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Jennifer Grebow is editor-in-chief of Nutritional Outlook.
The need is growing to support senior health with products targeting healthy aging.
Worldwide, the growing senior population presents nutrition and dietary supplement manufacturers with increased opportunities to market products for senior health. These opportunities will only grow. In the United States alone, the U.S. Census Bureau projected that, for the first time, the number of seniors in the U.S. will eventually outnumber the number of U.S. children. The Bureau pinpoints 2030 as the “important demographic turning point in U.S. history” during which all baby boomers will be older than the age of 65, and when 1 in every 5 U.S. residents will be of retirement age. That means that by the year 2035, there will be 78 million people aged 65 and older, compared to 76.4 million children under the age of 18.1
Manufacturers of dietary supplements and foods have many opportunities to develop products to help older adults remain robust, active, and alert well into their golden years. Depending on who you ask, healthy-aging product marketing is altogether more positive and optimistic than in the past.
“Quite frankly, it’s changed from portraying seniors as ‘doddering’ and forgetful to more youthful and sophisticated,” says Annie Eng, CEO of ingredients supplier HP Ingredients (Bradenton, FL). “As technology and ingredient research have also improved and become more sophisticated, so, too, have today’s active seniors.” The typical depiction of a retired senior may have been of a person “rocking on the front porch in slippers with a glass of lemonade,” but this has changed, she says. Today, “retirement often means indulging in a hybrid hobby–second career, interspersed with travel and new experiences.”
While the opportunities and need for nutritional interventions to support senior health are ripe, the amount of nutrition research specifically performed in seniors leaves more to be desired. Ahead, we point to a handful of recent science, ingredients, and technologies focusing on supporting healthy aging.
Sarcopenia, or age-related loss of muscle mass, function, and strength, is one of the primary concerns for aging seniors. Negative impacts include frailty and disability as well as insulin resistance, fatigue, falls, and mortality.2 In fact, “Sarcopenia, or the decline of skeletal muscle tissue with age, is one of the most important causes of functional decline and loss of independence in older adults,” wrote researchers in Current Opinion in Rheumatology.2
Adequate protein intake, along with exercise, are the primary strategies for driving muscle protein synthesis (MPS). At a recently held innovation seminar for food and beverage companies held in Tokyo in May, the U.S. Dairy Export Council, a nonprofit group representing U.S. dairy producers, shared new research, published in Advances in Nutrition, examining optimal protein intakes for aging and whether the current Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein in the U.S. is adequate for older adults.3
According to researchers, current Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) have established a protein RDA for persons 19 years and older at 0.8 g of protein/kg body weight daily. More research, however, indicates this amount maybe not be enough to adequately prevent sarcopenia, and the researchers instead recommend that older individuals consume 1.2 g or more of protein/kg body weight daily. They also emphasize the need for more research in this area: “We are in dire need of more evidence from longer-term intervention trials showing the efficacy of protein intakes that are higher than the RDA in older persons to support skeletal muscle health.”
The Advances in Nutrition study authors also discussed the important role essential amino acids (EAAs) play in MPS, noting that while all EAAs are important to building muscle, “leucine appears to be the most potent in activating anabolic signaling.”
L-carnitine is another amino acid with promising results for helping to reduce the risk of sarcopenia. L-carnitine supplier Lonza Consumer Health & Nutrition (Basel, Switzerland) highlighted a newly published scientific review conducted by the company examining how its Carnipure L-carnitine offers younger consumers benefits such as alleviating post-exercise muscle soreness, while also showing growing promise for older adults combatting sarcopenia.4
Maintaining cognitive function is a critical focus in healthy aging. Among nutritional ingredients demonstrated to help combat age-related cognitive decline, a new study5 recently highlighted the potential benefits of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. Published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society in January, the study claims to be “the first randomized controlled trial to investigate the relation of lutein (L) and zeaxanthin (Z) to brain functioning using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).”
The one-year study was performed in 44 community-dwelling older adults with a mean age of 72 years. Subjects received either a placebo or a 12-mg lutein/zeaxanthin supplement. Cognitive performance was measured at baseline and after the study using an fMRI-adapted task involving learning and recall. “[Lutein] and [zeaxanthin] supplementation appears to benefit neurocognitive function by enhancing cerebral perfusion, even if consumed for a discrete period of time in late life,” they concluded. The study was performed on Kemin’s (Des Moines, IA) FloraGlo lutein and ZeaOne zeaxanthin.
In other news, Annie Eng, CEO of ingredients supplier HP Ingredients (Bradenton, FL), says her company recently launched a kesum extract (Persicaria minor or Polygonum minus), branded Quantum IQ. Eng points to one prior study6 that she says showed kesum’s benefits for executive functioning, reaction time, and working memory, as part of an herbal blend, in adults ranging from 35-65 years old. Ingredients in the blend included sireh (Piper betle), turmeric (Curcuma longa), pegaga (Centella asiatica), curry leaf (Murraya koenigii), selasih (Ocimum basilicum), kesum (Polygonum minus), ulam raja (Cosmos caudatus), and vitamins C and E. This study was funded by ingredient supplier Biotropics Malaysia (Berhad, Malaysia).
“A widespread priority for today’s active seniors and the generation following them (middle-agers) is cardiovascular wellness,” says Kate Quackenbush, director of communications for vitamin K2 supplier NattoPharma USA Inc. (Edison, NJ). “Baby Boomers may not have grown up with fast foods, but they did have high-fat, high-carb diets (lots of red meat), and processed chemically laden foods. Gen Xers grew up with fast foods and junk foods; years of consuming these are known to create high-risk factors for cardiovascular disease and events. Further, both generations have consumed high amounts of calcium from products fortified with calcium (e.g., orange juice) and dairy, which naturally contains the mineral. Free-roaming calcium has been validated as a factor in arteriosclerosis (artery stiffening).”
Supplements to maintain heart health are also part of the healthy-aging toolbox. Two recently promising studies, one of CoQ10 and the other on vitamin K2, demonstrate potential benefits for seniors.
A recent study7 published in the journal Hypertension looked at whether a branded CoQ10 supplement, MitoQ (Antipodean Pharmaceuticals; Irvine, CA), could improve arterial stiffness and “reverse” arterial aging in older adults. The company says it is the first human study on MitoQ and arterial health.
A groundbreaking study8 on vitamin K also looked at arterial stiffness effects in older adults-in this case, postmenopausal women. NattoPharma USA Inc. sponsored the large, three-year, on the company’s MenaQ7 natural vitamin K2 MK7 in 244 healthy postmenopausal women aged 55-65 years and found that 180 mcg daily of MenaQ7 “showed not only cessation but, remarkably, regression in arterial stiffness,” Quackenbush says, meaning that their arteries became more flexible. Quackenbush calls these results “truly antiaging.”
She says, “Research shows that vitamin K2 supplementation (as MenaQ7) improves cardiovascular health by activating circulating matrix Gla protein (MGP), a K-dependent protein that inhibits calcium from depositing in arteries, blood vessels, and soft tissues, causing them to stiffen and impede health blood flow to the heart. It is important to note that no other compound to date has been able to produce the results experienced with a daily nutritional dose of vitamin K2 as MK-7 (as MenaQ7),” she adds.
Quackenbush says that, in general, dietary supplement consumers are becoming savvier about all facets of heart health, including arterial health. “Heart health management was always almost only about controlling cholesterol levels. Now, individuals are taught to pay attention to heart energy, rhythm, blood pressure, inflammation, stress, and calcium,” she says.
Fortifying digestive health in seniors is crucial, considering that the ability to maximize nutrient absorption declines with age.
Enzymes play a role here, and enzyme insufficiency can lead to numerous impacts, including nutrient malabsorption. “Researchers have shown that the body’s ability to produce its own enzymes significantly decreases with age,” says Sam Michini, vice president, marketing and strategy, Deerland Enzymes and Probiotics (Kennesaw, GA). “Since enzymes are a main contributor in facilitating nutrient absorption, a lack of sufficient enzymes can lead to an array of digestive issues, including malnutrition.”
He says understanding among seniors is growing that age lowers the body’s enzyme stores. “Age causes the body’s enzymes (which are proteins) to decrease both in expression and stability, and protein unfolding is a major reason these enzymes lose activity.” Michini says that his company recently introduced a new ingredient, Solarplast, an extract of organic dark leafy greens, that helps the body restore its enzyme supplies and provides numerous benefits for healthy aging.
Another ingredient, a milk-derived glycomacropeptide (GMP)-otherwise known as Lacprodan CGMP-10-from Arla Foods Ingredients (Viby J, Denmark), showed promise as a prebiotic for modulating the human gut microbiota of older people. In the in vitro study9, researchers used an artificial colon model to stimulate colonic fermentation using casein GMP compared to lactose and a control on the faecal samples of “healthy and frail older subjects.” They found that the GMP positively effective the growth of beneficial bacteria and resulted in a higher faecal microbiota diversity compared to control or lactose.
The effects of aging on human immune health can be quite drastic, including reduced production of B and T cells. Seniors are more vulnerable to attack from foreign antagonists and take longer to recover. Thus, the search continues for promising nutrition interventions to enhance immune activity in seniors.
Last year, DuPont Nutrition & Health (Copenhagen) released results from a meta-analysis10 showing how its probiotic strain Bifidobacterium animalis ssp. lactis HN019 may help enhance polymorphonuclear (PMN) cell phagocytic capacity or natural killer (NK) cell tumoricidal activity, both of which help fight infections, in older adults. The company said it was the first review and meta-analysis to examine the probiotic strain’s effect on elderly immune function.
Also looking at elderly immune health, ingredient supplier Kerry (Beloit, WI), announced the results of a study published last year showing that its Wellmune beta-glucan ingredient (beta 1,3/1,6 glucan derived from baker’s yeast) helped shorten the duration and number of upper respiratory tract infections in older adults. The study11 was performed in 100 healthy adults aged 50 to 70 years.
Delivery Forms Matter, from Pills to Food
Delivery formats matter especially to an older population, who may require additional accommodations. Formulators creating products to serve this market should keep such unique needs in mind. “Understanding the changing needs and behaviors of the aging consumer is vital if brand owners are to develop compelling products for this key demographic,” says June Lin, Head of Global Marketing, Lonza Consumer Health & Nutrition.
The effort is well worth it. Last year, Lonza commissioned its 2017 Supplement Over-the-Counter Rx Data (SORD) consumer survey, conducted online among 2000 U.S. consumers, which found that older generations are more likely to use supplements, with 76% of boomers and 83% of “matures” surveyed indicating that they took some type of supplement.
Older consumers often struggle with problems swallowing (dysphagia). SORD data show that mature consumers may consume up to four supplements per day, meaning these consumers are especially at risk of developing pill fatigue and swallowing challenges. Ensuring supplements are easy to take bolsters compliance and helps seniors get the appropriate dosage of nutrients they need.
“To meet these needs, manufacturers are increasingly exploring innovative technologies, such as those that enable multiple ingredients to be combined into a single dosage form to deliver diverse benefits,” says Lin. Lin says that capsules, like those supplied by Lonza, remain a preferred choice among many seniors, including the company’s Licaps liquid-filled capsules; Duocap capsule-in-capsule technology, which allows for different release profiles to be combined in a single capsule; and its DRcaps, which protect acid- and moisture-sensitive ingredients such as probiotics from stomach acidity until the body can absorb them.
“Convenient and easy to swallow, capsules enable the efficient encapsulation of a variety of ingredients, including powders, liquids and semi-solids, helping brands to innovate products and address the specific concerns of aging consumers,” Lin says. Lonza also highlights the importance of a capsule’s color, which can be devised to ensure seniors can more easily distinguish between the many kinds of pills they take daily.
Lin also adds that there is “growing investment in functional foods for the elderly, such as ready-to-drink beverages.” Indeed, last year, a group of researchers wrote a paper12 emphasizing the importance of formulating foods specifically for older adults that meet their unique needs for specific macro- and micronutrients, including protein, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B.
The authors point out that foods that might be easily consumed by younger consumers-e.g., “hard, crunchy, dry, and stringy textured foods”-are more difficult for older consumers to eat. In order to keep the senior population healthy and nutritionally sound, food formulators should focus on innovating more foods specifically tailored to older adults. Not only that, but packaging plays a role, they added, noting that small type and difficult-to-open packages further serve to frustrate an older consumer.
They write: “By considering nutritional gaps and challenges, potential high‐quality food products can be tailored specifically to enhance nutritional status and health of older adults. This can be achieved by fortifying foods with selected functional ingredients, vitamins, and minerals, which may offer additional potential to enhance the nutritive value of individual portions of food. By also providing products with beneficial attributes such as ready‐to‐eat, easy‐to‐open, and easy‐to‐bite and -chew will help fulfill this cohort’s nutritional and functional needs. This relatively unexplored area of [new product development] should lead to new innovative food products, incorporating key nutrients in improved packaging formats to help moderate the diet‐ and age‐related health conditions.”
More Research Needed
The call for senior-targeted solutions and research can’t come soon enough.
In June, dairy cooperative Fonterra (Auckland, New Zealand), announced it has joined a five-year research project to investigate the role of diet and appetite in malnutrition in people over age 70. The project is called “The Prevention of Malnutrition in Senior Subjects in the EU.”
On Fonterra’s website, Maarten van Beek, director of the company’s NZMP dairy ingredients brand, said the findings will help his company “develop innovative new food products that prevent malnutrition and support active and healthy ageing”-products that focus on dairy especially, such as a coconut protein water. NZMP cites estimates that the size of the global functional foods market for seniors will be worth $95.8 billion by 2022.
There is a global need for initiatives like these, and people of all ages stand to benefit. “Not only does improved nutrition make a difference at an individual level, it can also help to reduce strain on healthcare systems,” said NZMP’s van Beek.