Mighty Minerals: Mineral ingredients target immune health

Nutritional OutlookNutritional Outlook Vol. 26 No. 2S
Volume 26
Issue 2S

Emerging research shows that various minerals can help maintain a healthy immune system.

Photo © AdobeStock.com/fidaolga

Photo © AdobeStock.com/fidaolga

The immune health market is building on the momentum it gained during the COVID-19 pandemic. One family of ingredients trending in particular is immune health minerals.

Emerging research shows that various minerals can help maintain a healthy immune system. What’s more, their interactions with other ingredients can lead to superior effects. Here are some of the ways immune health mineral formulations are evolving.

Zinc, Selenium, and Magnesium Dominate

When it comes to immune health, some minerals are more popular than others due to the research backing them. “There’s been a lot of research into immune health formulations with minerals since COVID-19,” notes Eva Criado Clemente, marketing and sales manager, Europe, at Gadot Biochemical Industries (Israel).

Emerging studies show that magnesium has immune-boosting properties. Meanwhile, zinc and selenium sales are strong in Europe and North America, Criado Clemente says.

Criado Clemente says that magnesium, in particular, is useful in immune health formulations. Magnesium enhances the absorption of vitamin D, she explains, and vitamin D has been shown to boost immune function.

Minerals like magnesium are also often mixed with amino acids or citric acid for better absorption. “For us at Gadot, we’ve seen a huge increase in magnesium citrate,” says Criado Clemente. “We’re now launching a magnesium chelate ingredient. The chelates are very good for the stomach. Magnesium usually has a laxative effect, but chelates don’t.”

Criado Clemente predicts that the growing trend will be combining immune health minerals with non-mineral ingredients. Immune health botanicals have performed well, and now formulators are adding ingredients like mushrooms and probiotics to immunity formulations. “The next major innovation will be combining basic ingredients with newer, trending ingredients like botanicals, mushrooms, and probiotics,” she says. “But minerals are the fundamentals; they have science behind them.”

Functional Food and Drinks Grow

Immune health beverages and liquid-based supplements are trending, particularly those that contain zinc. Kimberly Kawa, a member of Nutritional Outlook’s Editorial Advisory Board and a product expert at SPINS (Chicago), says liquid zinc supplements have seen triple-digit growth over the last few years. This growth, Kawa explains, parallels the trends seen in the pediatric zinc supplement market.

“Zinc is the only mineral with significant dollar sales and growth in the past 52 weeks ending October 30, 2022,” Kawa notes when analyzing SPINS data for brick-and-mortar sales. “Emerging formulas are incorporating multiminerals and trace-minerals in powder or liquid form. These products have a dual focus on immunity and hydration.”

Focus on Bioavailability

Suppliers continue to develop innovative mineral ingredients that can outcompete the previous generation of minerals. Marlena Hidlay, global marketing director, minerals and nutrients, for Balchem (New Hampton, NY), says the company’s latest ingredient innovation, Z-life Zinc Max, is a highly bioavailable zinc ingredient.

“Z-life Zinc Max is a 27% elemental zinc chelate with even more bioavailable zinc than ever before,” Hidlay explains. “Higher elemental zinc enables a higher dose in supplement applications, making Zinc Max ideal for alternative formats like gummies. Like other zinc chelates, scientific substantiation suggests greater bioavailability than inorganic mineral salts.”

Hidlay says immune health products containing minerals have grown 40% from 2017 to 2022. In addition to zinc, other growing immune health minerals include copper, iron, and selenium.

“Across demographics, people are prioritizing their health more, and they’re looking for everyday solutions,” Hidlay says. “Beverages is a key category because it’s a product consumed all day. Recent findings from our proprietary attitude and usage study revealed that immune support is one of the most desired health benefits in food and beverage products.”

Minerals Offer Opportunity

Minerals are an uncapitalized opportunity for immune health product formulators. Minerals like magnesium, iron, selenium, copper, and zinc offer promising immunity benefits while also giving consumers familiar, tried-and-true ingredients. Minerals are also flexible enough for use in functional foods, beverages, and even gummies, meaning brands will have ample room to differentiate themselves. Pairing minerals with other ingredients can also create synergistic benefits. Whether it’s zinc, magnesium, selenium, or something else, every brand should carve out space in its portfolio for an immune mineral product.

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