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Innovative formulations and a widening consumer base are redefining the joint-health category.
Though SPINS reports that sales of supplements targeted for joint health were down about 10% overall during the 52 weeks ending June 17, 2018, the news isn’t all bad. In fact, in the natural channel, sales are up, to the tune of 6.6%. And if you ask Jaume Reguant, director of Spain-based Bioiberica Health Care Business Unit, increased growth is on the horizon as the population continues to age and, simultaneously, up the amount of physical activity in their daily lives.
“The joint health market is thriving as an increasingly aging as well as active population looks towards natural solutions to support their range of motion, fluidity, and flexibility,” agrees Samantha Ford, business development director at AIDP (City of Industry, CA). “People are simply living longer and recognize the importance of taking care of their bones and joints for the sake of quality of life into their later years.”
Also driving sales is the fact that younger consumers are taking joint health supplements, says Deanne Dolnick, science director at TR Nutritionals (Alpharetta, GA). Younger consumers are doing so not only because they’re generally a group that’s open to taking supplements, but also because they’ve gravitated towards group workouts like CrossFit and Spartan challenges, the intensity of which can put stress on the joints.
One ingredient on many supplement consumers’ minds is collagen. New research coming out of Lonza Health & Nutrition (Basel, Switzerland) and recently published in Osteoarthritis and Cartilage supports the use of Lonza’s UC-II undenatured type II collagen in supporting joint health across different age groups.1
The aim of the study was to determine the ability of the ingredient to prevent excessive articular cartilage deterioration in a rat model with osteoarthritis. The results found that immediate treatment with UC-II preserved the weight-bearing capacity of the limb with deteriorated articular cartilage. Taking a small daily dose also helped preserve the integrity of the cancellous bone at tibial metaphysis, and limited further damage to the articular cartilage. “As such, the study demonstrates that a clinically relevant daily dose of the UC-II brand, when applied immediately after injury, can improve the mechanical function of the injured knee-preventing excessive deterioration of the articular cartilage,” says senior marketing manager Juliana Erickson.
But collagen isn’t the only game in town. “Virtually everybody suffers from some sort of joint discomfort and it’s not the type of ailment where the consumer runs to the doctor,” Dolnick explains. “And because joint problems are either ongoing or intermittent, most people do not want to take NSAIDs for an unspecified period of time or even for a week or two, so they turn to supplements.”
Trends to Watch
A number of trends are driving sales across the joint health market.
First is an increased interest in alternative delivery formats. “Consumers don’t want to take yet another pill or capsule, but rather a convenient supplement-in a food, drink, or powder format-that can easily be part of their daily routine,” says Ford.
If you ask Erickson, younger consumers with busier schedules look for alternative formats like shots, bars, ready-to-drink beverages, and gummies, which help “pave the way for increased supplement usage in the joint health category.”
The challenge, according to TR Nutritionals’ Dolnick, is that many manufacturers need extracts that are water soluble, which aren’t always easy to find. And, even if they do find it, it’s usually “not too tasty,” she says, especially in the case of turmeric, a hot joint health ingredient for which Dolnick says her company receives quote requests daily.
Another trend is consumer demand for transparency, which is driving sales and interest in vegan and vegetarian joint health ingredients and supplements. “In the information age, with so much false information and hype, consumers are increasingly becoming more skeptical about the ingredients in the products they consume and are demanding more transparency from manufacturers,” explains Suhail Ishaq, president of BioCell Technology LLC (Irvine, CA), supplier of branded ingredient BioCell Collagen. “Everything from the source, quality, purity, non-GMO, and clinical substantiation are all factors that consumers consider in their purchasing behavior.”
And, according to Silvia Pisoni, marketing manager at Gnosis S.p.A. (Desio, Italy), this desire for transparency and quality is translating into demands for ethical and non-animal-based ingredients. The company’s vegetarian chondroitin sulfate, Mythocondro, gained U.S. GRAS status in the U.S. and Novel Food Approval in the beginning of 2018. “Non-animal origin claims are recognized as added value,” Pisoni says.
Pending publication is new research that supports the effects of Mythocondro at 600 mg per day, Pisoni says. The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study was carried out in 60 individuals over the course of 12 weeks. Researchers evaluated pain intensity at motion and rest using the Visual Analog Scale; knee function as assessed by the WOMAC Index; and knee pain, health-related quality of life, and inflammation markers in plasma at baseline, four weeks, and 12 weeks. “All endpoint results show a statistically significant modification of the parameters with impressive results related to the decrease in the WOMAC Index and the Tegner Lysholm Knee Scoring,” says Lorena Carboni, product support specialist, Gnosis. Mythocondro can be used at a daily dosage of 600 mg, and offers a once-a-day alternative to larger chondroitin sulfate pills that need to be taken twice a day, the company says.
Pycnogenol, a French maritime pine bark extract from Switzerland-based Horphag Research, was the subject of a recent study published 2017 in the journal Nutrients2, which showed that the polyphenols from Pycnogenol are distributed directly into the synovial fluid of patients with osteoarthritis.
The double-blind study examined 33 individuals diagnosed with severe osteoarthritis, and who were scheduled for knee replacements. Participants were supplemented with 200 mg of Pycnogenol daily over the course of three weeks leading up to their surgeries. Synovial fluid samples were collected during surgery to detect and measure the presence of polyphenols.
Results from the synovial fluid samples show that the polyphenols found in Pycnogenol, including taxifolin, ferulic acid, and catechin, were distributed throughout the synovial fluid in the Pycnogenol-tested group. Taxifolin and ferulic acid were not detected in control group serum samples. “This research further supports previous studies examining Pycnogenol’s benefits for joint health, including the ability to reduce inflammatory mediators COX-2 and 5-LOX which helps alleviate discomfort,” says Sebastien Bornet, vice president of global sales and marketing, Horphag Research.
Because many ingredients in the bone and joint health market are animal-derived, finding ethical and equally effective alternatives to appeal to clean label and vegan consumers has been an ongoing challenge and category driver. AIDP recently launched Phytodroitin, a 100% plant-origin alternative to chondroitin. According to Ford, the ingredient mimics the structure and function of animal-based chondroitin and is Vegan Society registered.
Finally, combination supplements are resonating with consumers in the joint health space. “Any of the popular combinations of nutrients designed for the bone or joint categories usually have a synergistic effect on each other,” says Steve Holtby, president and CEO of Soft Gel Technologies Inc. (Los Angeles), “or often target the functionality of that category through different pathways to support the overall health of that system.”
Some suppliers and formulators are meeting this trend by targeting systemic inflammation with ingredients like turmeric. Others are creating proprietary blends, as in the case of Valensa (Eustis, FL). “Formulations that attack joint issues from multiple pathways provide a better product overall and better differentiation for our brand partners,” says Valensa senior vice president of global sales and marketing Doug Lynch. “In short, one physiological mechanism equals a better claim; multiple mechanisms equal a better consumer response.”
Valensa’s flagship joint formulation, FlexPro MD, received its 18th patent in 2018. Its FlexPro ES formulations capitalize on the synergy trend by offering egg membrane alongside astaxanthin. “Our FlexPro line works on synergies of multiple mechanisms to support your joints,” Lynch adds. “Ultimately, FlexPro brings anti-inflammatory benefits to the joints themselves, and our use of phospholipids in the formulation-coming from krill oil or vegetarian sources-unlocks the antioxidant benefits of astaxanthin.”
In support of synergistic formulas, Bergstrom Nutrition (Vancouver, WA) points to a study demonstrating that adding 500 mg of MSM to glucosamine and chondroitin doubles the benefits of the latter ingredients3. “While Bergstrom’s OptiMSM ingredient is beneficial as a standalone ingredient, this study makes the case that MSM also delivers synergistic effects when formulated with other ingredients”, says vice president of sales and marketing Tim Hammond.
Bioiberica plans to launch a new combination ingredient for joint and mobility in 2019, called Mobilee, the company says. It will blend hyaluronic acid with polysaccharides and collagen for joint function and muscle strength. According to Bioiberica’s Reguant, this ingredient responds to the market trend that has evolved the joint health market to encompass bone and muscle health for overall mobility support.
At Lonza Consumer Health & Nutrition, DuoCap capsule-in-capsule technology can help “overcome complex formulation challenges by allowing manufacturers to incorporate traditionally incompatible ingredients together in one single dosage form,” says Erickson, which addresses “diverse health needs from bone and joint health to cardiovascular and weight management.”
Going forward, supplements that target athletic consumers will find favor, too, says Valensa’s Lynch, as will those that step outside the box on delivery and offer vegetarian or vegan labels. Reguant agrees: “Convenient dosage and intake, effective and safe ingredients from natural origin, a reliable producer-that’s what consumers are asking for.”