Green tea and essential fatty acids may be getting all the press this year because of their top-seller status, but there are many supplements that are steadily, quietly doing well. Lutein may have been your rising star yesterday—34.8 percent sales increase from 2003 to 2004—but today you're doing yeoman's work and taking smaller "character" roles—11.4 percent increase over the past year.
But just such an arc is the stuff of which careers are made. Steadily collecting accolades and continuing to do good work gets you a name that has history—and employment. The following nine supplements are getting it done and have the track records to prove it.
Alpha lipoic acid
Alpha lipoic acid is a substance found in mitochondria, the body's energy-producing structures. The body makes enough ALA to cover its metabolic function of helping to convert fat and sugar into energy. However, scientists discovered as early as 1988 that excess ALA serves as an antioxidant. Not only is ALA fat- and water-soluble, but it works with other antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, to increase their effectiveness.
Sales of ALA increased 17 percent from 2003 to 2004, 7.2 percent from 2004 to 2005 and 7.3 percent this past year. Note that in 2005, only 10 out of 32 nonherbal supplements didn't decline in sales, and a total of 15 out of 83 herbal and nonherbal supplements posted sales increases.
Christopher Deatherage, a naturopathic physician in Eva, Mo., who also owns a health food store, said ALA sales have strong word-of-mouth referral. "The science is there, but yet never has received the press time," he said. "It doesn't matter; educated people are interested in science, but ultimately what they're really interested in is results."
Coenzyme Q10, known more commonly as Co-Q10, is another substance found in the mitochondria that plays a key role in energy production. According to the National Cancer Institute, "Animal studies have shown that coenzyme Q10 stimulates the immune system and increases resistance to certain infections and types of cancer."
Sales of Co-Q10 increased 20.8 percent from 2003 to 2004, 0.9 percent from 2004 to 2005 and 17.1 percent last year."I could speculate the reason why it is becoming so popular is because it is used for many, many different conditions," said Angila Jaeggli, a naturopathic physician at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health in Seattle. "And people do feel an improvement in their vitality and energy when taking Co-Q10."
Lutein is a carotenoid found in fruits and vegetables that supports eye and skin health. In November 2004, the second report on supplements by health care and human services consulting firm The Lewin Group found that lutein use (with zeaxanthin) would result in $2.5 billion in U.S. health care savings over five years with daily intake by adults over 65 because of its vision-protective properties.
According to Deatherage, young optometrists are now getting training on the benefits of supplements, and are recommending their patients try lutein. "You get people with cataracts, macular degeneration—some of these eye problems—get them in the early stages and get them on lutein and it really does help them," he said.
Sales of lutein increased 34.8 percent from 2003 to 2004, 17.3 percent from 2004 to 2005 and 11.4 percent this past year. And while it once may have been near the top of the hot seller's list, the supplement is now a steady seller with solid sales.
Another carotenoid, lycopene gives tomatoes their red color. Numerous scientific studies have shown lycopene's effectiveness in cancer prevention—especially prostate—and its ability to reduce DNA damage.
Lycopene sales have hit the heights—and dropped just as fast, though not as far. The high-water mark was 56.2 percent growth from 2003 to 2004, dipping to 15.1 percent from 2004 to 2005 and hitting ?8.3 percent last year. Will this be the bottom with a rebound on the way?
"[Lycopene] is really important with all the men that are being diagnosed with prostate cancer—the men are starting to do some research," Deatherage said. "It's very underrated in the science, but here's another instance [as with ALA] where it's still a high seller for me."
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the brain's pineal gland. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, there is evidence for melatonin's ability to help in sleep disorders and in jet lag prevention.
Sales of melatonin decreased 4 percent from 2003 to 2004, increased 2.3 percent from 2004 to 2005 and continued its rise with 4.5 percent growth last year. Perhaps the newfound attention to sleep disorders has reached a critical mass and the growth will continue. "It's a pretty incredible substance. It's also very inexpensive and readily available to people," Jaeggli said.
A catchall category in the Market Overview charts, silicea refers to the group of supplements with a silica base—from silica to the homeopathic version, silicea. Homeopaths use silicea for numerous ailments, but it generally supports hair and nail growth, just as the mineral silica does. (See May NFM)
Sales in this category increased 22.6 percent from 2003 to 2004, decreased 38.6 percent from 2004 to 2005 and rebounded 8.9 percent this past year.
"I might get one patient a month [who's heard about silica]," Deatherage said. "But if it's indicated and people use it, most people report real improvement."
5-hydroxytryptophan is a derivative of the amino acid tryptophan, which is in turn converted into serotonin, a neurotransmitter. Serotonin is important in regulating mood, sleep and other central nervous system functions. A small amount of scientific evidence has found that 5-HTP is helpful in boosting serotonin.
Sales of 5-HTP have been quiet but impressive. They increased 12.4 percent from 2003 to 2004, 3.3 percent from 2004 to 2005 and 14.6 percent this past year.
"I think that people are looking for something that is going to help them and move them from the place that they're having a hard time taking themselves out of, without experiencing all of the drug interaction that many of the [serotonin-boosting] medications have," Jaeggli said.
Sales of this group of supplements increased 5.3 percent from 2003 to 2004, decreased 17.7 percent from 2004 to 2005 and were up 9.3 this past year. From 2003 to 2004, only 16 out of 51 herbal supplements posted sales increases.
Cranberry for urinary tract infections has been a common refrain for years. Science caught up with this conventional wisdom in a study published in the June 2001 British Medical Journal. More recently, a paper presented at the 2003 American Chemical Society meeting found that cranberry was effective in reducing brain-cell death resulting from stroke. Sales of cranberry supplements increased 9.2 percent from 2003 to 2004, 3.7 percent from 2004 to 2005 and 18.8 percent last year. Cranberry can be forgiven its sales "slump" from 2004 to 2005 considering that a scant 5 out of 51 herbal supplements had any sales increases at all.
"Isn't it amazing that there are certain things that are real grassroots, that've been around forever," Deatherage said. "I've noticed a real interest in both the concentrated capsules and whole cranberry juice."
Overall, according to Jaeggli, whether a supplement has a career rather than just being flavor-of-the-month could be simple—simplicity. "Any product that is readily available and is effective against something that is painful will be popular," she said. "If people can easily access it and it's effective at relieving symptoms quickly, there's definitely good reasons to keep it around."
Editor's note: All data is from market research firm Information Resources Inc.
Click here to order a copy of Market Overview 2005.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 6/p. 54, 56