Flu season 2017-18 was among the severest on record, per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And thanks to an early start and doozy of a dominating strain—the dreaded H3N2—Influenza Battle 2018-19 is shaping up to be just as bad. So aside from the usual measures like frequent handwashing, getting a flu vaccine, and avoiding crowds of sick and sniffly people, what’s a prudent civilian to do to avoid falling prey to this year’s bug?
Develop a stronger immune system, that’s what. And with the right mix of science-backed supplements, doing so isn’t as far-fetched as it seems.
Science has long acknowledged the relationship between diet, nutrition, and immunity, and as contemporary researchers investigate its finer points, they’re vindicating a veritable pharmacopeia of substances that strengthen our inner defenses against the outside world.
That’s not just good news during cold and flu season, either; in our chronically “stressed-out” age, there’s never a bad time to improve immunity—or, in the case of supplement brands, to add immune-boosting ingredients to product lineups.
Immunity on the Mind
Consumers clearly have immunity on the mind. As Donald Cox, PhD, R&D director for Wellmune and GanedenBC30 at Kerry (Mayfield Heights, OH), observes, “Good immune health is the foundation of a high quality of life, and the cornerstone of the holistic approach to wellness that people today are seeking.” The upshot: “Immune health,” he declares, “is a large and growing market.”
Indeed, a 2016 Harvard Opinion Research Program study of 1,579 adults ranked immune health among the top-three reasons people sought supplements, besting heart disease and cholesterol, weight control, and digestion.
“These consumers are spending money on immune health, as well,” adds Emily Pankow Fritz, PhD, technical services manager, active wellness platform, Kemin (Des Moines, IA). In its December 2017 report, “Immune Health Supplements Market: Global Industry Analysis and Forecast 2017-2025,” Persistence Market Research estimated the value of the global immune-health supplement market at $14.4 billion in 2017, and with a predicted CAGR of 7%, that value looks likely to increase to $25 billion by 2025. “That’s growth of 73.6% in eight years,” Pankow notes.
Yet consumers don’t have to be fighting the flu—or aiming to avoid it—to benefit from immune-health supplements. As researchers at GlobalData reported in “Top Trends in Healthcare and OTC, 2017,” concerns about stress motivate fully 75% of shoppers who purchase OTC medication, dietary supplements, functional food and beverages, and sports nutrition products. And as Cox points out, “One of the most detrimental effects of stress includes the suppression of the immune system and, therefore, a greater risk of illness.”
Something for Everyone
Indeed, Cox emphasizes, “Young or old, stress affects us all.” So young and old can all benefit from some immune boosting.
“For parents of young children,” Cox notes, “keeping them well is a top concern because it’s not just the children’s health at stake, but that of the entire family.” Thus more parents are turning to immune-boosting functional foods, beverages, and supplements to “proactively support” their children’s health, he says.
Then there’s the senior sector, for whom immune protection has always been a heightened concern. As the United Nations’ 2015 World Population Aging report notes, the global population over aged 60 is expected to grow by 56% by 2030, “and products with immune benefits for this group represent a prime opportunity,” says Cox.
Another opportunity lies in gyms and rec centers across the nation. As John Deaton, PhD, vice president of science and technology, Deerland Probiotics & Enzymes (Kennesaw, GA), says, “We believe that an underserved population consists of athletes and fitness enthusiasts who tend to exercise or compete vigorously.”
That’s because vigorous activity depresses the body’s defenses, rendering active types vulnerable to infections that exploit suppressed mucosal and systemic immunity. “Additionally,” Deaton says, “athletes who become overly fatigued tend to have altered circulating levels of pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines. For example, higher circulating levels of tumor necrosis factor alpha, or TNF-α, were found in a study of elite male rowers.”
The downstream effects can run to missed training days and workouts, poorer performance, and unmet goals, so the desire among athletes to stay healthy from the start, Cox believes, “presents a clear opportunity for innovators of sports nutrition products with proven immune-health benefits.”
Ingredients in Action
And this is where the right immune-boosting ingredients come in.
“There are effective supplements and natural remedies that help truncate a cold once symptoms first appear, and there are also highly effective supplements that support the immune system’s ability to resist viral activation overall,” says Sam Michini, vice president of marketing and strategy at Deerland.
And those supplements need not be relegated to any single season. As Michini says, “People know that immune support isn’t just for wintertime. And they understand the broader concept that a healthy functioning immune system keeps them pretty healthy throughout the year. This is great news for brand marketers seeking to invest in creating immune-support products.”
Ahead is a small sampling of immune ingredients available, along with the latest findings on why they’re such important players for Team Immunity.
- Mah E et al. “Beverage containing dispersible yeast β-glucan decreases cold/flu symptomatic days after intense exercise: A randomized controlled trial.” Journal of Dietary Supplements. Published online ahead of print on October 31, 2018.
- Townsend JR et al. “Effects of probiotic (Bacillus subtilis DE111) supplementation on immune function, hormonal status, and physical per-formance in Division I baseball players.” Sports, vol. 6, no. 3 (July 26, 2018): 70
- Lohner S et al. “Inulin-type fructan supplementation of 3 to 6 year-old children is associated with higher fecal bifidobacterium concentrations and fewer febrile episodes requiring medical attention.” Journal of Nutrition, vol. 148 (2018): 1300-1308
- Guesdon W et al. “Effects of fish oil concentrates on ex vivo B cell responses of obese subjects upon BCR/TLR stimulation: A pilot study.” The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, vol. 53 (March 2018): 72-80
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