Hannah Ackermann, RD, Director of Marketing, COMET, Schaumburg, IL, https://comet-bio.com
Denis Alimonti, Director, U.S. Nutrition, Maypro Group, Purchase, NY, www.maypro.com
Vince Forte, Technical Development Manager, MORRE-TEC Industries, Union, NJ, https://morretec.com
Julianne Gardner, Marketing & Communications Coordinator, Stratum Nutrition, Carthage, MO, www.stratumnutrition.com
Niamh Hunt, PhD, Manager, Immune Health, Kerry, Beloit, WI, www.kerry.com
Mark McLaughlin, CEO, Immudyne Nutritional, Jacksonville, FL, https://puremune.com
Reshma Rathi, Vice President of Operations, Senior Vice President of Business Development & Marketing, Specialty Enzymes & Probiotics, Chino, CA, https://specialtyenzymes.com
Supplement companies harness nature to tackle immunity.
Immune-health products are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and, along with that, there’s segmentation of ingredients—botanicals; prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics; polysaccharides; mushroom-derived ingredients; and vitamins—and of both formulations and delivery forms.
Here for their insights on this powerful category is a panel of leading industry experts.
NIE: Immunity is a complex system, or group of systems, in the body that helps consumers to stay healthy and keep colds and flu at bay. How does supplementation help?
Alimonti: Proper nutrition is essential for optimal immunity. Since it’s difficult to always have a balanced diet, adding select nutrients and natural ingredients via dietary supplementation is important.
Rathi: Supporting immunity by eating well, getting sufficient sleep, exercising regularly, drinking plenty of water, and keeping stress at bay is ideal. However, our busy lives don’t always allow us to meet these needs consistently. Additionally, there are times of the year when illness is more prevalent, or periods in our lives of heightened stress or excessive busyness. It’s important to assist the body through supplementation during these times.
Well-designed supplements can replenish essential micronutrients, provide additional nutrients the body needs, and speed healing when our immune system is struggling.
Gardner: Supplementation can support and enhance the immune system by providing additional nutrients that are essential for its proper functioning.
A few key ways in which supplementation can help include micronutrient support, boosting antioxidant levels, strengthening barriers and modulating immune response. Supplementation can also help by supporting a healthy lifestyle that incorporates eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise and getting enough sleep.
These are all important for maintaining a healthy immune system.
Forte: Supplementation supports the body’s immune system when a proper and balanced diet is not enough.
Hunt: Kerry’s research shows rising global demand for immune-support supplements, with 58 percent of consumers citing immune health as their top reason for purchasing a healthy lifestyle product.
NIE: We used to hear the term, ACES, a lot in reference to vitamins A, C, E and selenium—to which I’m sure we can add zinc. How important are the basics and what innovations are we seeing in these tried-and-true stand-bys?
Forte: The basic immunity supplements—A, C, E and selenium, and zinc—are still the building blocks for immune health. What we are seeing is the expansion of these key ingredients into other areas, like gut health, and combining them with botanicals to enhance their functionality.
Rathi: We want to look, not only at the basics, but also toward new delivery mechanisms or ways to combine these supplements with other solid ingredients to support and strengthen what the ACES offer, i.e, lypo-spheric or liposomal vitamins.
Gardner: While these vitamins and minerals stay tried and true for immune support, the innovation is occurring on the delivery side. VitaSperse and VitaDry nano-emulsion technology is a great way to incorporate vitamins A, D, E and other ingredients into liquid dispersions that stay suspended.
VitaSperse is a unique microemulsion technology that gets water-insoluble ingredients dispersed into water-based liquid applications while VitaDry allows our customer to formulate nutrients into non-water based formulations, while giving the consumer all of the same benefits delivered by the VitaSperse technology.
NIE: How important are pre-, pro-, post- and synbiotics, and why?
Alimonti: An increasing body of scientific literature demonstrates that specific, clinically tested postbiotic strains confer benefits to the immune system.
In fact, several studies have shown statistically significant results indicating that oral intake of non-viable microbial cells, such as heat-killed probiotics, have powerful immune-supportive effects.
LAC-Shield, a strain of heat-killed Lactobacillus paracasei, was selected among thousands of probiotic cultures as a promising immuno-stimulator.
A recent placebo-controlled human clinical study of 241 participants followed subjects for 12 weeks in the winter season. The results showed that LAC-Shield: significantly reduced the incidence, duration and severity of common cold symptoms; and helped subjects maintain a positive mood state, even under stressful conditions.
LAC-Shield is highly stable and very tolerant to heat and pH, making it easy to incorporate into supplements, foods and beverages.
Rathi: Gut health has a monumental influence on how our body functions. Research shows indigenous microflora, especially in the large intestine, has a profound effect on immune health. When the gut microbiome is out of balance, the body is less able to defend against harmful pathogens and heal from illness.
Prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics are intrinsically linked, critical components of a balanced and healthy gut microbiome. Probiotics protect the gut from harmful bacteria, virus and fungi that lead to imbalance and illness. Prebiotics are the food that sustains and supports probiotics. Postbiotics are produced when probiotics feed on these prebiotics. The term synbiotic refers to a mixture of prebiotics and probiotics. Using prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics together has an empowering, synergistic effect.
It’s important to bear in mind probiotics need to be able to survive the acidic nature of the stomach to make it to the intestinal tract, which is where they are needed. Our Bacillus species of probiotics are encased in a protective endospore naturally, which allows more of them to survive the journey and remain effective.
Ackermann: Most consumers associate immunity with white blood cells, lymph nodes and pathogens. Many are surprised to learn that the gut and the bacteria living in it play a vital role in our immune function. Research suggests that over 70 percent of our body’s immune system resides in the gastrointestinal tract. Diet plays an important role in maintaining a healthy balance of good bacteria in our microbiome.
Whereas probiotic supplementation directly adds good bacteria to the gut, prebiotics help fuel the growth of good bacteria already in the gut. The increased presence of beneficial bacteria is thought to support immunity by inhibiting the growth of pathogenic bacteria. This is important as clinical research shows that having imbalances of good versus bad bacteria in the microbiome may disrupt the normal functioning of our immune responses.
Maintaining a healthy diet rich in gut-healthy foods including prebiotic fiber can have a positive impact on your gut microbiome and help support a healthy immune system. Our prebiotic dietary fiber Arrabina, an arabinoxylan plant fiber extract, is proven to promote the growth of bifidobacteria.
Gardner: Immunity starts in the gut, which is as outside facing as our skin, if you think about it. Biotics will continue to be important in the gut microbiome space because there has and continues to be growing evidence proving that they can support gut and immune health.
Often when we think about immune health, our mind immediately jumps to upper respiratory health. However, gut immunity is just as necessary to support as upper respiratory health (especially when traveling and trying new cuisines in new locations!).
LBiome is a postbiotic that specifically supports gut immunity, with multiple mechanisms that deter undesirable organisms from setting up shop. On the upper respiratory side, Bimuno, a proprietary GOS prebiotic, just has a clinical study published demonstrating significant upper respiratory health support in elite rugby players supplementing with Bimuno, adding to past research demonstrating that Bimuno helps support immune health in addition to GI (gastrointestinal) health.
NIE: There’s definitely good immune science behind certain botanicals, such as elderberry, echinacea and more. What are your top three botanicals for immunity?
Hunt: Ashwagandha is an ayurvedic remedy that has been used for millennia for its effects on mood and stress levels, and is one of the most widely recognized ingredients for cognitive support.
Our ashwagandha root and leaf extract, Sensoril, has 16 clinical studies backing its benefits for stress reduction, sleep, mood, energy and focus.
Immune health’s link with mental wellbeing—particularly the negative impact of stress and poor sleep—is increasingly recognized. Three in four consumers agree that being mentally healthy boosts the immune system and are seeking products to support their mood.
To support both the immune system and the stress factors that can affect it, we’ve just launched Wellmune Adapt, a potentially game-changing product that combines Wellmune with Sensoril to offer consumers an all-in-one solution to support both physical health and mental well-being.
Forte: My favorites are green tea extract, rosemary and elderberry.
Green tea and its bioactive components, especially polyphenols, possess many health-promoting and disease-preventing benefits, especially anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anticancer and metabolic modulation effects with multi-target modes of action.
Rosemary is used in natural formulations as an antioxidant and anti-fungal agent.
In addition to its antiviral properties, Sambucol Black Elderberry extract activates the healthy immune system by increasing inflammatory cytokine production. Sambucol might therefore be beneficial to the immune system.
NIE: There are a number of specialized ingredients and supplements for immune health—including, but not limited to, AHCC, other mushroom blends, beta-glucan, bovine-derived immunoglobulin (Ig)—that have great science behind them. What science are you most excited about?
Hunt: The key point is that not all beta glucan products on the market are created equal. Some beta glucans don’t affect immunity, as this benefit is dependent on their chemical structure. Wellmune has a unique chemical structure and biological activity, largely accounted for by the strain of the source yeast and the methods used to isolate and purify it. This may explain Wellmune’s significant, clinically evidenced immune health benefits. Oral supplementation with Kerry’s Wellmune has been the subject of numerous clinical trials among a broad range of the population—from marathon runners to women, older people, and those who are stressed—that indicate a well-defined mechanism of action.
For example, a study published in the Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences found that children supplementing with Wellmune were significantly healthier during the cold and flu season. In the journal Pediatrics, Li et al noted that children consuming follow-up formula fortified with Wellmune experienced a significant reduction in the incidence and duration of acute respiratory infection compared with those given an unfortified milk beverage.
Wellmune has also been shown to significantly reduce the drop in the immune system’s T cells and monocytes commonly observed after an intense exercise session and to significantly decrease the number of upper-respiratory-tract-infection symptomatic days after running a marathon.
Rathi: Enzymes and probiotics should be added to this mix, particularly our ImmunoSEB + ProbioSEB CSC3. Backed by numerous clinical trials, case studies and lab studies, ImmunoSEB and ProbioSEB CSC3 have demonstrated they provide significant levels of immune support.
NIE: What are the newest delivery systems and forms you find the most exciting? What about gummies—why are these so popular?
Alimonti: There’s a great deal of interest in our MicroActive ingredients (such as MicroActive CoQ10), which are micronized and encapsulated to uniformly improve absorption and provide sustained-release and in our Sucrosomial minerals (such as magnesium), which were developed to enhance mineral absorption through a unique technology that allows for improved bioavailability.
Gardner: Gummies are popular for several reasons. They’re soft and chewy, making them easy to take and a good option for people who have difficulty swallowing pills. They taste good, often flavored to taste like candy, making them more appealing to take which can help people stick to their supplement regimen. They can be available in convenient, single-serving packets, making them an easy option for people who are always on the go.
While it is difficult to put most effective probiotics in gummy form, as the manufacturing process kills live organisms, postbiotics and prebiotics, such as LBiome and Bimuno, are easily included in the gummy delivery format, as well as many other “non-pill” applications customers might prefer.
Ackermann: The gummy supplement market is innovating in flavors, ingredients, and functional benefits to address consumers’ top health and wellness needs. Given consumers’ strong interest in digestive health, there is ample opportunity for prebiotic gummy innovation.
Consumers turn to the gummy format for not only taste but also convenience. Unfortunately, many prebiotic fibers have high effective doses needed to promote the growth of good bacteria that make low servings impossible.
Our Arrabina Prebiotic Dietary Fiber makes it easy to add gut health benefits to gummies—without adding a large serving size. At only 3 grams, our Arrabina prebiotic dietary fiber is clinically proven to promote the growth of bifidobacteria in the gut.
Rathi: Gummies taste great and are easy to take. Who doesn’t love a fruit snack packed with health benefits? We are excited about gummies because our research- backed Bacillus probiotics can handle the manufacturing process, ensuring the finished product contains what the manufacturer intends.
Forte: We are partial to and excited about liquid delivery systems since at MORRE-TEC we use a unique blended liquid emulsion system to convert fat soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, E, K2 and other fat/oil soluble nutrients into water soluble (aqueous) formats. However, we recognize that gummies have become extremely popular, especially with CBD.
One of the reasons we feel that gummies are so popular is there is a concerted effort by consumers to get away from a pill format, and gummies offer that. We also see the growth of powder supplements, both in bulk form and sachets, to be added to your water or favorite beverage.
McLaughlin: No one has what we have when it comes to our beta glucan and customize gummy capabilities. We are all USA-sourced.
Also, Immudyne Nutritional has special expertise and extensive experience in customizable gummy manufacturing: major volumes, very cost-effective pricing, and rapid delivery times.
We work with our partners to ensure they receive product that conforms to the desired shape, color, size, texture and taste.
Again, we do not charge for R&D—and we have many gummy formulations with many other active ingredients.
We manufacture in pharma-like conditions and we use all-natural, organic and high-quality ingredients with no artificial preservatives or artificial colors. We do not use high-fructose corn syrup.
Complete turnkey operation in all major areas: formulation, packing, design and shipping.
NIE: What are the biggest advances in fortified beverages and functional foods for immunity?
Ackermann: Snack and baked goods are excellent vehicles for immunity-boosting ingredients. By incorporating immunity-boosting ingredients including prebiotic fiber into snacks and baked goods, consumers can easily incorporate a functional ingredient into their daily routines. Supplements are more difficult to add into a routine compared to swapping out a current snack for one with an ingredient boost.
When creating snacks and baked goods with added digestive health benefits, probiotics can be difficult to incorporate because of limited availability of heat-resistant strains. Prebiotic fiber, which fuel the growth of good bacteria in the microbiome, are much better suited for supplementing existing formulations.
When it comes to adding fiber including prebiotic fiber to products, tolerability is a concern. Some gut-healthy ingredients, including prebiotic fiber, can cause GI distress and bloating, making it difficult for consumers to incorporate them into their digestive health regimen.
This is especially important when adding prebiotic fiber to indulgent or savory items as consumers are likely to go over the recommended serving size. Food brands do not want customers to eat two or more servings of their product and experience GI distress. Many consumers will never purchase the product after a single bad experience.
Looking to the future of prebiotics, I expect to see more companies using novel prebiotic fibers that are gentler on the stomach rather than the popular inulin. COMET’s clinical research shows that our Arrabina prebiotic is gentle on the stomach even at five servings or 15 grams.
Rathi: Being able to add spore-forming probiotics, like our Bacillus species probiotics, to fortified beverages and functional foods is a significant advancement. As we’ve already mentioned, these probiotics can stay intact and go straight to the gut, providing the intended benefits.
NIE: For finished product companies, which one or two of your finished products for immunity should the industry take notice of and why?
Forte: MORRE-TEC offers a finished product called Good Raz. It is an aqueous emulsion of vitamin D3. It is completely water-soluble, tasteless, odorless and colorless. Two drops deliver 2,000 IU of vitamin D3. It can be added to waters, coffees, teas or your favorite beverage. It can also be added to smoothies, salad dressings, soups and gravies. It is a great alternative to capsules, tablets and oil-based liquid formulas.
Since the formulation is a water-soluble emulsion, the vitamin D is absorbed more efficiently than other formats. We are currently in development of other liquid supplements that use vitamin D3 as the key ingredient with other added ingredients to complement the D3 for functional and nutritional support.
NIE: For ingredient companies, which one or two of your proprietary branded ingredients for immunity should finished product manufacturers take notice of?
McLaughlin: Immudyne Nutritional PureMune beta glucan ingredient offers a rapid onset of action—within three hours; supports three components of immunity—dectin-1 receptors, toll-like receptors (TLRs) and complement receptor 3 (CR3); and does all this for a lower cost of dose, as only 30 mg a day is needed to support immunity.
Conventional beta-glucan ingredients need anywhere from six to 12 days to produce a clinically relevant response in only one immune pathway—plus a dose of 250 mg or more a day is needed to yield any effect.
PureMune’s low dosage offers many benefits when developing immune health products as companies can now blend in other science-based immune ingredients—such as probiotics, vitamin C or elderberry—to create optimal immune formulations using different delivery systems.
PureMune can be formulated as a stand-alone ingredient or featured in a wide variety of combination formulas. Odorless and tasteless, PureMune is perfectly suited for dietary supplements—including gummies and rapid-dissolve strips—in addition to baked goods, beverages and soups, energy bars and cereals, frozen treats, milk products and more.
Forte: We offer several powder blends that can be used as ingredients to create functional foods and beverages.
One is a Focus/Immunity Blend that contains vitamins A, D3, E, B3, B6, B12. It is a highly concentrated format that requires only 130-140 mgs to deliver significant amounts of the vitamins in the blend. We also offer an Alkaline Blend and an Electrolyte Blend to create alkaline and electrolyte waters for the market.
All our blends can be made into custom formulas to meet the needs of our clients.
Rathi: Two products in the enzyme and probiotics space that have the strongest research backing when it comes to immunity, with significant clinical trials, are ImmunoSEB + ProbioSEB CSC3.
ImmunoSEB is an enzyme blend with powerful proteolytic action. ProbioSEB CSC3 is a probiotic blend of three spore-forming Bacilli species: SEBiotic (B. coagulans), SEBclausii (B. clausii), and SEBtilis (B. subtilis), all three of which have received GRAS (generally recognized as safe) no objection letters from the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration). Our Bacillus clausii is the first and only one in the market with a NOL.
Gardner: Stratum Nutrition is the North American distributor of Bimuno GOS, a prebiotic supplement that contains galactooligosaccharides (GOS), which are non-digestible fibers that serve as food for beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiome. Bimuno’s effectiveness in modulating the immune system has been extensively researched in preclinical and human studies. These human trials have proven its capacity to help support immune health by having a positive impact on some of the main biomarkers of inflammation. Along with immune support, Bimuno has the capability to support cognitive wellbeing and gastrointestinal health as well.
Bimuno selectively targets bifidobacteria because it is produced by an enzyme from the probiotic species Bifidobacterium bifidum. When bifidobacteria are fed certain sugars, they can produce prebiotic GOS, containing structures similar to those found in milk. Bimuno’s production process replicates bifidobacteria’s natural mechanism of producing GOS.
Bimuno stimulates the growth of bifidobacteria in the large intestine. A higher presence of bifidobacteria in the gut microbiome has been associated with substances produced by beneficial bacteria such as short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), neuromodulators, its direct and indirect effects on the immune system as well as its anti-pathogenic activity.
LBiome is another Stratum Nutrition ingredient. LBiome contains Lactobacillus LB, a unique and pioneering postbiotic. Its effects on digestive health have been studied for more than 100 years. To date, there are over 40 studies on humans, animals, and cultured cells, demonstrating its effectiveness. The beneficial effects of LBiome on digestive health have been demonstrated not only in adults but also in children. LBiome helps support a healthy gut barrier and gut immunity. Decades of published research on Lactobacillus LB have confirmed its efficacy is on par with, if not better than, its living source. Since stability is no longer a concern, this opens.
Alimonti: In addition to LAC-Shield, Maypro offers a range of immune-supportive ingredients. AHCC is a mushroom-derived ingredient with over 30 human clinical studies. Biotics such as M-16V and L-92 also boast clinical substantiation for immune health.
The aforementioned Sucrosomial Magnesium and MicroActive CoQ10 fit an increased need for multi-functional ingredients in cross-category finished products and can be formulated in a variety of delivery formats.
NIE: As to the published science behind finished products or flagship ingredients for immunity, what newest study is the most interesting?
McLaughlin: A breakthrough new pilot study has now been published, adding to the established immune-support benefits of Immudyne Nutritional’s PureMune beta-glucan ingredient.
In an open-label trial, healthy participants who had at least four common colds over the preceding 12 months received 30 mg of Immudyne Nutritional’s yeast-derived beta-glucan for 90 days. The researchers found that 30 mg daily of PureMune consistently supported the production of immune cells, significantly increasing the levels of interferon-gamma (IFN-γ) and interleukin-2 (IL-2) and yielding a higher IFN-γ/interleukin-4 (IL-4) ratio, which together contributed to reduced incidence and duration of symptomatic episodes compared to the same winter period the year before.
“These study results suggest that a daily intake of PureMune augments acquired immunity, especially Th1- related immune functions in healthy subjects,” the study authors wrote.
Bottom line: no other beta glucan can achieve immune-support results like our PureMune beta glucan.
Gardner: A recent study published in the European Journal of Sport Science was conducted by a research team led by Dr. Neil Williams of Nottingham Trent University, in partnership with Clasado Biosciences Ltd, developer of the multi award-winning prebiotic ingredient Bimuno GOS. The study was performed with a cohort of professional rugby players. The focus was on the role of Bimuno GOS in reducing the occurrence and duration of symptoms in rugby athletes during a competitive season. Over the course of 24 weeks, the study collected data on daily upper respiratory symptoms and weekly gastrointestinal symptoms.
Demonstrating enormous potential in sports health formulations, the study revealed that daily consumption of 2.8 g Bimuno GOS helped reduce the duration of upper respiratory symptoms in players by an average of 2.4 days compared to the 9.82 days experienced by the placebo group.
Rathi: The most recent clinical trial assessed the safety and efficacy of a combined treatment of ImmunoSEB and ProbioSEB CSC3 in patients experiencing post-viral fatigue. Results showed 91 percent of patients receiving supplementation of ImmunoSEB and ProbioSEB CSC3 experienced resolution of post-viral fatigue by day 14, versus only 15 percent in the control arm. Patients in the test arm also had a greater improvement in physical and mental fatigue.
Another study showed the combination supported the resolution of symptoms in people hospitalized with mild to moderate COVID significantly versus the test arm on day 10 (93 percent vs. 60 percent).
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) highlighted research on our products, including it in the NIH’s “Dietary Supplements in The Time of COVID-19 Fact Sheet For Health Professionals.”
These products can be positioned as promoting overall immune health, the resolution of post-viral fatigue, and promoting energy levels.
NIE: What are your predictions for the immune-support category?
Rathi: The pandemic has made us more aware of the importance of a strong immune system. During the fall and winter season, there is likely to be a greater focus than in the past around immune health and preventative measures. As a result, more people will be looking toward their diet, exercise regimens and supplementation.
Studies also show the rising prevalence of diabetes worldwide is likely to drive those without previous interest in immune supplements toward this market. And as health supplements are becoming more popular with Gen-Z and Millennials, we can expect their interest in immune health supplements to expand.
Long-term, I expect the immune support category to be strong.
Gardner: The immune-support category is expected to grow significantly in the short-term and long-term due to a number of factors, including the increasing prevalence of chronic diseases, the growing awareness of the importance of gut health, and the increasing availability of new and innovative immune-support products. Chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, are known to suppress the immune system. As the prevalence of these diseases increases, so too will the demand for immune-support products. The gut microbiome is now known to play an important role in immune function. As people become more aware of this, they will be more likely to seek out products that support gut health. There are several new and innovative immune-support products on the market, such as synbiotics and liposomal supplements. These products offer a number of advantages over traditional supplements, such as improved absorption and bioavailability.
In the short-term, I predict that the immune-support category may in some ways still be driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. As people continue to seek out ways to boost their immune system, demand for immune-support products will remain high. In the long-term, I predict that the immune-support category will continue to grow as people become more aware of the importance of immune health. This will lead the category to become more personalized, as people seek out products that are tailored to their individual needs.
Some specific trends that may shape the immune-support category in the short-term and long-term are the increasing popularity of natural and plant-based immune-support products, the growing consumer awareness and focus on gut health’s influence on immune health, and the increase in the use of technology being used to develop new and innovative immune-support products.
NIE: Is there anything you would like to add?
Forte: Although immune support is important, we are seeing an increased interest in multicomponent formulas containing not only immune support ingredients, but also ingredients supporting overall health.
Potential resolutions are to identify those functional and nutritional ingredients that could serve both needs as well as formulate with ingredients that can complement each other’s functionality—for example, formulating with vitamin D3 and vitamin K2 or a formulation containing vitamin D3 with calcium and magnesium. NIE