Originally featured in Vitamin Retailer.
To provide preventative measures to help maintain the immune system, the immune health supplement market is expected to witness outstanding growth between now and 2021, according to a recent article by Persistence Market Research titled Immune Health Supplements Market: Global Industry Analysis and Forecast 2015—2021.
At the retail store Autumn Harvest in Scotch Plains, NJ, owner Thomas Donnelly has suggestions for his customers seeking to strengthen their immune health. “There are three areas that can benefit most from supplementation—your gut, your thyroid and your sleep,” he said.
“In order for the thyroid to do its job, it needs certain nutrients,” he added. “Minerals are the foundation of nutrition. You have to have them.”
Donnelly recommends zinc, selenium, iodine, magnesium and tyrosine to assist in thyroid function. Magnesium and zinc are also recommended for REM sleep, along with B6 or a B-complex with extra B6. “I know they’ve come out with a formula, ZMA, containing a good form of magnesium, zinc and B6,” he said. “Magnesium and zinc are relaxing minerals. We need to relax.”
Gut Health: Part of Growing Awareness in Immune Health
For gut health Donnelly recommends probiotics. He said, “A lot of people have leaky gut syndromes. They’re putting on weight. They have a lot of inflammation and a lot of hypothyroidism. They also have a lot of problems getting good sleep and healing. They come in because they are tired, lack energy … weight gain.”
Kiran Krishnan, chief science officer at Just Thrive Probiotic and Antioxidant in Park Ridge, IL, agreed that gut health is part of a growing awareness.
“Eighty percent or more of your immune system is in your gut and the function of the immune system depends, in large part, on your microbiome. The microbiome tutors and trains your immune system. Simply using immune ‘boosters’ won’t be enough to help the immune system, as it has to be trained to function property.
Additionally, most chronic illnesses can be tied back to immune dysfunction, namely metabolic endotoxemia. Most prevalent chronic illnesses are due to the faulty activation of our innate immune system. This includes heart disease, diabetes, cancers, autoimmunity, asthma, allergies, low testosterone, and even cognitive issues such as anxiety and depression.”
Krishnan pointed out that people and companies are still stuck on older ideas and that the real improvements are going to come from studying the connection between the gut microbiome and the immune system—and then figuring out how to improve the function of the gut microbiome in light of its action on the immune system. For example, DMS and Microbiome Labs are heavily involved in research that has shown to drastically reduce metabolic endotoxemia.
Just Thrive is working on microbiome-restoring probiotics and enhancing them with immune-boosting nutrients to offer total and complete immune modulation and support. The company is also enhancing the delivery systems to offer chocolates, syrups, and even water that would deliver these innovating formulations.
In search of natural support, Krishnan said retailers are looking for products with a strong “free from” claim—free of GMOs (genetically modified organisms), allergens, corn and soy, as well as a more in-depth position of efficacy, something more advanced than they can get at drug stores and big box retailers. They want their nutrients to be as close to the natural food forms as possible, making the raw idea a big one.
“True efficacy is offered when a company goes the distance to make the investment in studying their finished formulation that the consumer actually consumes,” said Kirshnan.
The Direct Effect of Vitamin D on Innate Immunity
The role of vitamin D in immunity has been understood by scientists but not made clear to consumers, according to Neil E. Levin, senior nutrition education manager at NOW in Bloomingdale, IL. “It [vitamin D] is thought to have a profound effect on ‘innate immunity’ in terms of patrolling immune cells looking to neutralize suspected invasive organisms,” he said. “But these potential benefits occur at higher levels than the RDI (recommended daily intake) or daily value for one or dental health. Lower serum vitamin D levels have been linked to lowered lower respiratory tract immune competence, presenting an example of vitamin D’s relationship to immune health.”
Vitamin D has numerous roles in the body related to immunity, including immune modulation and cell growth regulation. “Many genes that regulate cell proliferation, differentiation and apoptosis—‘programmed cell death’ to remove damaged cells—are partially regulated by vitamin D,” Levin added.
Immune Support—Not Just for Flu Season
People who already shop in health food stores, or who are inclined to bolster their immune system naturally, know immune health isn’t just a “reactive” thing and that they need to have nutrients throughout the year that preserve their ability to fend off colds and flus.
So, while it’s completely expected to have customers looking for symptom specific formulas, Cheryl Myers, chief of education and scientific affairs, EuroPharma, Green Bay, WI, noted that the public will be seeing a growing awareness toward knowing that overall health is the key to a strong, year-round immune response.
“Manufacturers seem to be aware that there are many different approaches to strengthening immune health, and that they all ‘land’ differently, depending on the person,” Myers said. “After all, age, stress level, symptoms, and supplement preferences are all variables when it comes to the reason that someone picks one formula off the shelf over another.”
EuroPharma offers a wide range of immune formulas and supplements. Myers explained, “I think that just about everyone now associates echinacea or umckaloabo with cold and flu or respiratory relief, so it’s common to see those products marketed by their name. However, if you are a customer who is new to the world of natural medicine, and simply want to reduce symptoms and feel better, it’s important to make that as plain as possible on the front of the box, either in the product name or its identifying tagline. But, for those who feel that they are a ‘cold and flu magnet,’ then mentioning year-round, general immune support is still going to be appealing.”
EuroPharma also investigates which ingredients and formulas have clinical efficacy behind them, and at what dosage level, so that people can count on symptom relief and less time feeling sick. With many formulations that support immune health, one of the strongest EuroPharma offers is ViraPro, which targets various challenges faced by the immune system with a blend of botanical, vitamin, and mineral ingredients.
One of the major players in the formula is a clinically studied elderberry extract standardized to certain levels of anthocyanins. It has been shown to reduce cold and flu symptoms, and is especially perfect for anyone who travels. In fact, an Australian clinical study of 312 individuals found that this particular freeze-dried elderberry extract cut the risks of colds or flu in half. And even those who did catch something had milder symptoms and a shorter duration of illness.
Consumers Seek a More Organic Approach for Treatment
Immune system enhancement is now being studied as viable treatment in diseases that were often regarded as incurable, such as cancers, psoriasis and degenerative diseases, according to Fred June, president of Yerba Prima, Ashland, OR.
And with these studies, it’s been proven that good food makes a difference in your health, according to Luc Maes, founder of Kaibae, Santa Barbara, CA.
Maes said, “An article that was recently published on CNN.com, on the hunter-gatherer diet of the Hazda tribe in Tanzania showed that baobab fruit powder, a staple in their diet, promoted a massive diversity in gut microbes. Mounting evidence suggests that the richer and more diverse the community of microbes in your gut, the lower your risk of disease.”
Maes became passionate about baobab because it is 48 percent prebiotic fiber, and has low glycemic benefit when included in food and beverages.
While consumers look for herbs and vitamins that have immune benefits, it is Maes’ opinion to improve diet and gut first, then include herbs that have immune-enhancing qualities.
Mushrooms for Immunity
Mark J. Kaylor, founder and president of Radiant Health Project, and consultant with Mushroom Wisdom in New Jersey, pointed out that over the last decade there’s been a broader view of not only what our immune system is, but also all that it is involved in, beyond fighting a cold or preventing disease. “The awareness has expanded to cardiovascular and brain health and even to its role in longevity and the quality of our life as we age,” he said. “Along with this is a slow but steady trend for acknowledging the need to maintain our immune system’s function to prevent rather than just waiting for things to break and then treat.”
As a long-time member of the natural products industry, as well as a consumer and practitioner, Kaylor said one area that has grown—and continues to expand—is the amount, quality and diversity of the research.
“One of the big reasons I like and support companies like Mushroom Wisdom is their commitment to research and sharing of this information,” he said. “Not only have they performed studies confirming activity of their products, they have also discovered new compounds, as well as new applications, like the Maitake D and SX Fractions, as well as the Amyloban 3399 from the Lion’s Mane mushroom.”
Kaylor said customers are looking for products that successfully blend the ancient wisdom with modern and current science. “This is doubly important in a category, such as medicinal mushrooms, that has such a long history of use in a traditional medicine as well as a significant and expanding body of research,” he said. “There’s a growing awareness too for products designed and dosed to be effective rather than the ‘fairy dusting’ of ingredients more for marketing rather than efficacy.”
Consumers and retailers are also paying closer attention to the quality control standards and the surety that comes with proper testing, Kaylor noted. “The bottom-line, as it should be, is ‘Am I getting what the label says I am?’ along with, ‘Is this product likely to be effective?’” he said.
Regarding the latest science showing product efficacy, the question is too broad to answer when it comes to medicinal mushrooms. “New studies are coming out every week confirming activity, discovering a deeper understanding of actions and pathways, as well as new applications,” said Kaylor. “On top of this is the issue that the focus of much of this research is for very serious immune disorders thus making it not well suited for explanation by means of structure/function.”
One area that is beginning to get some research attention is a mushroom relatively new to the West called “meshima” that has demonstrated some very specific and promising health benefits for breast health, according to Kaylor.
“The Maitake D-Fraction’s primary mode of action was thought to be increasing the numbers of immune cells as well as by stimulating activity of these cells,” he added. “Recent researchers in Argentina and Portugal though have found some promising direct actions on cells for the Maitake D-Fraction, suggesting broader layers of activity for this unique mushroom extract.”
New Immune Formulations From Marketers
Mushroom Wisdom has recently introduced a spray version of its Maitake D-Fraction Pro 4x, thereby making it easier and quicker for travelers to carry immune support with them.
NOW has a new product with a proprietary extract produced from specially cultivated and hybridized mushrooms—AHCC (active hexose correlated compound). Extensive research in humans indicates that AHCC supports healthy immune system function through its effects on specific immune cells. NOW’s value priced AHCC is offered in powder form, and also in veg capsules in two strengths: 500 mg and 750 mg.
NOW Air Defense in veg capsules is a curated formulation of vitamins, minerals, herbs, and amino acids that support healthy immune function and respiratory function. Air Defense includes Paractin, a patented extract of Andrographic paniculata. ImmunEnhancer from larch, elderberry, echinacea, and astragalus herbal extracts are included for their healthy immune supporting properties. Olive leaf is added to support healthy respiratory function. The vitamins, minerals, and amino acids in NOW Air Defense veg capsules work together with Now’s herbal blend to support healthy immunity function during seasonal changes and year-round.
NOW AlliBiotic CF enteric-coated soft gels combine allicin from fresh garlic with elderberry extract, olive leaf extract, and oregano oil—three natural compounds widely used to support healthy immune function.
NOW Elderberry & Zinc lozenges contain elderberry extract powder synergistically formulated with zinc and vitamin C for maximum effectiveness. Zinc is a trace mineral that plays an important role in supporting a healthy immune system. Echinacea, propolis and slippery elm complement this unique soothing formula.
EuroPharma’s Cold Weather Wellness delivers three herbs that are very well known to support immunity—Echinacea purpurea, Andrographis paniculate and Pelargonium sidioides. One thing that makes Cold Weather Wellness so effective is that each herb is provided in its full, clinically validated strength.
EuroPharma’s Propolis Extract is another “must have” supplement for strengthening the immune system. The material, gathered by bees from flowers, trees, and other local plant to help build and maintain their hives, is rich in immune-boosting natural compounds. Propolis Extract delivers only clinically tested GH2002 propolis. This propolis is gathered from carefully tended hives with a consistent source of flowers for propolis production. After being gathered, the propolis is purified to remove any wax, debris or dirt. It’s a clean powder of plant flavonoids and is very useful for promoting the wellness of the immune system.