Building Quality Immune Health Products with Research Supported Ingredients
Interest in maintaining immune health has been steadily rising, even before the pandemic. Between 2015 and 2020, global food and drink launches with immune health claims increased by a CAGR of 8.2%. For vitamins and dietary supplements with immune health claims, the figure was 13.6%.1 Consumers are taking a self-care approach to their health and wellness, leading to an increased consumption of functional food, beverages and dietary supplements with immune health benefits. With myriad options on the market, how can consumers ensure they’re getting the best products to meet their immune health needs?
We spoke with our panel of experts, Sonja Nodland, Kerry ProActive Health Principal Scientist, and Dr. Roger Clemens, an expert in nutrition, food science and toxicology, to discover more about what makes a quality immune health product.
Is research the foundation of quality?
Sonja: Although market growth has been driven by the pandemic, high-quality research into immune health solutions has long-standing foundations.
Fact: Consumers in a recent global survey, conducted in 2019, before the COVID-19 crisis, about 40% of consumers said seeing claims based on research or scientific data would make them more likely to buy a healthy lifestyle product.2
The research also reveals the importance of transparency in healthy lifestyle products. Half of all consumers in China, and Mexico, for example, said they wanted to see the benefits of a healthy lifestyle product explained on the packaging.3
Roger: Two of the key lessons of consumer research are that scientific substantiation is everything and that transparency is no longer optional. Consumers are more knowledgeable, more skeptical, and more likely to ask questions about the claims made for immune health products.
Fact: In a recent Mintel survey, only 39% of U.S. consumers agreed with the statement: “Foods/drinks that claim specific benefits, like digestive health or strong bones, usually deliver on what they promise”.4
Brands that offer clear evidence for their claims are better placed to cut through the noise, and there are signs that this is particularly true in the current climate.
Sonja: Research is already the top driver for purchase decisions about healthy lifestyle products worldwide.5 And as consumer knowledge, choice, and skepticism all grow, the importance of clinical evidence is only going to increase. Simply put, the research, efficacy, and safety behind an immune-supporting ingredient are essential to ensuring the quality of a food, beverage or supplement formulated with that ingredient.
For more information on how research-supported ingredients can help manufacturers create a quality immune health product, download our latest white paper, Future Proof: Why Science is Key to Immune Health Success.
But what is quality research?
Roger: Whether manufacturers are formulating an immune health support product, or consumers are seeking one, they should look for clinical research. When it comes to immune health products developed with functional ingredients, scientific research is an important part of understanding the safety of an ingredient, how it works, and its benefits. Published, peer-reviewed research with consistent and clinically relevant outcomes are the gold standard. Clinical research means that outcomes are being measured when the product is consumed according to suggested serving size and frequency by study participants.
Sonja: Look for research that demonstrates benefits for your lifestyle or needs. The human immune system undergoes significant changes as it develops, matures and ages. Its responsiveness changes with age and requires continuous nutritional support. When looking for immune health products, it can be helpful if the benefits are demonstrable for the stage of your life or your lifestyle. The challenge here is that many products with claimed functional benefits are not supported by credible clinical data that looks at different lifestyles or lifestyle needs.
What to look for in an immune health product?
Sonja: We’ve established that the safety and efficacy of an immune health product is only as good as the research that stands behind it. Here are some pointers to keep in mind when evaluating an immune health ingredient:
- Look for ingredients that have a demonstrated ability to help strengthen the body’s natural immune mechanisms or maintain immune system balance, without over-stimulation.
- Look for multiple peer-reviewed, published, high-quality clinical studies with consistent outcomes. Study designs that are double-blind and placebo-controlled are the gold standard.
- Ensure the ingredient is supported by safety data published in peer-reviewed journals, and that it has been reviewed by the appropriate leading regulatory agencies.
- Verify that the product’s effect on the immune system has been documented by research.
- Ensure that the studies apply to the ingredient in which you are interested. Efficacy can be affected by the chemical structure of the ingredient, which is usually specific to a strain or manufacturing process. It is inaccurate to generalize results conducted on a different strain or non-identical ingredient.
- Verify that the results of human clinical studies show a demonstrable positive benefit in humans, with primary outcomes related to biomarkers and physical health.
- Ensure that the ingredient is well-characterized. Ingredient characterization allows for consistency in manufacturing, stability, and shelf-life testing.
- Ensure that appropriate analytical methods are used to quantify the amount of the ingredient present in a finished product after processing and at the end of the projected shelf life of the product.
Roger: Particularly of interest, especially in today’s health climate, is the focus on natural, research-supported yeast beta glucans like Wellmune®. Wellmune can help manufacturers create functional foods, beverages and dietary supplement products. Importantly, Wellmune is clinically shown to help strengthen the immune system in a variety of populations. Wellmune has been incorporated into products all over the world. And because it is supported by over a dozen clinical studies, it’s been shown to be safe and effective in products formulated for people of all ages.
How does Wellmune® work?
Sonja: A 2004 study provided increased understanding of Wellmune’s mechanism of action. It is taken up into the body through specialized immune tissue in the intestines. There, immune cells engulf it and break it down into smaller fragments which bind to neutrophils, the most abundant immune cells in the body. Primed by Wellmune, neutrophils move more quickly to recognize and kill foreign challenges. Furthermore, a recent review suggested that immunomodulators present in some yeast beta glucans may ‘train’ the body’s immune cells to react more quickly when a pathogen is detected.
How does Wellmune support immunity for all ages?
Sonja: Wellmune’s ability to work in the body to support overall immune health is documented in numerous published, peer-reviewed clinical studies. These studies looked at different age groups and life experiences, including children, athletes and ‘weekend warriors,’ older adults and those with significant lifestyle stress.
- Families with children: Keeping children healthy means more healthy days spent together as a family, and in school. Several studies among children who consumed Wellmune indicated it can support children’s overall health and wellness. For example, in a clinical study published in the Journal of Nutrition & Food Science, researchers reported children in a daycare setting taking Wellmune had more healthy days.
- Athletes and weekend warriors: Health and fitness are essential to both performance and maintaining a high-quality life. But athletes at all levels can experience a wide range of physical, environmental and psychological stressors. Supporting our immune health through diet and exercise helps keep the body active, leading to more training days and workouts. A series of clinical studies with marathoners, cyclists and general populations facing strenuous activity demonstrated Wellmune can help people stay healthy.
- Older adults: As we age, our immune system tends to weaken, but the desire for an active lifestyle does not. There are many ways older adults can help keep their immune function at the ready to fight outside invaders, including lifestyle changes, exercise and nutrition. According to researchers in a pilot clinical study published in the journal Nutrition, Wellmune supports immune health in older adults.
- People experiencing stress: One of the most detrimental effects of harmful stress includes the suppression of the immune system. Wellmune has been studied with numerous high-stress populations such as medical students, firefighters and those experiencing lifestyle stress. These studies show that taking Wellmune had a positive effect on both physical and psychological health.
How to build a better foundation?
Roger: As the foundation of our overall health, immunity can be a delicate balance at every life stage. Clinical research demonstrates Wellmune’s ability to help maintain our general immune health, helping people be well and stay well so that we can enjoy a quality life. As people of all ages look for more solutions to improving their overall health, Wellmune is a safe and effective ingredient that, when incorporated into functional foods, beverages and dietary supplement products, helps to support overall health and well-being any age.
Sonja: When it comes to product distinction, the best differentiator is always scientific substantiation. It reassures consumers, helps them understand the value of ingredients, and allows them to choose products they know they can trust.
1 Mintel GNPD (30 April 2020)
2 Kerry Global Consumer Survey – Digestive & Immune Health, 2019
3, 5 Kerry Global Consumer Survey – Digestive & Immune Health, 2019
4 Mintel ‘Immunity trends and applications (US)’, August 2020
This post has been updated from its original to provide the most recent market and consumer insights.
About Sonja Nodland
Sonja earned a master’s degree in Cell Biology from Washington University in St. Louis and a PhD from the Microbiology, Immunology and Cancer Biology program at the University of Minnesota. Her academic research was spent studying how various types of immune cells (mostly B cells and neutrophils) are “born” and develop normal function in the human body. Currently Kerry’s Principal Scientist for Wellmune, her scientific interests have expanded to include macrophages as well as how our immune system is influenced by our diet and the microorganisms present in our bodies.
About Dr. Roger A. Clemens
Roger received an AB in Bacteriology, a MPH in Nutrition, and a PhD in Public Health Nutrition and Biological Chemistry from the University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Clemens is co-founder and executive vice president of PolyScience Consulting. Dr. Clemens is part-time faculty within the USC Regulatory Science program where he is an adjunct Professor of Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences within the USC School of Pharmacy. Dr. Clemens, a Certified Food Scientist, is a professional member of and Fellow in IFT.