Ephedra Alternatives What will take its place?

Ephedra Alternatives – What will take its place?

Companies are looking for safer dietary supplements to help customers lose weight in the wake of the FDA ban of Ephedra.Across the Pacific things are moving in another direction. In Japan, new weight control products are booming. Green tea catechin has been known to be an effective ingredient for weight control for some time now.

Green Tea Catechin for Weight Control

Last May, a house cleaning and cosmetic giant, Kao Co., launched a weight control beverage, Healthya Green Tea. Healthya is a green tea drink that contains 540 mg of green tea catechin in a 350 ml single serving bottle. The green tea we drink every day contains “only one fourth’s of the amount of catechin in the same serving” said Mr. Yasukawa, chief of new product development at Kao. Green tea catechin is what makes tea bitter. He explained that a green tea drink 4 times more bitter would be almost impossible for people to tolerate. It therefore took almost 3 years to develop a drink with a reasonably enjoyable taste which still contain a high enough volume of tea catechin to be effective for weight control. Healthya was FOSHU-approved (Foods for Specified Health Use) in March, 2003. Its health claim reads, “this product contains green tea catechin therefore it is suitable for people who are concerned with body fat.”

According to a published report, people who drank one Healthya a day for 12 weeks lost an average 10 percent BMI. Enjoying tea and losing weight appealed to consumers. In just the six months since its introduction, the company has sold $50 million worth of product and sales are now over $100 million. In a land of 126 million people, I consider any food with over $100 million a year in revenues a hit product. In the functional foods category only a handful of products meet that qualification.

A Tea Giant Answers

Japan’s top tea product producer, Itoen quickly respon-
ded to the success of Kao’s Healthya by introducing
Diet Support 6 months later. Diet Support contains only
280 mg of green tea chatechin per 350 ml bottle. Nikkei
Bio Business, a trade publication, reported that Kao holds
a content product patent that prevents Itoen from containing
more than 322 mg of catechin per 350 ml bottle.
Regardless, “a product named Diet Support attracts
weight conscious consumers,” said Itoen.
Kao’s Healthya

Will dieters associate Catechin with losing weight?

Japan Sangria Beverage, a midsize beverage producer, recently released Catechin 600. It contains, yes, 600 mg of tea catechin in a 350 ml bottle. Sangria claims the reason its product does not infringe Kao’s patent is a “different extract process” (Nikkei Bio Business). Catechin 600 is priced 20 percent lower than its competitors. Sangria hopes that the word “catechin” has been established as a diet ingredient and will attract consumers.

Tea for Two? No, Tea Plus

The latest entry in the catechin diet drink market is a food giant, Morinaga. Morinaga launched its weight control tea drink, Tea Plus. Its effective ingredient is a substance called ‘globulin protein disintegrate’. It helps people lose weight by disrupting fat absorption in the body, according to Morinaga.Tea Plus contains 6 mg of globulin protein disintegrate per serving. It’s also approved as FOSHU.While sales figures for Tea Plus are not yet available, Morinaga claims that it’s doing well.

Following the US - Unfortunately

Many Westerners say they have never seen an overweight Japanese person, but obesity is seeping into Japanese society. According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW), the number of obese Japanese has doubled in the last 20 years. The latest survey conducted by MHLW in 2001 showed that the number of obese Japanese was 37 million. The increased popularity of western lifestyle and processed foods contributed to the increase. The weight control market is just under $2 billion, in Japan, according to Fuji research. And the bottled health tea market is just under $500 million. Whether green tea catechin drink will replace banned Ephedra is still a question, but at least its effectiveness and safety shows significant promise.

I’ll talk about more about the current nutraceutical environment in the next issue.

Stay tuned.

Paul Yamaguchi is president of Paul Yamaguchi & Associates, Inc., Tarrytown, NY.

His company publishes a number of Japanese nutrition market reports, including Nutraceutical Japan 2003, Nutritional Supplement Japan 2003, Functional Foods and FOSHU (Foods for Specified Health Use) Japan 2003. For details and information on the reports, visit: www.functionalfoodsjapan.com or contact Paul at [email protected]

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