Not just vitamins: Immunity product innovation turns its attention to synergistic, novel ingredient combinations

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

Immune health has gained attention from both consumers and the nutraceutical industry as a result of COVID-19. ©Getty Images
Immune health has gained attention from both consumers and the nutraceutical industry as a result of COVID-19. ©Getty Images

Related tags Immunity Vitamins COVID-19

While the COVID-19 pandemic brought a renewed interest to vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, D, and zinc for immune health, industry experts believe it has also led to novel combinations of ingredients that could work synergistically.

One example is the addition of vitamin D into omega-3 products, which “one wouldn’t have dreamed of” ​years ago, Dato’ Dr Rajen Manicka, founder and CEO of Malaysia-based nutraceutical firm Holista Colltech.

Dr Manicka was one of the keynote speakers at the Immunity APAC – Interactive Broadcast Series on April 26, where he was also joined by a group of panellists at the event’s panel discussion. (WATCH on demand here)

The panellists include Deepak Gunvante, consultant at the DG Associates, Hisaaki Kato, CEO at consultancy firm Smoothlink Japan, Mariko Hill, global innovation manager at Gencor, and Raktim Chattopadhyay, founder of India-based Esperer Bioresearch.

The event also included presentations from keynote speakers Dr. Karsten Krüger, professor of Exercise Physiology and Sports Therapy at Justus-Liebig-University Gießen at Germany, as well as Ramasamy Venkatesh, managing director at ingredient supplier Gencor – also the event’s sponsor.

In Malaysia where Dr Manicka is based in, he said that immune health nutraceuticals remained highly popular across consumers of different age groups.

Innovation has been seen in the area of novel, yet synergistic ingredient combinations.

In the case of omega-3 added with vitamin D, he said that this has allowed manufacturers to make the additional claim of immune enhancement, on top of reducing inflammation.

This is unlike the pre-COVID days, when omega-3 products are usually a single ingredient product high in EPA and DHA.

Other combinations include vitamin D with probiotics or adaptogens such as ginseng, ashwagandha, and medicinal mushroom.

lingzhi mushroom
Ganoderma lucidum, also known as Lingzhi in Chinese. ©Getty Images

The innovations also allow companies to patent the formulations and offer some level of protection to their IP. For Holista Colltech itself, the company has developed a water-soluble vitamin D drop known as HydroD​, which is said to improve the bioavailability of the fat-soluble vitamin D in the human body by over 90 per cent.   

In fact, the kids’ supplement category has also been changed by the pandemic.

Traditionally, supplements in the kids’ category tend to focus on supporting their brain development, height and weight growth.

“Parents are looking for immunity products more than anything else these days, that’s the number one priority. They are looking for products for their kids’ immune health and if their kids were infected, they look for products to help them avoid symptoms of long COVID,” ​said Dr Manicka.

Single ingredient innovation

Aside from synergistic combinations, some of the experts have also highlighted new immune products that rely on a single active ingredient.

An example is Japan, where companies are also in a race to develop Foods with Function Claim (FFC) that make immune health claims.

However, so far, only brewery giant Kirin, which also runs a nutraceutical arm, has managed to get the authority’s recognition, said Kato during the panel discussion.

Kirin’s patented ingredient LC-plasma is so far, the only ingredient approved by Japan’s Consumer Affairs Agency (CAA) in making immune health function claims.

The ingredient works by stimulating the plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDC) and has been incorporated into various forms of foods and beverages.

lactococcus lactis strain plasma
lactococcus lactis strain plasma ©Kirin

Kato pointed out that the other organisations in Japan, such as the Japan Anti-ageing Foundation is consulting the CAA in creating a new guideline where more parameters would be taken into consideration for FFCs making immune health claims.

“pDC is the key leader for the immune system. However, there are also other cells that work on the immunity, which are the NK cells, T cells,” ​he said.

On the other hand, Venkatesh spoke about how the endogenous fatty acid, palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) could benefit the immune system by activating the macrophages and inhibiting the release of pro-inflammatory molecules by activating the PPAR-alpha transcriptional factor.

In the case of his company, which sells PEA branded Levagen and Levagen + that are said to have higher bioavailability, it is conducting a number of studies on the ingredient.

The areas studied include PEA’s effects on migraine, microbiome health, exercise recovery and performance, cold and flu, and COVID-19.

­The company ended a human clinical trial using PEA on COVID-19 patients last year.

“The results showed a significant reduction in inflammatory parameters, and multiple cytokines could be reduced with PEA. The results will be published in Q2 or Q3 of 2022,” Venkatesh said.

Hill added that the ingredient could be added to a range of products, including beverages, instead of the usual pill and tablets formats.

Review on VMS

Based on his recent research, keynote speaker Dr.Krüger also talked about the less-talked about minerals and their roles in both innate and adaptive immunity.  

He pointed out that it was crucial for both the innate and adaptive immune systems to be balanced.

For instance, when one experiences an infection, it is important for the body to produce a strong pro-inflammatory reaction, which however, needs to return to the baseline subsequent, according to Dr.Krüger.

He also paired his explanation with minerals such as magnesium and iron.

capsule and nutrients

“Magnesium is important for the development of lymphocytes and the differentiation of lymphocytes. In the case of infection, they are important cells for our adaptive immunity.

“A lack of magnesium might lead to increased risk of infection; thus, it is recommended to take a well-balanced diet sufficient for our magnesium needs. A lack means that the balance of the pro and anti-inflammatory reactions of the immune system is disturbed,” ​he explained.

Research direction, regulatory hurdles 

Lastly, the experts also pointed out the future research direction and regulatory hurdles to address.

In the case of immune health research, Chattopadhyay, who develops nutrition products for cancer patients, pointed out that there were three phrases that companies should address, namely 1) disease prevention 2) supporting immune health during the diseased state, and 3) regaining immunity back to homeostasis after the treatment – which could lead to immunocompromise – is over.

“These are the clear categories of research intervention. I think these categories will become more prominent in the future, because there is a huge use of self-medication, supplementation for immunity in anticipation of disease prevention [due to the COVID-19 pandemic].”

On the other hand, in terms of regulatory hurdles, Gunvante pointed out the need for the harmonisation of regulations.

“There has been significant research done on the past decades…There is good opportunity for the industry to convert the research to opportunity and to launch the products in the market

“The need of the hour is a harmonisation of the regulations, so that the industry can communicate transparently to the consumers,”​ he said.

Dr Manicka echoed, adding that “the regulators need to know that a minimum bar has been met, and not just demanding clinical trials,” ​since there is a demand for supplements to support wellbeing, even by the less health conscious consumers.

“Even the smokers are finding supplements due to the pandemic, that is the opportunity for our industry. They probably require far less data and science and just want a product that they know will work.”

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