“Herbal extracts are really coming back in France, and in Europe, as an alternative way to have a better healthy lifestyle and all that and because it’s coming back we cannot stay with what has been the market for 30 years. I mean old-fashioned capsules,” said Nicolas Brodetsky, president of the company Erbalab.
Instead the Paris-based company - founded in 2015 as a subsidiary of the also relatively young ERSA Group - launched a range of 16 sprays that use airless pump bottles inspired by the cosmetics industry.
The range includes St John’s wort for stress and sleep and black radish for digestion as well as vitamin D3 for immunity and vitamin K2 for joints, which Brodetsky said are all based on on-hold EU botanical health claims as well as those approved for vitamins under the EU nutrition and health claims regulations.
Sweetening the pill
Speaking with us at the pharmaceutical event CPhI in Barcelona last week, Brodetsky said the format and sublingual delivery was about reinvention of the traditional.
“With this format, it’s more fun and unique. You want to take it each day and you’re looking forward to taking it. So it enables you to go to the end of the treatment.”
He claimed you would have to take about 10 pills to get the same daily dose offered by some of the pocket-sized sprays, “which is really uncomfortable and people stop taking them the second day.”
The pharma effect
Some consumers also had negative associations with pills and capsules. “Pills are pharma,” he said.
This plays two ways though: either consumers perceive the product to be more effective or they “could be a little bit afraid” that the product contains substances too strong for their everyday nutrition needs.
“You’ve got a good side and a bad side for the pills.”
Despite this promise botanical sprays remain niche on the supplement market.
A quick scan of Holland & Barrett's website shows within herbals there are just five products on offer in spray, drop or gel format, compared to 35 different tablets sold in this category and 33 capsules.
The company claims the sublingual delivery method of the herbals and vitamins also outpaces capsules.
Sublingual administration means the substance is placed under the tongue, where it is absorbed directly into the blood stream through the surface of the tongue and floor of the mouth.
Tip of the tongue
There’s little research to back the superiority of this route within the nutrition world specifically, but within pharma sublingual drug delivery has been tipped as a promising alternative to the oral route.
In 2011 researchers from the Kurukshetra University in India wrote that the delivery route held particular promise for those who had difficulty swallowing, which can be a problem for the elderly and children as well as patients who have conditions affecting their ability to swallow.
“Recently many drugs have been formulated for sublingual drug delivery with an objective of rapid drug release and restricting the region of drug release to mouth. Compared to commonly used tablets, capsules and other oral dosage forms, sublingual absorption is generally much faster and more efficient,” they wrote in the International Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences review.
“Peak blood levels of most products administered sublingually are achieved within 10‐15 minutes, which is generally much faster than when those same drugs are ingested orally.”