Bone health is set to become a major segment of the supplements and functional foods market based on an ageing population. Worldwide, the lifetime risk for a woman to have an osteoporotic fracture is 30-40 per cent and in men the risk is about 13 per cent, and governments are beginning to call for better prevention of the deadly disease.
Yet the main natural product targeted at bone health - calcium supplements - are entering a mature category, and a new report from Frost & Sullivan warns that the supplements are set to see 'fierce cannibalisation' of sales from therapeutic drugs as consumers look for faster remedies.
Currently calcium benefits from a substantial price difference with pharmaceutical products. Doctors in Germany are particularly keen to avoid pricy treatments under the new fixed budget system and this trend will continue to help the supplements sector in the future.
But Frost research analyst Meenakshi Sundaram notes that Merck's patent for Fosamax, the leading pharmaceutical product for bone health, which reverses the bone loss caused by osteoporosis, is set to expire in 2007.
"Studies reveal that after patent expiry, the price drops by nearly 75 per cent during the first year and 95 per cent during the second year. Thus, Fosamax, which is a popular drug therapy, will have a similar pricing structure to that of supplements," Sundaram told NutraIngredients.com.
Drug therapies could also have an edge in terms of compliance, warns the report, as the new once weekly formulation of Fosamax may raise adherence to the treatment.
Poor compliance rates to both medication and supplements currently damages both segments.
Women, at greater risk of osteoporosis after menopause, tend to stop taking bone health supplements as menopause symptoms subside, and on average only take the products for between one and two years - not long enough to see the positive effects.
At the same time, poor compliance with drug therapies can lead to adverse side effects that also causes people to stop the treatment.
The use of 'adjunct therapy', where doctors advise an add-on therapy of calcium supplements to drug therapies, will buoy the supplement market so that it remains at the same level of growth - it has increased an average 12.5 per cent each year between 2001 and 2004 to reach around $682 million, according to the report.
But new supplement products will be needed to expand the segment significantly.
Currently vitamin D, which has 4 per cent share of the vitamin market, isa distant second after calcium, says Sundaram.
"Soya (because of its phytoestrogens) and horsetail (the richest plantsource of silicon) are emerging but they are not expected to have a majorimpact like calcium in the bone health supplement market," he added.
Recent research has indicated that silicon helps prevent osteoporosis and can be effectively used to treat bone fractures. However, the analyst said the the absorption rate of silicon decreases with ageing and low oestrogen levels, and supplemental forms are often difficult to absorb.
Makers of fatty acids, another emerging bone health ingredient, will need to increase awareness of their product and stir up market interest, advises the report, while those marketing more mature products like the minerals could include other actives from the herbal segment to offer additional benefits.
Supplement makers will also have to continue raising awareness of the risks of osteoporosis to captialise on this market, particularly in men, a group rarely targeted by current products.