When the human body converts oxygen into energy, free radicals are formed as natural by-products of this process, the overproduction of which cause damage to the body. Free radicals have an unpaired electron, which they try to find a match for by stealing an electron from something around it. This process, which is known as oxidation, causes harm to cells and literally makes our bodies rust and rot. In addition to the free radicals produced by the body’s metabolism, exposure to various environmental factors such as pollution, smoke and pesticides cause damage to our cells as well. Without proper nutrition, oxidation can contribute to any number of debilitating diseases, including cancer and heart disease. Antioxidants prevent oxidation from happening. They clean up as many free radicals as possible by stabilizing the free radicals before damage occurs by giving up one of their electrons.
As a nutraceuticals category, antioxidants form a class of ingredients that are becoming increasingly popular among consumers. From time-tested ingredients such as vitamins C and E to newer ingredients like lutein and lycopene, antioxidants are not a passing fad. On the contrary, as this country’s healthcare system continues to spiral into disarray more people are seeking alternative methods to maintain their health, and as this paradigm shift from treatment to prevention continues to unfold, antioxidants represent one of the most recognized and beneficial groups of ingredients among consumers.
The Antioxidant Market
Antioxidant ingredients have shown slow but steady growth in both the supplement and food ingredient market over the past few years. According to Nutrition Business Journal (NBJ), San Diego, CA, the antioxidant market it tracks, which includes vitamins A, C and E, selenium, green tea extract, grape seed extract, pine bark, CoQ10, bilberry, soy isoflavones, lutein, lycopene, rosemary and olive leaf extract, grew only 1.5% in 2002, totaling approximately $2.5 billion in sales.
The slow down of the supplement industry as a whole in the last few years, has been one factor that has affected antioxidant sales, according to Michael Wang, COO, NuLiv Science USA, Inc., City of Industry, CA, suppliers of RosaEx™, a potent all-natural fruit extract antioxidant complex containing super oxide dismutase (SOD), vitamin C and plant polyphenols. “Consumer concerns regarding safety have been on the rise as a result of increasing negative media reports on the efficacy and safety of many supplement ingredients, including antioxidants,” he said.
However, through clinical research studies and efforts made to educate the public by this industry, antioxidant ingredients are slowly becoming a common part of the dialogue concerning health maintenance and promotion. “The scientific and academic communities are consistently delivering the message that consumers need to eat a minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables a day to prevent disease,” said Rick Kaiser, senior sales and product manager, Van Drunen Farms, Momence, IL, which produces several blueberry products, including its flagship product, VitaBlue™, a 150:1 extract of wild blueberries. “Stories about health findings detailing specific micronutrients are being intentionally submerged into the broader ‘Eat 5-A-Day’ message.”
Barry Kaufman, product manager, Human Nutrition, BASF Corporation, Mount Olive, NJ, which produces and markets vitamins A, C and E, beta-carotene and lycopene in water-dispersable food-grade powders, pharmaceutical grade powders and dispersions in vegetable oil, said some of the older antioxidants, such as vitamin E for example, are still being underutilized by consumers who may not be fully aware of their benefits, which means there is still room for additional market growth. “The market for antioxidants is growing as consumers become more aware of potential health benefits from specific nutrients, such as the use of lycopene for prostate cancer or lutein for eye health,” he said. “More foods and dietary supplements containing significant amounts of antioxidants are lining the shelves of drug stores, supermarkets and health food outlets.”
According to Dr. Phil Brown, corporate communications manager, Zila Nutraceuticals, Prescott, AZ, which recently launched Ester-E™ tocopheryl phosphate, a naturally occurring form of vitamin E formed when d-alpha tocopherol is joined to a phosphate molecule, ongoing research continues to show that antioxidants counteract dysfunctions in the body. “As antioxidants become more accepted, people are looking for more applications to apply antioxidant use. This is causing researchers to try and expand the use of antioxidants through studies,” he said. “As a result, more combinations are being put into antioxidant formulas, which will play a vital role in reducing healthcare costs in this country.”
Trends & Challenges
Providing a product, which addresses a specific health issue such as cancer prevention, skin rejuvination, anti-aging, cognitive function, eye health or immune function is a trend that has proliferated the antioxidant category. Lynda Doyle, director of marketing—New Ingredients and Business Development, DSM Nutritional Products, Inc., Parsippany, NJ, supplier of a variety of antioxidants, including vitamins E and C, carotenoids and Teavigo™, which contains up to 94% pure epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), discussed this trend. “Rather than provide a product with general antioxidant protection, it would be more beneficial to consumers to provide a product targeted at a specific health benefit, a product that incorporates various antioxidants and other nutrients,” she said. “More consumers are looking for solutions and don't want to take a multitude of products.”
Steve Anderson, vice president, San Joaquin Valley Concentrates (SJVC), Modesto, CA, suppliers of Activin® grape seed extract and grape skin extract, added his perspectives on a different trend. “Manufacturers appear to be moving toward antioxidant blends that incorporate both traditional vitamins and herbal extracts, rather than stand alone single ingredient formulas, while food manufacturers continue to incorporate natural antioxidants into traditional food formulations,” he said.
In the last several years, the movement toward incorporating the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) concept has also gained momentum. Speaking to this was Gilbert Gluck, president and CEO, Cyvex Nutrition, Irvine, CA, which supplies Biovin® grape extract, BerryVida™ blend of berries, grape and pomegranate extracts and BroccoPhane™ broccoli sprout extract, who said, “More attention is increasingly being paid to the benefits of high ORAC value and more finished product manufacturers are touting this benefit.”
In agreement was Ellen Schutt, marketing director, RFI Ingredients, Blauvelt, NY, suppliers of OxyPhyte® brand antioxidants, who said her company continues to strongly believe in the value of a plant-based antioxidant platform incorporating the ORAC concept. “Many of our customers are now requesting products with a certain ORAC level or are interested in explaining the ORAC concept on their label. New research by ORAC expert Dr. Ronald Prior, to be published this year, should go a long way toward clarifying the ORAC strategy and clearing up any confusion around the ORAC concept,” she said. “The challenge going forward is to make sure that suppliers are comparing apples to apples when they talk about ORAC numbers and that our customers understand the differences between products and how to market the ORAC concept.”
Scott Rosenbush, business manager—Botanicals, PL Thomas & Co., Morristown, NJ, which offers a full range of standardized fruit extracts including, apple, black currant, blueberry leaf, white cherry, pomegranate, grape leaves, prunes and apricots, in addition to GliSODin®, cautioned that while ORAC is a step forward in the technical evaluation of products, it must be used carefully. “Raw material suppliers and their customers should be very careful not to overstate the importance of the ORAC values,” he said. “It should be noted that natural ingredients vary significantly from year to year and region to region. This can have a substantial impact on ORAC values for the same ingredient from the same supplier. As a result, companies should be careful to have substantial documentation of data before guaranteeing minimum ORAC levels in natural ingredients.” He added, “The ultimate test would be to evaluate and compare ingredients in-vivo for meaningful results.”
One of the biggest challenges companies in the antioxidant market have faced over the past several years is the proliferation of products that have saturated the market as the benefits of antioxidants are touted more and more. However, Mr. Anderson said that an even bigger challenge the antioxidant market must overcome is the lack of immediacy in the perceived health benefits of antioxidants. “Energy supplements and dietary aids provide a short-term, measurable benefit that consumers can feel and see. Although antioxidants are an important element in a long-term health strategy, they do not confer a measurable benefit on a short-term basis,” he said. “Antioxidants typically mitigate disease and support overall health and longevity over a lifetime. Promoting antioxidants as a product category, and differentiating among antioxidant products, is extremely difficult since you cannot readily detect the health benefit.”
Christian Hoffert, director of research and development, GCI Nutrients, Burlingame, CA, suppliers of a variety of antioxidant ingredients, including resveratrol and pine bark, concurred. “One of the major problems with sales in this product category is that consumers need to take these products over a long period of time to feel any results,” he said. “As a result, the need for consumer education is extremely important as it is the key to growth.”
Consumer Awareness & Education
Consumer interest in antioxidants remains high. Nearly two-thirds of shoppers are interested in learning more about antioxidants, while one-third feels antioxidants are missing in their diets, according to a recent survey published by HealthFocus International, Atlanta, GA.
While this bodes well for the segment overall, antioxidant vitamin use in general is still down, according to DSM’s Ms. Doyle. “This isn't surprising as there hasn't been much positive news about these antioxidant vitamins in recent years,” she said. “However, in January, the results of the Cache County Study were reported, indicating that the combination of vitamin E and C supplementation may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's Disease. This is exciting news on the antioxidant vitamin front and the study received much media attention, so we should see a positive reaction from consumers.”
Despite increased consumer interest and activity in the antioxidant arena, the level of consumer sophistication for understanding antioxidants is not very good. Consumers are becoming increasingly confused. In fact, consumers receive constant messages about the importance of antioxidants for disease prevention but the category is too vast for them to understand completely, said Van Drunen Farms’ Mr. Kaiser. “So many ingredients are touted by marketers as antioxidants, when in truth, their capacity to quench free radicals may range from strong to weak,” he said. “Consumers need an FDA or USDA approved standard rating, as Brunswick Labs is attempting to set with ORAC.”
Because there are so many different antioxidant products available, the challenge, according to RFI’s Ms. Schutt, lies also in educating the consumer to make logical decisions about which products to choose. “Consumers understand that antioxidants are good for them, but they don’t necessarily understand why,” she said. “Likewise, they are not able to differentiate whether green tea is a better or worse choice than grape seed extract, for example. Clearing up this confusion will not be easy, but we as an industry must work together to educate the consumer.”
NuLiv’s Mr. Wang said it is hard even for many professionals in this industry, let alone consumers, to fully understand the research, efficacy, safety and applications of all the antioxidants on the market. “Systematic and three party evaluation and education of each antioxidants’ substantiated benefit and safety hold the key to advance all the marketing and sales of the existing antioxidants, as well as properly introducing new ingredients in this category,” he said.
Speaking of new ingredients, Juan Ferreira, operations manager, Rainforest Botanicals, Miami, FL, supplies Purple-X®, the first standardized extract from Peruvian purple corn. He said that nutraceutical companies must help consumers sift through the many products claiming antioxidant protection and steer them toward the antioxidants with a strong traditional and/or researched history of antioxidant benefits. This will allow consumers to focus their antioxidant consumption on those products that will benefit them the most. “The level of consumer awareness is very strong in the antioxidant market as it has matured over the past several years,” he said. “The biggest challenge for consumers is understanding antioxidant claims in order to successfully determine which antioxidants are best suited for their needs.”
The Functional Foods Front
As pill fatigue continues to be an issue for some consumers, functional foods and beverages continue to gain in popularity, mostly due to their convenience and appeal. “The trend of functional foods and beverages is increasing in all health categories,” said Allondra Stevens, marketing services manager, InterHealth Nutraceuticals, Inc., Benecia, CA, suppliers of OptiBerry™, a standardized multiple berry anthocyanin extract. “Both delivery systems provide convenient ways to acquire nutritional benefits, while also satiating hunger and thirst at the same time. They’re a perfect fit for the active lifestyle, especially as most consumers dislike and/or forget to take oral supplements on a daily basis.”
According to Van Drunen’s Mr. Kaiser there has been a tremendous increase in potential applications for antioxidants in functional foods. But for the moment, he said, consumers are jumping head first into high-protein, low-carb diets. “As a result, antioxidant-rich foods like fruits are the first thing to go in most of the popular diets,” he said. “As a consequence, Americans may reverse the obesity crisis, only to unintentionally cause an increases a decade from now in cataracts, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and arthritis due to low antioxidant consumption.”
Sharing her view was RFI’s Ms. Schutt. “Very few food companies are willing to go out on a limb in terms of the antioxidants they add to food products, sticking with the basics, such as vitamins A, C and E,” she said. “There still needs to be a paradigm shift in the minds of big food companies before these ingredients will be added to a large consumer brand.”
Discussing functional foods from a claims perspective was SJVC’s Mr. Anderson. “Many antioxidants can support structure/function claims but few, if any, can support health claims,” he explained. “Since antioxidants confer long-term benefits, substantiating claims will require large, long-term and expensive clinical studies. Health claims will be essential to making a substantial entry into traditional foods and beverages.”
As consumers and marketers continue to look for evidence of products meeting quality and safety requirements, many companies are heading in the direction of obtaining generally recognized as safe (GRAS) status for their ingredients. NuLiv’s Mr. Wang said GRAS status answers questions about safety by offering proof of clinical research and a history of safe use. “GRAS status enables ingredients to be used in foods and beverages, which can greatly expand their sales,” he said, adding, “But GRAS determination and notification are complex processes that can take years to complete.”
Antioxidants have become very familiar to consumers in that they are beneficial to overall health, anti-aging and the prevention of chronic and degenerative diseases, such as cancer, arthritis and heart disease, according to InterHealth’s Ms. Stevens. “Well-known antioxidants, including vitamins A, C and E are some of the most popular choices that consumers purchase and trust. In addition, a new generation of antioxidants is emerging, reflected in the sales of CoQ10,” she said. “According to Nutrition Business Journal (NBJ), CoQ10 experienced 27% growth within the first five months of 2003, resulting in a $320 million consumer market.” She continued, “Anthocyanins represent another emerging market. Anthocyanins are common components of fruits and vegetables, in particular berries, which provide pigmentation and serve as natural antioxidants.”
Health conscious consumers are becoming more aware of the connection between the color of their foods and their potential healing properties, according to Rainforest Botanicals’ Mr. Ferreira. “There has been an increased awareness of the potential benefits of consuming foods that contain antioxidant substances, such as polyphenols, anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins,” he said. “Years ago, red wine and pine bark extract were the sole leaders of this category. Nowadays, new powerful, specific-acting compounds, such as lycopene, are entering the market. Among them, Peruvian purple corn has been recognized worldwide as a truly powerful antioxidant with real and potential health benefits.”
NuLiv’s Mr. Wang says consumers have been using and are continuing to use vitamins A, C and E and selenium and chromium as the cornerstones for general health. However, he said, there is an increasing awareness of new antioxidants that can be used for specific and targeted health benefits, such as anti-aging and cardiovascular and immune health.
DSM’s Ms. Doyle said vitamins C and E continue to be two of the top nutrients shoppers look for in their supplements and fortified products, according to the HealthFocus survey. However, she also said lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin are gaining momentum with consumers as well. “HealthFocus found that an increased number of shoppers have heard about the eye health benefits of lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as lycopene and the specific health benefits of cancer prevention and heart health,” she said.
Lycopene was also the subject of a survey, the results of which were recently released by H.J. Heinz Company, Pittsburgh, PA. The survey found that the public’s awareness of functional foods and the benefits of lycopene in a healthy diet are higher than ever before. Just five years ago an initial survey asked consumers if they had ever heard of lycopene and only 6.5% of participants responded positively. The 2003 survey results show that over 37% of people asked had heard of the antioxidant.
In terms of up-and-coming ingredients, RFI’s Ms. Schutt said, “White tea continues to grow in awareness for its high antioxidant levels as more marketing companies incorporate the ingredient into finished products. For example, Fuze Beverage is rolling out a white tea product this spring. Likewise, a new supplement product for the health practitioner market, FruiTea-Max™, from HVL/Douglas Labs, also contains white tea.”
Grape antioxidants, including grape seed extract and wine extracts, also continue to grow in popularity and receive positive support from the research community, according to SJVC’s Mr. Anderson. “Grape-based antioxidants continue to receive considerable positive press based on published health studies supporting their cardiovascular health benefits,” he said.
Cranberry has also hit the radar screen in the nutraceutical arena for its antioxidant activity. According to Reza Ghaedian, Ph.D, vice president of science and technology, Decas Botanical Synergies, Inc., Wareham, MA, cranberry has been historically used not only as food, but also as medicine. “Cranberry has been shown to improve the health of the urinary tract through prevention of bacterial binding to the urinary tract by phenolic metabolites in cranberry,” he said.
Going into further detail about cranberry’s antioxidant components, Dr. Ghaedian said, “All plants have phenolic phytochemicals, which are synthesized by the plant as a defense mechanism for its protection against environmental and pathogen attack. Phenolic phytochemicals in cranberry have been shown to have antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. Phenolics are responsible for high antioxidant activity.”
Resveratrol, an active constituent commonly found in red wine, is also showing promise for its antioxidant capacity, according to GCI’s Mr. Hoffert. “Researchers from Harvard University believe that resveratrol could show great promise in extending human lifespan. In laboratory experiments, resveratrol has extended the lifespan of simple organisms such as yeast and fruit flies and research is being conducted on rodents, the results of which should be available in one to two years,” he said. “The hypothesis seems to be that the formation of resveratrol within grapes accumulates in higher concentrations under stressful growing conditions. Resveratrol seems to signal cell proteins to switch cellular activity within cells to defense mode, thus increasing resistance to stress and disease. The benefits of resveratrol seem to mimic the life extension effects of calorie restriction, which has been shown to increase lifespan by 30% in mammals.”
As for blueberries, John Sauve, executive director, Wild Blueberry Association of North America, Bar Harbor, ME, said that they have come a long way. “Thanks to all the research and media coverage over the last six years, particularly in the area of antioxidant activity, wild blueberries have gone from being an ingredient in muffins to a health icon,” he said. “Recent research findings showed that a significant difference exists between wild and cultivated blueberries relative to their respective phytochemical content with wild blueberries delivering higher ORAC scores and almost twice the level of total phenolics.”
For the Future
The general consensus in the industry is that the future for the antioxidant market looks bright, however, growth will not be dramatic, but will occur at a slow and steady rate and will rely upon reducing the level of consumer confusion when it comes to understanding antioxidants.
Mr. Wang said NuLiv believes the possibilities in the antioxidant market are practically unlimited as consumers become more educated about the importance of antioxidants in maintaining and enhancing the quality of life. “However, more research that can point specifically to the safety and efficacy of each antioxidant will be needed to make this happen,” he said.
Van Drunen Farms’ Mr. Kaiser said antioxidants rely on consumer faith and belief, since for the most part you don't feel anything when you take them. “It’s taken decades for vitamins C and E to ingrain themselves into the consumer subconscious,” he said. “For all of the evidence for the cancer protective benefits of selenium, it’s still an orphan mineral. Success will come from food and nutraceutical companies simplifying consumer choices with comprehensive formulas or functional foods.”
In the end, SJVC’s Mr. Anderson said, “The antioxidant market will continue to grow over the foreseeable future at a slow but steady pace, however health claims will be required to increase growth and establish a significant presence in the food and beverage markets.”