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Immune Support: The Best Defense

Powerful as it is, the immune system cannot fend off every germ pthat comes its way. According to a Harvard Medical School Special Health report entitled “The Truth About Your Immune System,” nearly 53,000 people in the United States die of influenza or pneumonia annually, making those diseases together the eighth leading cause of death. Worldwide, tuberculosis was responsible for 1.8 million deaths in 2007, and measles killed about 164,000 people in 2008, most of them children. At the same time, new infectious diseases are appearing around the globe in such forms as the H1N1 influenza that emerged in 2009 and the continuing threat of new strains.

“The recent H1N1 scare drew attention to the immune category,” said Kelly M. Coppel, sales and marketing with Maximum Living Quality Supplements (Soulsbyville, CA). “Consumers looked to the natural products industry for products with key ingredients known to possess immune boosting properties.
This, in turn, created a positive impact in this category.” 

“The advent of swine flu this past year has certainly alerted people to the need for maintaining healthy immunity and avoiding contact with viruses,” concurred Frank Tufaro, PhD, president and CEO of Allera Health Products (San Diego, CA). “Swine flu caused at least 59 million illnesses, 265,000 hospitalizations and 12,000 deaths in the United States as of mid-February 2010.
Moreover, the apparent increase in ‘autoimmune’ diseases, and the worry about the potential side effects of vaccines, has caused many more people to become educated to what they can do to stay healthy naturally.” 

While living naturally healthier includes people seeking more exercise and sleep, and fewer saturated fats and refined sugars, it has also led them to natural retailers for immune support supplements.

“In the past year, we’ve seen heightened awareness about the importance of maintaining a strong immune system, and many new consumers entered the Category of natural immune support supplements and herbs,” said Angela Guerrant, vice president of sales with Gaia Herbs (Brevard, NC).“As a result, the market grew substantially for retailers and manufacturers alike over the past 12 months, and with cold and flu season just around the corner, the opportunity to re-engage those new natural consumers in taking control of their immune health with natural products is tremendous.” 

Meeting the Demand 
Kris Berg, general manager with Cambridge Naturals (Cambridge, MA), has seen a strong uptick in the store’s immune category since the H1N1 scare last fall with no signs of slowing, and has responded by providing shoppers with a bevy of choices.

With over 17,000 products in the store total and 45 percent of the store devoted to vitamins and supplements, Berg commented that Cambridge Naturals wants to make shopping as easy for customers as possible. It features two separate areas devoted to immune products; the first area, about seven shelves, is where it merchandises all acute immune products, and a second bay and half are where it features long-term immune products.

But since the H1N1 scare, allergy season is another reason that Cambridge has seen increased immune sales. 

“More customers are looking to head off illness at the pass,” said Berg. “It’s been a really wet spring and it’s gotten to a lot of our customers. A popular choice has been Barlean’s Olive Leaf Complex because it’s extremely effective at minimizing allergies and customers want to boost up before it gets bad.” 

Barlean’s Olive Leaf Complex is an herbal extract made directly from fresh-picked olive leaves. According to Julian Archer, olive tree grower for the company, it is a very powerful antioxidant—400 percent more powerful than vitamin C. “In a recent university study, it was found to have the highest antioxidant value (ORAC) of 55 antioxidant herbs studied. It has also been shown to have a Total Antioxidant Capacity (TAC) up to 28 times more powerful than some of the antioxidant ‘super juices’ such as açai, noni, mangosteen and goji, and is 500 percent more potent than the best of them,” he said.

“The unique advantage of Barlean’s Olive Leaf Complex versus other olive leaf products is that it is a liquid which is immediately fresh pressed to capture full-spectrum nutritional potency,” added Andreas Koch, Barlean’s marketing director. “It’s derived directly from the olive leaf. Full spectrum means that its unprocessed and unrefined and thus still possessing its inherent range of nutrients. There’s no storage, no drying or damage to the leaves—just as nature intended.” 

Allera Health Products also offers a product, Immune Extra®, with a unique ability to combat allergies.

“Immune Extra is a vegetarian capsule that contains Proligna® brand pinecone extract,” said Tufaro, “Pinecone extract, developed originally in Japan and the subject of over 35 research publications, is protected by 12 patents and uniquely has the ability to help ‘balance’ the immune system, which normally becomes unbalanced as we age. In particular, scientists recently discovered that pinecone extract can reduce the presence of an antibody called IgE circulating in the body of mice and man. IgE is the allergy trigger in over 50 million people and the ability to reduce IgE may prove to be an important component of the effectiveness of pinecone extract.” 

In addition, Gaia Herbs recently launched a new line of Throat Shield™ products available in a lozenge and throat spray. “The body’s first encounter with immune triggers often occurs on the throats mucous layer. The throat can also become irritated and inflamed when exposed to common, everyday irritants such as dry air, allergens and germs,” explained Keri Marshall, MS, ND, medical director with Gaia Herbs. “When the throat is irritated, mucilaginous herbs such as those found in the proprietary blend in Throat Shield, help to restore a normal protective lining in the membrane of the throat by providing hydration and immune support.” 

Boosting vs. Long-Term Gaia Herbs is a strong seller with Cambridge Naturals’ customers, but Berg noted a particular product that some of her customers are reaching for. 

“With our student shoppers and especially around flu season, they’re looking to keep their immune systems sharp, so we see more acute purchases like Gaia Herbs’ Quick Defense,” she said.

According to Marshall, Quick Defense Liquid Phytocaps™ was created based on a five-year Gaia Herbs study of echinacea, that was made possible with a $2.2 million dollar federally funded research grant from NIH/NCCAM, that found that E. angustifolia and E. purpurea contain alkylamide fractions, specifically isobutylamides that have anti-inflammatory and immune supportive properties. “When the immune system is initially challenged, the mucous membranes undergo an inflammatory reaction, which in turn results in mucous production. When this product, which is rich in isobutylamides, is taken in high frequency at the first sign of symptoms, the inflammatory and immune pathways in the body are effectively managed.” 

In Sherry’s Market, a single, independently owned store in Babylon, NY that’s been serving the natural products industry for 35 years, there is a permanent area devoted to immune health products, but it displays its best immune products on an endcap from October through March. Penelope Fox, supplement manager/ consultant, stressed how important the right immune products are to her operation.

“With the controversy around H1N1 and flu vaccines in general, people are looking toward improving and maintaining their health naturally. Plus, many people no longer have medical insurance, which makes prescription medications too costly,” she said. “Immune care products are extremely important to our customers, especially during the cold and flu season. Our nutrition specialists tend to recommend products and lifestyle strategies that focus on healthy immune function, rather than quick-fix, intervention- type strategies.
Prevention appears to be far more effective than intervention.”

Berg agreed, offering that more of her customers are also interested in increasing their overall immune capacity rather than looking for a quick boost.

“We see a lot more long-term immune building purchases, because they’re looking to get fewer colds next season,” said Berg. “In that regard, we’re selling more in the mushroom category as well as CoQ10 and resveratrol—the core nutrients.” 

Founded in March 2009, Reserveage Organics (Gainsville, FL) saw the need to address the need for effective immune support products, but wanted to continue to adhere to its organic resveratrol foundation. To that end, the company created ViraLaurin Immune, which biochemically balances the body while improving daily health and wellbeing through immune system support. “The supplement contains monolauric acid, which is clinically proven to help fight and protect against viruses,” explained Kaitlyn Hastings, public relations specialist with Reserveage. “Daily doses of the supplement will protect the body against environmental stress, toxins and free radicals through a cell-protecting nutritional shield that helps diminish the risk of age-related issues and protects against bacteria and viruses.

“The supplement also contains resveratrol from certified organic French red and Muscadine grapes and Japanese knotweed, which is a powerful antioxidant known for its cardiovascular benefits found in the stems, seeds and skin of red wine grapes,” she added.

Fox shared that Reserveage’s ViraLaurin is an up-and-coming product in her store. “We think that Reserveage Viralaurin is an exciting new product that will offer support to people dealing with chronic and/or acute viral infection.

“Many people are still looking for the quick-fix, ‘magic bullet’ approach to health,” she added, “but most are thinking about their long-term health now as well.” Other top sellers at Sherry’s include Fungi Perfecti’s Host Defense and New Chapter’s LifeShield Immunity. “These are more long-term, non-specific immune products.” 

In addition to the core nutrients, Berg expressed that recent studies have also affected her customers’ buying activities. “We’ve also been selling a lot of vitamin D,” she said, “which I attribute to a recent study about New Englanders getting more colds because they get less sun exposure.” 

In response to the reports that vitamin D shows strong implications for immune support, Uckele Health & Nutrition (Blissfield, MI) recently developed D3-K2, which combines D with vitamin K, to work synergistically to support bones, teeth and connective tissue. “Together they also support healthy calcium metabolism in the soft tissues of the body and improve blood vessel health,” said Uckele. “This is taken sublingually to most effectively be absorbed and utilized.” 

Delivery 
Lester Burks, CMO of Life Line Foods (Pikeville, TN), offered that “parents are particularly interested in protecting their children from infectious pathogens as well as the common cold. Natural products industry trend tracker SPINS predicts that ‘incorporating innovative delivery systems specifically designed for children will command greater shelf presence,’” he said, adding that his company’s Buried Treasure’s Children’s ACF™ high potency immune support offers the Liquid Advantage™: “a delivery system much easier for children to take in a formula synergistically tailored for the immune health of their growing bodies.” 

“I believe that in general, the best method to take immune supporting supplements is in a liquid form,” said Mark J. Kaylor, vice president of education and research with Mushroom Wisdom (East Rutherford, NJ). 

“This allows the immune interaction to begin in the white blood cell rich mouth, which can then signal a systemic, deeper and more profound response. It also honors the herbal traditions that believe the taste of an herb is an important aspect of its actions.” Still, manufacturers recognize that delivery is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Maximum Living’s Coppel sees that liquid formulations have their benefits, but “encapsulated supplements formulated with quality ingredients in combination with good manufacturing practices have also been shown to be very effective and continue to appeal to consumers.” 

“Every consumer is different when it comes to delivery methods,” said Gaia Herbs’ Guerrant. “Some people just do not like to swallow capsules while others simply do not tolerate liquid herbal products.” 

Hot Immune Ingredients 
Citing the SPINS 2010 report, Burks noted that retailers should “look for growth in all vitamin and supplement products that boost immunity, including probiotics, medicinal mushrooms, echinacea, astragalus and prebiotic and probiotic foods, which are seen as sources of immune boosting.” 

“It is interesting to note that Prevention ACF™ includes a superior mushroom complex of reishi, shitake and maitake mushrooms in addition to immune boosting antioxidants and trusted herbs like astragalus, echinacea and others,” said Burks. “We launched our ACF family of supplements in 1997 because we saw an increased demand for immune health supplements. At Life Line Foods, we have our own manufacturing facility, which means that we handle each stage of production to guarantee that the highest quality is put into each product. Our ACF family encompasses ACF Fast Relief™, Prevention ACF, Children’s ACF and Cough Complete ACF™. Each of these products include carefully sourced and tested vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants and herbs that people have long trusted to bring results in stimulating the body’s own immune response.”

With almost 15 years of use, experience and many numerous studies, Mushroom Wisdom’s best-selling ingredient and product for immune enhancement is the Maitake D-Fraction. “The simple take on why it does so well is that it is effective,” said Kaylor. “By boosting a number of immune functions, from macrophage to natural killer cells to cytotoxic t-cells, the Maitake Dfraction works across a range on immune actions and show promising evidence for possibly decreasing sideeffects of some conventional agents.” 

Maximum Living highlighted two products in line with the SPINS report. First is its m•u Boost®, a complete immune support blend of andorgraphis paniculata, echinacea purpurea, goldenseal, alpha lipoic acid, zinc, selenium and reishi mushroom. The company also has a newly reformulated Probiotic Blend that offers seven strains of beneficial micro flora. “Probiotics are typically known for gut health, however studies have shown that probiotics help modulate the immune system and contribute to overall good health,” said Coppel.

One of Uckele’s areas of focus was utilizing the properties demonstrated by arabinogalactan, which it uses in its for mula for Glycophagen.

“From there we focused on combining arabinogalactan with prebiotics and probiotics to support healthy gut function, which directly affects the Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue (GALT) that comprises about 70 percent of the immune system,” said Kevin Isley, vice president of sales with Uckele.

Glychophagen is a powdered premix that directly addresses immune support, which Isely explained sells well for two reasons: “First, it’s a unique delivery system in a powder that encourages synergism between the ingredients. Second, the amount per dose is considerably higher to more effectively support the digestive tract.” 

The company offers two additional products in its immune line: Anti-VRL™, a combination of amino acids, herbal and plant extracts, and a specific protein to support the body’s natural defenses, which is highly supportive of the immune system related to viral exposures; and Immunocomp™, a balanced blend of vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, glandulars and enzymes to fortify and strengthen immune function.

Merchandising 
In line with Cambridge Naturals’ separate immune sections, Life Line Foods’ Burks noted this is the first way retailers can enhance immune support products. “We would first recommend having an immune support section set up in the store,” he said. “Next, make sure you never run out of top-selling immune support products, since immune health is a year-round concern for most people.” 

Barlean’s Koch suggested that retailers set up a big instore visual display along with bag stuffers that show alarming cold/flu stats. “Perhaps offering a percentage of Americans who will be sick this winter and why it makes sense to take preventative steps as an insurance,” he said, suggesting that it’s best to begin this campaign in early October.

“The most important tip I have for retailers trying to build this category revolves around information and knowledge,” said Mushroom Wisdom’s Kaylor. “Know as much as you can about these products, buy and recommend those that you feel will be effective and are supported by experience and research. A consumer that uses an effective immune product is much more likely to be a returning consumer of this and other products.

“I would also encourage retailers to not focus just on disease or symptomatic relief, but to think preventive enhancement,” he added. “This is truly where natural products shine.”

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