Botanical news from SupplySide West: sports, weight management, immune health, brain health, and more


At November’s SupplySide West show, botanical suppliers showcased their ingredients targeting a range of product categories.

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Botanicals are crucial to the dietary supplement industry, drawing on centuries of traditional medicinal knowledge and infusing that knowledge with new research and evidence. At November’s SupplySide West show, botanical suppliers showcased their ingredients targeting a range of product categories and health targets. Here are a few highlights.

Immune Health

Surely it was on everyone’s mind during the show after some long flights and the constant handshakes, but Melanie Bush, director of berry science at Artemis International (Fort Wayne, IN), aptly pointed out, “We are officially in flu season,” as she segued into her company’s elderberry extract, a part of Artemis’s branded line of dark pigmented berry extracts called Berryceuticals. The company highlighted the ingredient’s versatility by incorporated the extract into food samples such as chocolate and lollipops, demonstrating the growing importance of functional foods. “We see that’s where the demand of the consumer is. They want to have the health benefits of these ingredients but in a more fun, palatable way,” said Bush.

Nor does the unique delivery format of a chocolate bar take away from the ingredient’s effectiveness. “There is a lot of room to play. For example, the way we dosed our chocolates, they actually have a significant amount of our extract [comparable to what] you might see in capsule products, and they’re formulated so that three of the chocolates give you the dose given in the recent human clinical trial,” she explained. “So it actually can be used on a therapeutic level, not just a fun food that happens to have elderberry in it.”

The clinical trial1 she’s referring to is a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 312 economy-class airline passengers travelling from Australia to an overseas location for a minimum seven-hour flight time. Subject were randomly assigned to take 300 mg of elderberry extract twice daily for ten days prior to the flight and then three capsules for four to five days at their destination, or a matching placebo. Results showed that subjects who took elderberry experienced less severe cold symptoms and for a shorter duration (57 days for the supplement group versus 117 days for the placebo group) following their travels.

Horphag Research (Chicago, IL) showcased new immune health research for Robuvit, its proprietary French oak extract. Specifically, Horphag studied the effect Robuvit had on flu convalescence. “This is [for] a category of people who are maybe getting older; they are fatigued and stressed and as a result may more easily contract flu,” said Sebastien Bornet, vice president global sales and marketing for Horphag. “We wanted to show how Robuvit can help speed up the recovery process.”

The study published in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness2 included 38 flu patients between the ages of 65 and 75 and took place over the course of three weeks. Results showed that the group supplementing with Robuvit had significantly lower measures of weakness, as well as improved attention and sleep patterns, improved recovery after effort following a walking test, and improved global physical activities according to the Karnofsky Performance Status scale.

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Cognitive Health

Cognitive health continues to be an important category in the dietary supplement industry for consumers both young and old. Younger consumers are seeking products for energy and focus, while older consumers are concerned about supporting memory function. A number of popular botanical ingredients exist to meet this demand as brands continue to research and release new solutions.

Diana Food (Saddle Brook, NJ), for example, just launched Cerebelle, a proprietary blend of Canadian wild blueberry and grape extracts that are rich in flavonoids. The company says the ingredient is the result of a four-year consortium called Neurophenols, which led a research program resulting in six published studies, including in vitro, preclinical, and human scientific assessments, ultimately culminating in a clinical trial published in the Journal of Gerontology3. In the study, 215 healthy subjects between the ages of 60 and 70 ingested two capsules of 300 mg of Cerebelle or placebo, daily, for six months.

“We demonstrated that Cerebelle improved visual and verbal episodic memory,” said Valérie Bochard, product development manager/scientist for Diana Food. “Episodic memory refers to personal experience, such as when something happened, what happened, where you put your keys. This type of memory is more affected by aging than what we call semantic memory. Semantic memory refers to general factual knowledge, and when you become older, this type of memory is more preserved, while episodic memory is more affected. It’s uncomfortable for seniors to face such a cognitive impairment.”

For example, based on normative data from the CANTAB battery of neuropsychological tests evaluating visual and verbal episodic memory, supplementation with Cerebelle reduced subjects’ “cognitive age” by nine years. The firm says these effects can be attributed to the flavonoids found in both blueberries and grapes, which separately have been linked to cognitive health benefits. “Grape and blueberry phenolic compounds are low-molecular-weight phenolic compounds, and we know thanks to research that these types of phenolic compounds such as anthocyanins, chlorogenic acid, and catechins are able to cross the blood-brain barrier,” explained Bochard. “That is why we decided to focus on grape and blueberry and the extraction of their polyphenols.”

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Sibelius Natural Products (Oxford, UK) is releasing Sibelius Chamomile (distributed by Barrington Nutritionals; Harrison, NY), its second commercial ingredient to date. Derived from Roman chamomile, the product is positioned as a sleep aid, though interestingly, the original intent was to market it as an allergy support product.

After conducting an efficacy study, Sibelius noticed that a side effect of the ingredient was sleepiness. While the ingredient showed efficacy as an allergy support product, efficacy for allergy relief wasn’t as high as the company hoped at the dose it had studied. The firm decided instead to focus on the ingredient’s sleep-enhancing qualities and potential as a sleep aid.

“I use it for jet lag and it works very well. And what I mean by that is that I get to sleep faster,” explained Peter Leyland, BSc (Hons) MBA, CEO of Sibelius. “When I have jet lag, I wake up in the night and walk around the room, pick up the newspaper, turn on the tv, but I don’t do that after taking the Sibelius Chamomile, because I know if I just calm down and relax, the chamomile will kick in and get me back to sleep.”

Research does exist to support the chamomile ingredient’s use as a sleep aid. For example, one study4 of 60 elderly people living in a nursing home found that those taking an unrelated extract of chamomile experienced a significant improvement in sleep quality. Sibelius says it seeks to further validate the product with additional research, also looking into its muscle-relaxing properties, said Leyland.

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A major factor driving consumers toward dietary supplements is a stress. One ingredient that has been leading in this area has been ashwagandha, a powerful ayurvedic herb and adaptogen. “Sleep, stress, cognitive health, and focus are critical for consumers these days,” said Bruce Brown, president of Natreon (New Brunswick, NJ), maker of the branded ashwagandha ingredient Sensoril. “These are categories and trends we’re hearing more and more about as our lifestyles are changing and becoming more hectic. Trying to understand how to bring balance to one’s life is important.”

Considering the consumer demand for stress relief and adaptogens especially, Natreon is helping to drive consumer awareness of this category, not only with its proven ingredient but also through an active social media presence. “What we’re seeing now, not only with major CPG brands but also with a lot of these fast-growing startups, is that companies are really starting to tell a story about adaptogens and tell a story about Sensoril,” Brown said. “When you look at the ingredients in products, as a branded ingredient we try to tell a good clinical story. We try to standardize a product in a way that’s unique and patented, and we try to ensure the health benefits we talk about. When you do those things right, you have brands leading brands. They start to use your logo on their packaging, and you build consumer awareness around their brand names but also about the ingredient inside.”

“We’re very active on social media, trying to engage directly with consumers about the attributes of a healthy lifestyle and Sensoril’s role in a healthy lifestyle. So that’s really how we differentiate,” Brown continued. “We have a very active user base on Instagram, which is unusual, following our ingredient, because we’re not just talking about our ingredient as it is; we’re talking about the health benefits, about a healthy lifestyle, and about health outcomes. So we try to make it more consumer focused.”

Horphag Research also showcased new research5 on Robuvit related to workplace burnout. The new study included a group of 108 subjects with burnout syndrome suffering from significant fatigue and high oxidative stress. Subjects included subgroups of 42 young surgeons in training and 66 managers. Half of subjects were given 300 mg of Robuvit daily for four weeks in addition to standard management, while controls only received standard management.

Results showed that the young surgeons and managers who took Robuvit experienced significant improvements in their relationships with patients, emotional drainage, fatigue, and levels of intolerance. Their level of enthusiasm, interest, and satisfaction in their jobs also saw significant improvement compared to controls.

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Weight Management

Consumers continue to seek weight-management supplements, and certain herbal supplements, such as Garcinia cambogia, have long been important weight-loss aids, falling in and out of favor depending on media attention. Unfortunately, products spiked with drugs and sold as weight-loss supplements tend to taint an entire category of efficacious products. In response, responsible companies continue to develop weight-management solutions backed by solid research. This year’s SupplySide West saw some impressive innovations.

Nexira (Rouen, France) showcased a new ingredient derived from okra called Okralin, which comes with some important clinical results. “We have clinical results on weight loss, on body fat reduction, and on body shape (hip and waist circumference),” said Julie Imperato, marketing manager for Nexira. “At the end of the study, the average weight loss was 5 lb. [The study] tested two dosages, and [even] with a low dosage, we still saw 3 lb lost.”

There was also a significant loss of calories in the supplement group, said Imperato. She equated the number of calories lost to the number of calories contained in two cheeseburgers: “So up to 600 calories per day lost,” she explained.

As a fat-binding ingredient, Okralin prevents fat from being absorbed by the intestines, instead allowing the body to naturally eliminate fat. “The fat-binding capacity of Okralin is the most powerful on the market,” claimed Imperato. “We have tested okra against nopal cactus, animal chitosan, and vegetable chitosan, and with okra powder, we saw 100% binding of fat, while the animal chitosan, for example, only binds 23%.”

Cepham Inc. (Somerset, NJ) introduced two new weight-management products at SupplySide West. OperQThin, standardized to a mix of proprietary phytochemicals, is an extract of Operculina turpethum, a member of the morning glory family. The root of this plant has been used traditionally in the Unani system of medicine in India, where it is an herbaceous vine endemic to the subcontinent. Animal models have found the extractions of the herb to have blood sugar benefits, anti-inflammatory benefits, and, according to Cepham, its initial efficacy trials with healthy human volunteers on a 2,500 calories/day diet saw a significant weight reduction.

Cepham’s other new product, Gyngerlean, is a thermogenesis product that is made of Alpinia galangal (red ginger), Kaempferia parviflora (black ginger), and Zingiber officinale (yellow ginger). Among the key benefits the product provides are fat oxidation, faster metabolism, thermogenesis, and stimulation sans caffeine, the firm says. Animal safety studies are currently being conducted on the product, with a double-blind, placebo-controlled human study to follow, the company says. However, it adds, initial findings based on an open-arm human study found that Gyngerlean boosted thermogenic brown adipose tissue, suppressed body weight gain and intraabdominal fat, lowered serum triglycerides, and reduced overall inflammation.

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Sports Nutrition

This is a category with a lot of potential for herbal products. Last year, Natreon decided to position many of its ingredients toward sports nutrition under the Natreon One name. “When we looked at sports nutrition, we saw an opportunity,” said Brown. “Over the last few years, you started to see a little more innovation and thought around how to get natural ingredients in the sports category and how to offer a more innovative product mix outside the massive protein gain, and that’s really where our products fit in. Three of our primary products used in sport nutrition are all adaptogens, so it’s looking at the body from a holistic approach. There’s Capros for cardiovascular function and endurance; Primavie shilajit, which is really about energy; and Sensoril, which is once again using the benefits of focus and mental clarity.”

Nutrition 21 (Purchase, NY) is positioning another well-known herbal ingredient for the sports nutrition category: maca, via its new brand name ingredient Lepidamax. “Maca has been known for centuries to help with a lot of different benefits, but one big one is energy production. [In] a preclinical study we ran on animal subjects…they actually swam for longer durations, so they had better endurance,” explained Sarah Sylla, scientific affairs associate for the firm. “Also, their lactate levels are lower, and it’s good to lower your lactic acid levels because if you work out, your muscles start to burn, and that’s because lactic acid is building up. So if you lower lactate levels, not only can you swim longer or run longer, but you also have greater muscle recovery afterwards, so less muscle soreness.”

Lepidamax’s mechanism of action, said Sylla, is via cellular energy production by supporting mitochondrial function and content, an important factor in supporting endurance and muscle strength. Maca is definitely new to the sports category, but it’s a familiar ingredient in the supplements space. “It’s pretty unique that we’re using it for endurance because it’s mostly known for sexual function. There’s only one clinical study out there on maca for endurance, so it’s definitely a new space to get into,” explained Sylla, who said the firm is pursuing future clinical studies on its ingredient.

Another ingredient in the sports vein is Cepham’s Testncrease, a blend of fenugreek and black muesli, which supports healthy testosterone levels in men, which in turn can help them maintain healthy sexual function as well as athletic performance-specifically, energy and endurance.

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Environmental sustainability and business are inextricably linked when manufacturing botanicals. This was recently made apparent by the small yield of saw palmetto berries this year due to hurricanes and heavy rains, resulting in higher market prices. Besides adverse weather, adverse harvesting practices also affect saw palmetto yields. Saw palmetto berries are picked for their oil, which is rich in fatty acids, but all too often, because harvesters are paid by the pound of saw palmetto harvested, harvesters will go through a saw palmetto field and pick green, unripe berries instead of allowing them time to ripen to an optimal state.

Unscrupulous manufacturers will use these unripe berries in products, pulverizing them into powder, which is a much cheaper and easier process than extracting oil from a ripe berry, but it also does not lend any efficacy to their products. “On a normal year, 50% of berries are unusable from a harvest because they are taken off when they’re green,” explained Douglas Lynch, senior vice president, global sales and marketing, for saw palmetto oil supplier Valensa (Eustis, FL). “In a year like this year, when the overall production is 50% lower, that really matters.”

Had these berries been left to ripen and been picked later in the season, there would have been enough saw palmetto oil to go around, Lynch added. Native exclusively to Florida, saw palmetto is a wildly grown and harvested crop and therefore not an easy crop to manage. In July, the Division of Plant Industry at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) imposed a new rule requiring all landowners and harvesters of saw palmetto berries to have a Native Plant Harvesting Permit.

Lynch explained that because this is a wild plant, it grows mostly on private land. Prior to this rule, it was not uncommon for people to sneak onto private land to poach the berry in the middle of the night. The Native Plant Harvesting Permit gives the government better control and knowledge over where saw palmetto is harvested, when, and by whom.

Valensa itself is working hard to promote sustainability with its Florida GEMS initiative by targeting land owners, farmers, and buyers. “We’re working with growers, we’re working with educators, we’re working with manufacturers, and we’re working with state officials,” explained Lynch. This involves educating stakeholders about the implications of picking unripe green berries and exercising tight control of collection stations so that harvesters understand what a desirable harvest is and what isn’t.

For Natreon, sustainability means working with family farms, but the firm believes using alternatives in addition to traditional agriculture may be an important way to ensure long-term sustainability.

“Right now, we work with family-owned farms, but we’re trying to even consolidate our sourcing story to hydroponic growing, which enables control of all environmental factors related to growing our ingredients,” explained Brown. “That’s still going to be a step down the road, but it’s an innovation that will be exciting for us. We will also continue to work with family-owned farms for these ingredients and invest in the communities in which we manufacture these products.”

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A Common Thread: Good Research

Consumers want clinically validated ingredients, and that is something brands are striving to provide. “[Horphag’s] work is really to keep on investing in research,” explained Bornet. “We try to share the results, and every study is a new opportunity to understand how the product works, what it can do for consumers, and it also opens doors to new studies because we discover findings that give us ideas for new research.”

Developing ingredients requires years of research for these firms. Cerebelle, for example, is the result of a consortium that took four years building evidence and publishing research demonstrating the ingredient’s efficacy and allowing the company to really explain how the product works. This then provides a foundation for additional science and new products. “Diana Food’s DNA is science,” said Joyce Cascella, consumer health category manager for Diana Food. “The research does indicate there are opportunities to take [more from] what we’ve done with Cerebelle and develop natural products that may be able to address sleep, stress management, cognitive performance, mental acuity. We aspire to take what we’ve done with Cerebelle and use it as a springboard to develop other natural products that will meet the needs of a larger population.”

Another unique example is Sibelius Natural Products, which began as a confidential testing house for other companies, such as L’Oréal, utilizing its proprietary platform called Chronoscreen, which helps determine an ingredient’s mode of action. This information is then used to power a clinical study. The firm says it ended up developing its flagship product, Sibelius Sage, when it found it needed an ingredient to demonstrate and promote its Chronoscreen platform; it then saw the commercial potential. Using the same approach the company uses to test materials for clients, Sibelius has developed two dietary supplement ingredients-Sibelius Sage and Sibelius Chamomile-for the marketplace.

“Where [Sibelius is] starting to focus is bringing the science up, bringing the science to a level as far we can to match the pharmaceutical world-looking at products that have an immediacy because that’s the only way to sell over-the-counter products in the future,” said Leyland.



  1. Tiralongo E et al. “Elderberry supplementation reduces cold duration and symptoms in air-travellers: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial.” Nutrients. Vol. 8 (2016): 182-197
  2. Ippolito E et al. “Robuvit®: improvement of fatigue in medical convalescence.” The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, vol. 58, no. 5 (2018): 678-683
  3. Bensalem J et al. “Polyphenols from grape and blueberry improve episodic memory in healthy elderly with lower level of memory performance: a bicentric double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical study.” The Journals of Gerontology. Published online ahead of print July 19, 2018.
  4. Adib-Hajbaghery M et al. “The effects of chamomile extract on sleep quality among elderly people: a clinical trial.” Complementary Therapies in Medicine, vol. 35 (2017): 109-114
  5. Belcaro G et al. “Supplementation with Robuvit® in subjects with burnout associated to high oxidative stress.” Minerva Medica, vol. 109, no. 3 (2018): 211-217
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