An example is the addition of vitamin D in omega-3 products, which “we would not have dreamed” A few years ago, Dato’ Dr Rajen Manicka, founder and CEO of Malaysian nutraceutical company Holista Colltech.
Dr. Manicka was one of the keynote speakers for the Immunity APAC – Interactive Broadcast series on April 26, where he was also joined by a panel of panelists on the event’s panel discussion. (WATCH on demand here)
Panelists include Deepak Gunvante, consultant at DG Associates, Hisaaki Kato, CEO of consulting firm Smoothlink Japan, Mariko Hill, head of global innovation at Gencor, and Raktim Chattopadhyay, founder of Indian company Esperer Bioresearch.
The event also included presentations from keynote speakers Dr. Karsten Krüger, Professor of Exercise Physiology and Sports Therapy at Justus-Liebig University Gießen in Germany, as well as Ramasamy Venkatesh, Managing Director of the provider of Gencor ingredients – also event sponsor.
In Malaysia, where Dr Manicka is based, he said nutraceuticals for immune health remain very popular with consumers of different age groups.
Innovation has been seen in the area of new, but synergistic ingredient combinations.
In the case of omega-3s added to vitamin D, he said this has allowed manufacturers to claim further immune system enhancement, in addition to reducing inflammation.
This is different from the pre-COVID days, when omega-3 products were typically a single ingredient product high in EPA and DHA.
Other combinations include vitamin D with probiotics or adaptogens such as ginseng, ashwagandha, and medicinal mushrooms.
Innovations also allow companies to patent formulations and provide some level of protection for their intellectual property. For Holista Colltech itself, the company has developed a water-soluble vitamin D drop known as HydroD, which is said to improve the bioavailability of fat-soluble vitamin D in the human body by over 90%.
In fact, the category of children’s supplements has also been changed by the pandemic.
Traditionally, supplements in the children’s category tend to focus on their brain development, growth in height and weight.
“Parents are looking more than anything these days for immunity products, that’s the number one priority. They’re looking for products for their kids’ immune health and if their kids have been infected, they’re looking for products to help them avoid the symptoms of a long COVID,” said Dr. Manicka.
Single ingredient innovation
Apart from synergistic combinations, some experts have also highlighted new immune products based on a single active ingredient.
One example is Japan, where companies are also in a race to develop Functional Claimed Foods (FFCs) that make immune health claims.
However, so far only brewing giant Kirin, which also runs a nutraceutical branch, has managed to gain recognition from the authority, Kato said during the roundtable.
Kirin’s patented ingredient LC-plasma is so far the only ingredient approved by the Japan Consumer Agency (CAA) to make immune health function claims.
The ingredient works by stimulating plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs) and has been incorporated into various forms of food and beverages.
Kato pointed out that the other organizations in Japan, such as the Japan Anti-aging Foundation, are consulting with the CAA to create a new guideline where more parameters would be considered for FFCs making immune health claims.
“pDC is the key leader of the immune system. However, there are also other cells that work on immunity, which are NK cells, T cells,” he said.
On the other hand, Venkatesh explained how the endogenous fatty acid, palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) could benefit the immune system by activating macrophages and inhibiting the release of pro-inflammatory molecules by activating the transcription factor PPAR-alpha.
In the case of her company, which sells PEA-branded Levagen and Levagen+ which are said to have higher bioavailability, she is conducting a number of studies on the ingredient.
Areas studied include the effects of PEA on migraine, microbiome health, recovery and exercise performance, colds and flu, and COVID-19.
Last year, the company ended a human clinical trial using PEA on patients with COVID-19.
“The results showed a significant reduction in inflammatory parameters and several cytokines could be reduced with PEA. The results will be released in the second or third quarter of 2022,” Venkatesh said.
Hill added that the ingredient could be added to a range of products, including drinks, instead of the usual pill and tablet formats.
Review on VMS
Based on his recent research, keynote speaker Dr. Krüger also spoke about the less talked about minerals and their roles in innate and adaptive immunity.
He stressed that it is crucial that the innate and adaptive immune systems are balanced.
For example, when experiencing an infection, it is important for the body to produce a strong pro-inflammatory reaction, which however must return to baseline afterwards, according to Dr. Krüger.
He also linked his explanation to minerals such as magnesium and iron.
“Magnesium is important for lymphocyte development and lymphocyte differentiation. In case of infection, they are important cells for our adaptive immunity.
“A lack of magnesium could lead to an increased risk of infection; thus, it is recommended to take a well-balanced diet sufficient for our magnesium needs. A deficiency means that the balance of pro and anti-inflammatory reactions of the immune system is disturbed”, he explained.
Research direction, regulatory barriers
Finally, the experts also highlighted the future direction of research and the regulatory hurdles to overcome.
In the case of immune health research, Chattopadhyay, who develops nutritional products for cancer patients, pointed out that there are three phrases companies should address, namely 1) disease prevention 2) supporting immune health during the diseased state and 3) regaining immunity back to homeostasis after treatment ends – which could lead to immunosuppression.
“These are the clear categories of research intervention. I think these categories will become more important in the future, because there is a huge use of self-medication, supplementation for immunity in anticipation of disease prevention [due to the COVID-19 pandemic].”
On the other hand, in terms of regulatory hurdles, Gunvante highlighted the need for harmonization of regulations.
“A lot of research has been done over the past decades… There is a good opportunity for industry to turn research into opportunity and get products to market.
“The need of the hour is a harmonization of regulations, so that the industry can communicate transparently with consumers”,he said.
Dr. Manicka echoed, adding that “regulators need to know that a minimum bar has been reached, not just require clinical trials,” since there is a demand for supplements to support wellness, even by the least health-conscious consumers.
“Even smokers are finding supplements because of the pandemic, that’s the opportunity for our industry. They probably need a lot less data and science and just want a product that they know will work.