From traditional herbal infusions to today’s sophisticated formulations, nutraceuticals for immune support have come a long way. Owing to the pull of scientific progress and push of demanding consumers, we are entering an era where certain products are delivering the promised value with guaranteed safety and clinical proof. But this is far from the standard.
Astragalus, elderberry and Echinacea infusions are among the earliest immunity-boosting additions to diet. With their successful track record and word-of-mouth popularization, it is understandable they are still regularly used, yet in most cases, they have not advanced in decades or have even dropped in quality. A large portion of immunity nutraceuticals are still simple herbal extracts, commodities that rely solely on historic use and bibliographical data for proof of efficacy. Additionally, ingredients included in a product don’t necessarily have a connection to assumed benefits apart from the name. Questionable origin, interchangeableuse of different plant parts and adulterants are producing ineffective, unsafe supplements that contribute to consumers’ decreasing trust. For a credible product, herbal extract inclusions need to be traceable, have direct research and an established safe dosage, especially when formulating for children.
With increased understanding of biochemical processes in the human body came the next big players of the immunity market: vitamins and minerals. Starting as simple chemical compounds such as ascorbic acid, vitamins and minerals have made an immense leap to what we see today. Branded, patented, clinically supported ingredients with advanced delivery technology are widely available and boast increased stability, controlled release, enhanced absorption or bioavailable chemical states. More importantly, consumer awareness of the range of quality and consequence of lower price is most present for these ingredients. We see partners on markets worldwide increasingly interested in formulations containing vitamins with improved characteristics, seeking to satisfy the growing demand of educated users and to differentiate in a noisy category.
Differentiation can also be achieved by more biologically complex ingredients that later entered the global spotlight. Colostrum, propolis and fungal extracts have brought a new dimension to the industry, correlating with the natural alternatives trend and sparking substantial investment into clinical research. The relatively new concept of immunostimulation is showing undeniable results (Diets, Immunity and Inflammation. 2013;416-434), but keeping the immune system in an excited state should be approached with caution. The benefit of long-term use of activating ingredients such as beta-glucans is questionable. Harmful over-boosting is a new topic, not yet widespread in the industry, and will likely be an influence in future product development trends.
The realization of the complexity of the immune system and its connection to the gut has sparked an exciting new era of research and a completely different angle. Investments into consumer education have made a remarkable shift in gut health. Probiotic product launches with immunity positioning are steadily rising yet may come with some drawbacks: the discrepancy between claim and effect due to personal microbiome differences, and stability issues. The latter are solved with convenient and booming prebiotics.
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