The immune health category has a lot of established ingredients like vitamins C & D, zinc, elderberry, echinacea, astragalus, and branded ingredients like Wellmune and EpiCor, but the overall percentage of the population searching for immune support has grown significantly, Sid Shastri, Director of Marketing for Kaneka Probiotics, told NutraIngredients-USA.
“After the pandemic hit in 2020, 54% of the global population has spent time learning about immune ingredients and procedures*,” said Shastri. “So, while there are an increased number of branded offerings in this category, the massive public interest in the whole category will create opportunities for many innovative products.”
No longer a seasonal category
The expanded consumer base walks hand-in-hand with a shift in buying habits for immune products: The pandemic kept immune health front-of-mind at all times, shifting the category away from seasonal to constant. Many stakeholders think that this will continue, at least for several years.
“Moving forward we do expect the trend of consuming immune health ingredients to be utilized year-round,” said Dr Shintaro Ichikawa, Director Technical Affairs, Kyowa Hakko USA. “According to NBJ report, around half of immune supplement users in the US are taking immune supplement daily, higher than those that use supplements occasionally.
“As we begin to gather back with friends and family and travel consumers will use and carry supplements with them on a regular basis,” added Dr Ichikawa. “In fact, one of our claims for IMMUSE is that is provide year-round immune support.”
Shastri called 2020 a “game changing year” for the entire immune category, with probiotics in particular experiencing a tremendous leap from 2019, as noted by Lumina Intelligence’s tracking of probiotic ecommerce sales: 113% growth in reviews YOY.
“The post-pandemic period has dramatically changed the public’s opinion on probiotics. Again, it is estimated that 2 out of 5 global consumers consider having a healthy gut as most important to achieve immune health.
“After SARS (SARS-COV-1) in 2003, MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) in 2013, and the current pandemic, immune health has become a priority. There is likelihood of a continued, elevated interest in the immune health through many modalities - - ranging from medical vaccines to healthy diet and nutrition,” said Shastri.
Shastri added that consumers understand that the immune network can be stimulated from different mechanisms, and therefore the interest in C, D3, Zinc, EpiCor, probiotics, etc.
Mechanisms of action
Recent launches into the immune health category include IMMUSE (Lactococcus lactis strain Plasma) from Kyowa Hakko USA and Kaneka’s Lactobacillus plantarum DR7. Both work via very different mechanisms, offering formulators and consumers more choice.
Kyowa Hakko’s IMMUSE is reported to activate pDCs (plasmacytoid dendritic cells), explained Dr Shintaro Ichikawa, Director Technical Affairs, Kyowa Hakko USA. “The pDC, is a rare type of immune cell, often described as the “commander-in-chief”, can activate the other important immune cells including NK cell, Killer T, Helper T, B cells.
“These cells act as the first line of defense for your body. IMMUSE provides more comprehensive immune support, while most of the existing ingredients mainly activate NK cells or provide partial immune support,” said Dr Ichikawa.
IMMUSE is backed by 25 published papers, including 10 human trials, “which is a substantial amount of research to introduce a new ingredient to the marketplace,” said Dr Ichikawa. “IMMUSE is also good for athletes. Athletes who took IMMUSE showed better ability to maintain their health and experienced less fatigue during hard training.”
On the other hand, Kaneka’s DR7 strain was originally isolated from bovine milk, and has shown an ability to modulate tryptophan metabolism (at a one billion cfu/serving), which in turn impacts immunity, explained Shastri.
“Specifically, DR7 upregulates the tryptophan-serotonin pathway, driving the body’s tryptophan pool away from the production of kynurenine, thereby boosting immunity,” he said. “Over a 12-week clinical trial, DR7 also significantly improved inflammation biomarkers, as seen by marked decreases of INF-gamma and TNF-alpha concentrations and increases of IL-10. In the same study, the scientists were also able to show a 5-fold decrease in the duration of nasal symptoms and a significant benefit to upper respiratory tract health.
“There’s one more thing: As you may expect from a probiotic that can upregulate serotonin synthesis, DR7 has shown in a published study to reduce stress and anxiety in adults. Taken together, DR7 provides ample unique attributes for the immune category,” added Shastri.
So what next for the immune category?
For Shastri, the category will continue to be bi-modal landscape of products: the clinically validated ingredients and the basic, core nutrients.
“There will now always be demand for vitamin D and C for instance,” he said. “But, the demand for researched ingredients will gain momentum. This is true for the field of probiotics as well, which can be seen by the increased drift towards proprietary strains as opposed to generic strains. Currently, approximately half of probiotic supplements are proprietary strains.”
Kyowa Hakko’s Dr Ichikawa expects more combination products, with claims crossing multiple health positions.
“Many products are being formulated to include an immune health benefit,” he said. “We have seen combinations of multiple categories from Brain health + Immune to Sports + immune.
“According to NBJ report, Gut, healthy aging, energy, mental health and sports are main benefits that manufacturers want to add to their immune products. Moving forward, we believe every health benefit will have some sort of immune benefit combined with it.
“Some immune ingredients only work on the immune system. We want to create a broader use for IMMUSE this is why Kirin has invested research in not only the supporting immune health but showing that it has advantages in other categories like worker productivity and sports conditioning and performance,” added Dr Ichikawa.
* Innova Market Insight