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Some of the same supplements that seniors hope will make aging easier are hard for seniors to take.
Getting old, as the bumper-sticker says, isn’t for wimps. And today’s savvy seniors, all too aware of this fact, are doing everything they can to smooth the aging process-from watching their diets and prioritizing exercise to meditating, staying socially engaged and, of course, taking dietary supplements.
So it’s a poignant irony that some of the same supplements that seniors hope will make aging easier to take are…hard for seniors to take, literally: hard to swallow, to keep down, to fit into their already-impacted healthcare routines.
Readers, don’t our seniors deserve better? And can’t we give it to them?
We’d certainly better try, because the senior demographic isn’t going away. According to the 2017 revision to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs World Population Prospects, 12% of the globe’s inhabitants is over 60-a percentage the organization expects to more than double by 2050 and more than triple by 2100, from 962 million in 2017 to 2.1 billion in 2050 and 3.1 billion in 2100.1
And 2050 isn’t that far off. So with more of the globe going grey, says David Tetzlaf, senior marketing manager, Evolva (Reinach, Switzerland), “that makes it essential for manufacturers to design products that can improve the quality of life for this growing demographic.”
Serious about Supplementation
Setting aside any looming “silver bomb,” seniors already represent a valuable-and loyal-audience for dietary supplements. Tetzlaf cites GlobalData’s 2016 Global Consumer Survey as showing that 93% of Americans aged 65 and older have taken a supplement in the past 12 months. “This is quite a high percentage of the population looking for solutions to common issues around aging and shouldn’t be ignored,” he notes.
Among those issues are evergreen concerns about bone, heart, and joint health, as well as the need to close nutrient gaps and maintain overall health. Indeed, the Council for Responsible Nutrition’s (Washington, DC) 2018 Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements found that among consumers in the 55-plus demographic, 31% cited bone health as their top reason for taking supplements, 29% pointed to heart health, and 23% were aiming at joint health. As for healthy aging itself, that was the top motivator for 28% of the survey’s older respondents.2
Yet not only are today’s seniors devoted supplement consumers; they’re reliable ones, as well. “Generally speaking,” says Eugene Ung, CEO, Best Formulations (City of Industry, CA), “they tend to be more disciplined users-higher compliance-and tend to be more brand loyal as opposed to users in other age groups.”
Hard to Take
So given their loyalty, industry can count on seniors’ patronage come what may, right? Hardly. For despite their documented dedication to dietary supplements, seniors don’t necessarily get a kick out of taking them. And they’ve been telling us about it.
“Some of their primary complaints are about having to take too many supplements, unpleasant taste, discomfort, burping, and digestion issues-basically, that taking large doses of tablets and powdered supplements on a regular basis is challenging for seniors,” says Jayesh Chaudhari, MBA, MS, CNS, senior director, R&D, Prinova Solutions (Carol Stream, IL).
Taste can be especially off-putting, he says, with most vitamins and minerals exhibiting a “vitamin-y” or metallic, bitter off note. “Botanicals impart earthy and bitter side notes, depending on the load,” he adds. “Though most omega-3 supplements are flavored, their inherently fishy notes remain pronounced and cause burping. And supplements containing higher loads of plant proteins may not be as readily digestible as animal proteins like collagen and dairy proteins like whey.”
Burden to Bear
Then there’s the phenomenon of pill burden, or fatigue. Given that seniors frequently face a battalion of prescription medications already, adding dietary supplements to their ranks “can overwhelm anyone and trigger pill fatigue,” says Tetzlaf.
“Likewise,” he continues, “keeping track of the latest ingredients that improve quality of life while simultaneously looking at potential negative interactions can also be overwhelming. Therefore, seniors often must conduct a lot of research to understand which ingredients are beneficial, and this process itself can lead to stress and cause seniors to give up.” Yikes.
Packing all those nutrients into one pill would be one way to simplify seniors’ supplementation regimen considerably. But, says Chaudhari, “Consolidating nutritional ingredients into one pill would still result in a large pill. Such a large pill size wouldn’t appeal to seniors. Besides, there’s no one pill that fits all.”
What’s more, adds Ung, “There’s still a general sense of great compliance with pills as opposed to other delivery methods, partly because if you’re taking prescription medication as a necessity, you have a routine that dietary supplement pills can integrate into, whereas other dosage formats, such as powders, gummies, etc., are hard to integrate into a compliant pill routine.” And that doesn’t even address the challenge of masking off tastes or ensuring effective dose levels that can complicate alternative formulations.
Helping Seniors Take Control
Nevertheless, alternatives to pills are gaining traction-and brands are instituting other changes that both address seniors’ concerns and accommodate their needs.
“We’ve seen a lot of innovation in new delivery forms,” says Tetzlaf. “Pill burden is a real phenomenon and the industry is responding by developing more functional foods, gummies, melt-in-the-mouth strips, flavor packs, and powdered beverages that allow seniors to take control of how they consume their supplements.”
Chaudhari adds that “densely packed meal replacement drinks and liquid supplement shots are also expected to continue to appeal to consumers. These offer not only the ease of convenience but better sensory profiles and a better overall experience, as well. And both alleviate the need to take multiple pills.”
To address the dysphagia that makes swallowing more difficult for older consumers, some manufacturers have simply developed smaller pills, which Ung says do require more potent ingredients, as well as formulations that enhance absorption “and other modifications to achieve an efficacious product in a physically smaller dose.” For example, a highly concentrated fish oil that allows a smaller softgel to deliver the same amount of omega-3 fatty acids “will help with compliance,” he says.
As Chaudhari concludes, “Supplement companies understand the concepts of pill burden and dysphasia in elderly consumers.” And armed with that understanding, “They’re continuously making progress to ease supplement delivery to consumers.”
Read on for a look at some strategies supplement brands are taking to help seniors stay strong.
Send Pill Burden Packing
“We’re hearing from our branded customers that ‘pill burden’ or ‘pill fatigue’ can be a concern for any demographic,” says Ung. “One of the ways to address this is through senior-friendly packaging-i.e., using easy-to-open bottles or putting several pills into a packet for convenience and to help with the consumer experience and compliance.” Strategically curated pill packs may not be new or innovative technologies, he concedes, “but the convenience certainly drives compliance, as does not having to deal with opening so many bottles.”
Form Foretells Function
Resveratrol-that polyphenol of the “French Paradox” fame-is just one of many nutrients of relevance to seniors. Tetzlaf says his company can help deliver it in senior-friendly form courtesy of its neutrally flavored and 98%-pure Veri-te resveratrol product.
The cold-water-dispersible Veri-Sperse form of the polyphenol, for instance, makes quick work of formulating resveratrol-packed instant beverage powders, liquid shots, oral dispersible and effervescent tablets, and a number of other functional foods, Tetzlaf says.
“Likewise, we’ve seen customers create unique delivery systems with our Veri-te resveratrol, such as Nutrinovate’s award-winning Reserol ‘resveratrol-boosting’ films,” he says. “This novel oral film-strip technology boosts resveratrol delivery to the body through the inside of the cheek without adding another pill to a consumer’s diet.” He calls it “a great example of how innovation can reduce pill fatigue while also boosting performance.”
Plays Well with Others
“Supplements are not risk free, as some serious adverse incidents have been reported with taking dietary supplements,” Chaudhari cautions. Crucially, “Taking medicines along with supplements may further increase the risk of drug-nutrient interactions.”
This should be of concern not only to seniors taking supplements, but to brands that cater to them. Case in point: Taking blood thinners such as Coumadin and aspirin with supplements that contain ginkgo or vitamin E can increase the chance of internal bleeding or stroke; meanwhile, supplementation with vitamin K1 in conjunction with Coumadin and aspirin can cause an antagonistic effect, as the former helps to clot the blood that the latter is trying to thin.
Further, Chaudhari adds, some of the mineral forms used in supplements can act antagonistically and create imbalances with other minerals, such as iron, copper, and zinc. “The antagonist minerals also interfere with absorption of certain vitamins and drugs, like certain antibiotics.”
Jumpstarting Energy Production
No matter how old you are, “It takes energy to make energy,” says Steve Holtby, president and CEO, Soft Gel Technologies Inc. (Commerce, CA). Consider the case of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), or ubiquinone, a vitamin-like substance essential to the body’s ability to generate energy as adenosine triphosphate.
“Merely having CoQ10 present in your body isn’t necessarily enough to generate cellular energy,” Holtby notes. “Your body must first convert CoQ10 to ubiquinol to start the energy-production cycle.” And while the young and hale can do this with ease, as we age, our conversion efficiency diminishes.
“So by supplementing with ubiquinol, those who can’t efficiently convert CoQ10 into ubiquinol will have access to the ubiquinol necessary to jumpstart the cellular-energy generation process,” Holtby says. The formulation behind his company’s CoQH-CF softgels keeps their payload of reduced CoQ10 stable and delivers it in a solubilized form that lets seniors “effectively use this important antioxidant for optimum health, longevity, and vitality,” Holtby says.
Easy to Swallow
It’s no secret that seniors can find their dietary supplement program difficult to swallow-literally. To help the medicine go down, so to speak, suppliers are developing clever delivery systems like the liquid-filled Licaps made by Lonza (Morristown, NJ).
According to Barri Sigvertsen, marketing manager for Lonza Consumer Health & Nutrition, supplements in liquid form, like the liquid-filled capsules, “can help to address concerns about swallowing.” And because many of the ingredients in the company’s portfolio are available in more potent doses, they, too, “can also be delivered in smaller capsule sizes, further supporting improved and more efficient swallowability.”
Sigvertsen adds that sprinkle capsules, like Lonza’s Coni-Snap, also make supplementation easier for seniors to take. “Sprinkle capsules offer an innovative solution that enables the ingredient to be sprinkled onto food, thus delivering the correct supplement dose and increasing the nutritional value of the food without compromising quality, safety, or efficacy,” Sigvertsen says. And taking things full circle, they can even be swallowed whole, just like regular capsules. Everybody wins.
(Photos not of Lonza capsules.)