotic ingredients, supplements and foods reached nearly $27.1 billion in 2013 and is expected to climb at a compound annual growth rate of 6.2 percent over the next five years to reach $36.7 billion in 2018, according to Wellesley, MA-based technology markets research firm BCC Research. “Consumers are the driving force, paying more attention to nutrition labels and becoming increasingly health conscious,” said Bush.
To help meet this demand, Ganeden Biotech offers GanedenBC probiotic, which has been shown in five published and peer-reviewed studies pertaining to immune health to support the immune system. When consumed daily, GanedenBC creates a healthier intestinal environment, thus supporting immune function.
According to Bush, each probiotic strain is unique, and survivability, safety, efficacy and the benefits to the consumer can differ from strain to strain. “When it comes to probiotics, finding a probiotic strain that has the appropriate science backing it, and is resilient enough to survive the manufacturing processes involved in food production is vital,” Bush explained. “Furthermore, it is very important to understand the difference in probiotic strains. There are hundreds of strains of probiotics and not all probiotics are created equal.”
GanedenBC is easy to formulate with, and has a survivability that makes it easy to add into anything that is baked, boiled, frozen or extruded, Bush said.
Also available for the digestive tract is Lonza’s ResistAid, a prebiotic dietary fiber. “This prebiotic helps aid the digestive tract,” said Bryan Rodriquez, global product manager for the New- Jersey based company. “Prebiotics are noted to have immunomodulating activity, in part by increasing lactic acid bacteria and increasing production of short-chain fatty acids in the GI (gastrointestinal) tract.”
The immune system is a highly complex and interrelated system that has two pathways to address foreign substances. “The innate arm of the immune system is non-specific and targets anything that is viewed as foreign to the body, whereas the adaptive system targets specific foreign substances,” Rodriguez explained.
ResistAid is composed of larch arabinogalactan (LAG) and is a unique natural proprietary prebiotic immune support ingredient, which has been formulated to address and support the immune system through a “tripleaction” approach that addresses multiple pathways in the body, Rodriguez continued. “Thanks to the unique structure, ResistAid is not hydrolyzed by the low pH in the stomach or absorbed in the small intestine; therefore, it reaches the large intestine intact,” he said. “It is within the GI tract that ResistAid has the ability to optimize the immune system by utilizing direct and indirect modes of action.”
According to research, ResistAid provides the ability to selectively call upon both the non-specific cellular response, as well as the adaptive immune response in healthy adults. And it provides an immunomodulatory effect, meaning it can enhance the appropriate response to an antigen, as opposed to indiscriminately enhancing other arms of the immune system that would not be expected to respond, Rodriguez said.
The ingredient is composed of galactose and arabinose. “Galactose and arabinose are common structural components of cell walls of environmental invaders such as bacteria,” Rodriguez said. “Therefore, the immune cells directly recognize the components and bind to ResistAid. ResistAid acts as a biological response modifier, via receptor sites on immune cells.”
The secondary benefit of ResistAid is that it has the ability to enhance and support the beneficial microflora populations within the large intestine. The microflora interact with the immune system in a beneficial way by producing substances that provide localized protection against pathogenic bacteria. The ingredient also contains polyphenolic flavonoids that have an antioxidant capacity and represent the third pathway of the tripleaction immune support benefits, Rodriguez said.
The ingredient also has several other perks, as it is manufactured according to HACCP (hazard analysis and critical control points), is good manufacturing practice (GMP)-audited by the American Institute of Baking, is genetically modified organism (GMO)-free and self-affirmed GRAS (generally recognized as safe). It is well suited for dairy applications and has a recommended dose for immune benefit of 1.5 g/d, which can be divided into multiple servings ranging between 400 mg to 750 mg/serving. Lastly, it can be incorporated into dietary supplements and functional foods in standalone form or combined with other products for increased functionality.
As mentioned, vitamins, such as vitamin C, help build the immune system, but minerals are beneficial as well. “The role of the immune system is so wide ranging that there is a function for every mineral to help support it,” said Max Motyka, director of the human products division at Albion Human Nutrition, a Utah-based company that manufacturers TRAACS patented organic mineral amino acid chelates. “The minerals most involved with the immune system function are magnesium, zinc, selenium, manganese and copper,” he said.
Zinc, well known for its benefits to the immune system, has known links to increased susceptibility to bacterial infection if a person is deficient. “Even though zinc is essential in virtually all processes in the human body, observations during zinc deficiency indicate that the absence of this trace element most severely affects the immune response,” said Motyka.
There are several studies that examine zinc, such as a recent study that looked at the multiple impacts of zinc on the immune system1 and another one that investigated the role of zinc in the development of Group A Streptococcus (GAS).2 “The study found that the innate immune system may use zinc as an antimicrobial agent,” said Motyka.
Albion’s unique range of chelated minerals stands out because they are highly absorbable and easily digested; scientifically and clinically proven to be safe, predictable and effective; soluble and stable in acidic environments; hypoallergenic, kosher, halal and vegetarian with no GMOs; and are glutenand bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)-free. According to Rodriguez, the minerals have GRAS status and are available in the proper form for use not only in dietary supplements, but also in beverages, prepared foods, nutraceuticals, cosmeceuticals and sports nutrition products. Albion also now offers EFSA (European Food Safety Authority)-approved glycinate chelates in the E.U.
Uckele Health & Nutrition offers Auradagex, a goldenrod extract available only through the company. It is one of the most powerful antioxidants ever tested, according to Grogan.
“Numerous studies have shown the patent-pending proprietary extract to be extremely effective for immune health and function,” he said. “In addition to the inherent potency of the species, the biotechnology that was engineered for the extraction process is a trade secret, and this extraction process is essential in identifying and harnessing Auradagex’s powerful properties. It can be a standalone product or used in combination with other ingredients.”
In vitro, Auradagex achieved one of the highest ORAC scores on record in a study conducted by Brunswick Laboratories. The ORAC score compared favorably to the highest number recorded in the 2007 USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) ORAC database, Grogan said, and in other antioxidant assessments, it consistently scored at very high levels of antioxidant activity and free radical scavenging activity.
Uckele product formulas are developed with the oversight of a team of nutritionists, consultants and product development specialists who possess decades of experience in the fields of biology, biochemistry and nutrition, according to Grogan, and all products are manufactured using GMP (good manufacturing practice) and FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) compliant procedures.
Another ingredient on the scene is Biothera’s Wellmune WGP, a 100 percent natural food, beverage and supplement ingredient that is clinically proven to strengthen key immune cells that help keep the body healthy, according to David Walsh, senior vice president of marketing and communication at the Minnesota-based company.
“Wellmune is found in products in more than 60 countries,” said Walsh. “Wellmune has regulatory approval in major markets around the world, including GRAS status in the U. S. and novel food approval in Europe and China. Wellmune is patented, kosher, halal, non-allergenic, GMO-free and gluten free.” Wellmune is also supported by a large body of research, including 10 clinical studies. One clinical study, published in Pediatrics, demonstrated that a Mead Johnson Nutrition formula with Wellmune supported the immune systems of healthy 3- and 4- year-olds better than unfortified cow’s milk. According to Walsh, young children get sick six to 10 times a year, which can have a huge impact on working families.
The ingredient is designed for yearround products, not just seasonal, Walsh pointed out, so it can help consumers bolster their immune systems any time of year. “And it is compatible with virtually all manufacturing processes,” he added.
As for American Laboratories, Inc., the company offers ImmuniZyme, a soluble glycoprotein biopolymer derived from Procine Stomach Mucosa to support anti-viral supplementation in the body in coating the epithelial cells; and Lysozyme 1,000 mcg/g, an anti-microbial protease enzyme that is developed to attack peptidoglycans.
How a product is delivered can affect how well it is absorbed. For Uckele Health & Nutrition, consideration for the best delivery method is an essential part of the process. “The effectiveness of any given supplement is directly related to the dosage required for maximum results,” said Grogan. “The efficacy can also be greatly affected by the manner the nutrients are delivered to specific regions of the body.”
For example, some formulations, particularly ones that contain plant polysaccharides, are best consumed in larger dosages that don’t lend themselves well to smaller dosage forms, such as tablets or capsules, Grogan said. “So we developed a powdered supplement or drink mix that is palatable and easily dissolved,” he said, adding that the same care goes for probiotics, which need to be formulated to survive stomach acid and release their contents only when they reach the more neutral environment of the intestines.
The delivery method may also affect whether or not a consumer will be interested in the product at all. That is why functional foods are growing in popularity, according to Ganeden Biotech’s Bush, for everyone from children and parents, to athletes and active seniors. “Consumers are no longer interested in taking another pill; they want to receive the immune benefits while consuming something they already love, and without having to adjust their daily routine,” Bush added.
Finally, Bush noted, products that offer more than one benefit are growing in popularity, such as a sports nutrition shakes that also offer immune health benefits, or a functional hot beverage such as coffee that has a daily dose of immune-supporting probiotics.
1 Metallomics; 2014 Feb 17- Haase H, et al.
2 J Infect Dis; 2014 Jan 20- Ong CL, et al.
Consumers are becoming more discriminating when it comes to preventive and protective immune health.