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Building A Free Radical Defense

Despite some negative press, manufacturers still seek out and prove antioxidants' benefits and consumers are still impressed.

Antioxidants are big business and growing exponentially: the overall market for antioxidants was valued at a whopping $12 billion in 2009, according to Euromonitor International, and the number of products with ‘antioxidants inside’ style labels is mushrooming.


According to Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD), in 2009, there were 409 launches globally with ‘antioxidants’ flagged on the labels, compared with 154 in 2005 and 299 in 2007—and that’s just in marquee supplement formats such as vitamin A, C, E, selenium, CoQ10 and zinc.

But recent studies have questioned antioxidants’ benefits.

One published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showed that vitamins C, E and the mineral selenium have no effect on preventing prostate cancer or other cancers in men. In 2008, a study said that the antioxidant supplements beta carotene and vitamins A and E seem to increase risk of death. Recently an announcement by the Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said that antioxidants don’t work.

So have these reports affected the antioxidant supplement category?

“I don’t think so,” said Grace Ormstein, MD, CTN, PhD and scientific herbal advisor to Himalaya Herbal Healthcare (Houston, TX). “Yes, the EFSA reached the opinion that a range of antioxidants in food doesn’t deliver ‘antioxidant properties’ or protect body cells, but they don’t specifically disagree with what we know about antioxidants overall. Perhaps more consistent clinical trials on antioxidants from food would bring more validity to their effectiveness.

On the other hand, there have been several specific studies and well-designed trials on herbs and herbal formulas that present strong proof of the effectiveness of antioxidants on human cells, particularly measured in red blood cells, erythrocytes.” Jay Levy, director of sales with Wakunaga (Mission Viejo CA), pointed out that the negative studies and opinions are often only based on a small portion of the available research on antioxidants.

“While the studies suggest that supplemental antioxidants do not improve health, a number of studies highlight the benefits of taking these free radical fighters,” Levy said. “For instance, the first large randomized trial on antioxidants and cancer risk was the Chinese Cancer Prevention Study. This trial investigated the effect of a combination of beta-carotene, vitamin E and selenium on cancer in healthy Chinese men and women at high risk for gastric cancer.

The study showed that this antioxidant cocktail significantly reduced the incidence of both gastric cancer and cancer overall.

“More recently,” he continued, “a randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled trial involving 12,741 healthy middleaged people found that taking supplemental antioxidants (vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, selenium and zinc) reduced the overall incidence of cancer and total mortality in men.” But it is important to remember that antioxidant supplements go far beyond these basic nutrients, Levy pointed out.

“Research shows that antioxidant-rich pomegranate extract selectively inhibits the growth of breast, prostate, colon and lung cancer cells. The polyphenols in green tea have been Found to reduce the risk of breast, lung, prostate and skin cancer, and may help those suffering from gastric and colorectal cancers. Other recent studies suggest that the powerful antioxidants resveratrol and curcumin not only act to prevent certain cancers, they enhance the anti-tumor activity of some chemotherapy drugs in people with bladder, colon and pancreatic cancer.” While these positive studies do not get the same amount of media attention, most consumers understand the importance of antioxidants, not just in terms of cancer prevention, but also as a way to support their overall health, Levy added.

That is true for retailer Tony Hause, president of Healthy Alternative, who has one store in northern Kentucky and two in Ohio. “I don’t think the negative press has affected antioxidant sales at all. I think our customers, the majority of them, often don’t believe what’s in the press. They don’t buy it. They think the established medical and pharmaceutical communities are behind those stories.

When they see something negative, and a product works for them, the news loses credibility.”

Consumer Awareness

Antioxidants continue to be extremely popular with consumers, which has helped sales reach record numbers. In 2008, sales totaled $4.6 billion, up nearly six percent over the year before and significantly higher than the $3 billion reported in 2006. This jump in sales may be directly attributable to demographic opportunity, ongoing research and consumer education via media coverage.

More exotic antioxidants such as açai, cranberry, curcumin, goji, green tea, lycopene, pomegranate, pycnogenol and resveratrol are capturing significant Market attention, said Levy. “In addition, as the only ‘antioxidant’ garlic supplement on the market, Kyolic Aged Garlic Extract, has been receiving much media attention regarding its rich organosulfur compounds and phenolics, which have pronounced antioxidant effects,” he added.

Malcolm Nicholl, president and CEO of ResVez (Rancho Santa Fe, CA), pointed to a survey conducted at the end of 2009 that showed a dramatic increase in consumer awareness of resveratrol from five percent to 23 percent in just one year. “This is not surprising when you consider the attention that resveratrol has enjoyed in the national media including 60 Minutes, a Barbara Walters special, Oprah, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and much more,” Nicholl said. His company’s WineTime Bar contains more resveratrol than 50 glasses of red wine.

Science News

On the science front, there have been many published animal studies showing the benefits of resveratrol in countering a variety of illnesses and even the extension of lifespan, said Nicholl. At least five human studies have now been presented at scientific meetings indicating heart health advantages and better control of diabetes.

A recent clinical study showed that resVida®, one of the sources of resveratrol used in the ResVez’s WineTime Bar, can improve heart health in humans.

Two separate analyses of the study reported by University of South Australia researchers Narelle Berry, PhD and Rachel Wong, BS concluded that resVida prompted a positive effect on blood flow of the brachial artery (the artery that runs from the shoulder down to the elbow). Measuring the blood flow of this artery is considered a key indicator of vascular health. “These results are exciting because they are the first data that show the potential cardiovascular health benefits of resVida in humans,” Nicholl added.

For its Free Radical Defenze product, Enzymedica (Port Charlotte, FL) combined primary antioxidants catalase and superoxide dismutase along with glutathione, alpha-lipoic acid and protease Thera-blend in an enzyme supplement.

In 2008, a study was conducted to confirm the efficacy of the product and its ability to help reduce free radical damage in the body, noted Maday Labrador, MS, Enzymedica’s director of scientific affairs. In this study, “Enzymatic and molecular antioxidant therapy: An open label study to assess impact of lipid hydroperoxide and glutathione levels,” Defenze vastly outperformed a buffered form of vitamin C containing bioflavonoids, Labrador said. Among the indications tested were caffeine clearance, liver detoxification and glutathione levels.

“The science into how antioxidants work in the body and the health benefits they confer is still emerging, but the possibilities are grabbing the attention of many manufacturers,” said Levy.

“Even though the role of antioxidants in reducing oxidation is quite well known, new research points to other health benefits. For instance, the Institute for Cancer Research in New York just published findings suggesting that vitamin A plays a role in ATP synthesis in mitrochondria—the tiny power plant found in all cells. According to their research, when there is a vitamin A deficiency, cellular energy production is reduced by 30 percent.

Another recent study in Nutrition and Metabolism found that men with the highest blood levels of selenium had a 50 percent lower risk of diabetes. Earlier research found that boosting levels of beta-carotene and vitamin C through supplementation reduces the risk of metabolic syndrome. Emerging evidence also points to the ability of antioxidants to decrease inflammation throughout the body as measured by a reduction of C-reactive protein.

Additionally, scientists are discovering that combinations of certain antioxidants have greater effect than single antioxidants on certain types of inflammation.” Down the road for manufacturers, much research is being done in the area of weight loss and how antioxidants can be beneficial—new research is also looking at the neurological effects of resveratrol, said Reserveage Organics’ (Gainseville, FL) Rae Crisman, vice president of sales.

What Consumers Want

Current “hot” antioxidants, as far as consumer interest is concerned, include resveratrol, açai, pomegranate, cocoa, green tea, super berries and super grapes (muscadine), noted Crisman.

Some others are turmeric, which supports normal function of the cell membrane; amla, which contains phyllemblin; ashwagandha, which contains the sitoindosides VII-X and withaferin A; and holy basil, which contains phenolic compounds with antioxidant properties such as eugenol, cirsilineol, rosmeric acid and the mineral zinc.

“Scientists and supplement manufacturers are scouring the globe in search of antioxidants from new sources,” said Levy. “Not only do these novel antioxidants often prove beneficial for health, they can also capture consumer imagination.

However, new sources of antioxidants— no matter how intriguing—still need to show concrete evidence that they benefit health, prevent disease or enhance longevity. This is why antioxidants like açai, curcumin and pomegranate are becoming respected mainstays in the antioxidant market.” Wakunaga’s hottest new formula just launched is Kyolic Curcumin. “This Product is specifically formulated to support healthy inflammation response.

The powerful antioxidants aged garlic extract and curcumin have been shown in several clinical studies to benefit several inflammatory conditions.” But for retailer Hause, traditional antioxidant supplementation is strong, he said.

“The old guard is coming out in the wintertime.

We sold more vitamin C this year than ever.” However, combination antioxidant supplements are doing as well as or better than they ever have, he added.

One combination supplement is Source Naturals’ (Scotts Valley, CA) Renewal Antioxidants, a Bio-Aligned Formula™ that supports multiple body systems with a balanced spectrum of plant antioxidants, vitamins and specialty nutrients that have antioxidant properties.

Renewal Antioxidants includes gamma E and tocotrienols, which are major lipid-soluble antioxidants that help maintain the integrity of cell membranes by preventing lipid oxidation.

The formula also includes hawthorn berry and grape seed, CoQ10, lycopene and other antioxidants for heart support.

A Clear Understanding

For retailers, “as we’ve seen, the majority of Americans are aware of antioxidants and, while they may not fully understand the precise way antioxidants work, they link antioxidants with protection and good health,” Levy added. “As manufacturers continue to sharpen their marketing messages on antioxidants, consumer education is key. This can come in the form of advertising and public relations efforts or through magazines, newspapers, television and the internet.” Himalayan’s Ormstein agreed that a good education from retailer to consumer is always vital: “Not just clear information during phone trainings and seminars, but offering key selling points in language consumers can understand,” she said. “Good marketing material is a necessity, as is a website that is easy to navigate and understand. And nothing beats products backed by clinical trials and primary research and a company full of good technical support which is a key for long-lasting success in any category.” Retailers should note the target audience for antioxidants is becoming less defined, Levy said. “Today, aging men and women are concerned about maintaining good health and a youthful appearance. Mothers between the ages of 35 and 50 increasingly buy groceries that contain antioxidants to give their families the health protection they need.

And young people look to antioxidants to boost vitality and help them cope with their busy lifestyles. This has greatly changed the antioxidant consumer base.

In today’s marketplace, the antioxidant consumer is male and female, young and old. In essence, it is everyone.”

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