Nutraceuticals behind choline demand, says Spanish producer

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Choline Nutrition Us

Choline salt specialist Algry Quimica has indicated that demand for
its choline derivatives is continuing to rise thanks to growing
awareness of their uses in nutraceuticals.

The private Spanish company has said it expects its sales of pharma grade choline salts to increase by between eight and 10 per cent in the first quarter of 2006, compared with the same period last year.

Its portfolio includes pharmaceutical-grade choline chloride (vitamin B4) and choline bitartrate, both of which are used in nutraceuticals, and several new products are in the pipeline for later in the year. Over the next two years it is also planning investment in its Huelva manufacturing facility.

Export manager Raquel Ortiz told that much of this increased demand comes from the US and Asian nutraceuticals markets.

In 2001 the US' FDA granted that foods rich in choline may be labelled as a 'good' or 'excellent source', depending on levels per serving. This 'rubber stamping' of the nutrient (also known as vitamin B4) raised its profile amongst consumers and food manufacturers, but it has still not really risen to household name status on either side of the Atlantic.

Awareness is certainly much lower than for other nutrients like vitamins E and D, which have been the subject of a number of high profile studies in recent times. Such studies are often picked up by the consumer media and have been shown to exert an influence over sales - be it for better or for worse.

Choline is found naturally foods such as eggs, soy, nuts and marine fish, and is understood to play an important role in cellular structure, the nervous system, cognitive function and the use of fats in the body. The US Institute of Medicine recommends an adequate daily intake is 550 mg/day for men and 425 mg/day for women.

Although deficiencies are rare, insufficient choline during pregnancy may impede foetal development and cause learning difficulties. Choline has long been added to infant formulas to aid development.

More recently there has been some research into choline's ability to boost mental function in adults too - an area which Frost and Sullivan identified as an emerging platform for the US supplements market in the coming year.

Experts have warned that Alzheimer's disease is a 'ticking time bomb', with the number of sufferers expected to double every 20 years (there were an estimated 24.3 million sufferers in December 2004).

But Frost analyst Sucharithra Narayanan told that the mental health awareness trend is not only about ageing baby boomers wanting to retain their mental faculties. Rather, she said, stressed-out executives aged 30 and above are seeking ways to enhance their memory and stay alert.

This would give nutrients known to aid cognitive function a broader marketing base.

The weight-loss market is also booming in the US, and choline's is also gaining interest from makers of weight management products.

Moreover, it could find its way into heart health supplements: In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2005 (vol 81, no 2, pp440-444), researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reported that deficiency of the vitamin in both mice and humans was associated with increased levels of homocysteine, increasingly thought to be a risk factor for heart disease.

In December 2004 BASF, Akzo Nobel and UCB, were fined €66.34 million by the European Commission over charges that, together with US-based Bioproducts and DuCoa, they were involved in a cholate chloride cartel between 1994 and 1997, which enabling them to control 80 percent of the market between them.

Ortiz said she does not believe that the fall-out from this has been responsible for Algry's rise in fortunes, however.

The majority of choline chloride produced around the world is intended for the animal feed market. Algry's bulk choline derivatives are distributed in more than 25 countries worldwide, and the company is thought to have around a 25 per cent share of the market.

As with other vitamins, Indian and Chinese players have exerted a price-squeeze on European suppliers. Algry has opted to compete on quality, and works to GMPs and ISO 9001 guidelines.

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