Japan's Nutraceuticals Today - Next Growth Opportunity; Metabolic Syndrome in Japan

薬食同源 Japan’s Nutraceuticals Today

By Paul Yamaguchi

Ms. Ishioka called me the other day and asked me what “metabolic syndrome” is. She is a 40 year old healthy woman living in Japan. She said everyone is talking about it and she heard it on TV too, but none of her friends knew exactly what metabolic syndrome is. She said she also heard that women over 40 years old are most likely at risk for the syndrome—she was worried.

As I provided her a general description of this condition, I could not help but be a little surprised at how quickly a word like metabolic syndrome has become a common Japanese word and influences many Japanese people. Even in the US, people don’t know much about this syndrome.

After a little investigation, I discovered the reason that Japanese people are talking about metabolic syndrome. Last May, the Lifestyle Disease Countermeasure division of Ministry of Health Labor and Welfare (MHLW) announced its National Health Research 2006 Report. In the report, there were metabolic syndrome research results. According to the report, one out of every two men between 40 and 74 years of age and one in every five women in the same age group show some sign of metabolic syndrome in Japan.

Thirty percent (30%) of men and women are described as obese. Fourteen percent (14%) of women and almost 30% of men over 30 years old have a condition called abdominal obesity. High blood pressure, elevated insulin level, or high cholesterol level represent 60% of those aged 40 years or over. People who have any one or a combination of the factors consider as metabolic syndrome condition, meaning that over 19 million people have some type of metabolic syndrome signs in Japan.

This report absolutely shocked the nation. At first, people had never heard the word before; now they are all at risk of having it. Compared with the US’ 50 million metabolic syndrome patients (American Heart Association), 19 million is still small, but in a nation characterized by healthy eating habits and relatively low obesity rates, the report shocked everyone. It seems that the Japanese government’s “shock treatment” is working.

The Japanese national health care system is seriously in the red. National health care costs increased 1.8% last year from a year ago and fewer people are contributing. This trend will continue for the next 15 years. A large number of baby boomers are moving from the contributing side to the receiving side.

For example, insulin treatment for diabetics cost $30,000 a year in Japan; there are 1.5 million diabetic patients and this number will increase. If 10 percent of those patients have kidney dialysis treatments for 4 years (that will cost $30 billion), this represents almost the total national health care budget of 2006. Until just 5 years ago, patients’ out-of-pocket costs were only 10 percent of treatment cost; now if you are 70 years old or younger it will cost you 30 percent. Despite this, the national health care system is still in the red. The Japanese government is encouraging people to stay healthy, eat right and use health foods and supplements, rather than to rely on government-sponsored prescriptions. The government is also encouraging the Japanese to exercise, walk, swim and even use stairs instead of escalators for everyday life. Because of the National Health Research 2006 Report and Metabolic Syndrome alert, more people are paying attention than ever before to their health and well being.

The Japanese nutrition industry sees this is an opportunity to restart rather slow growth. In the last Food Ingredients Show in Japan, metabolic syndrome targeted signs were everywhere. Metabolic syndrome is the number one topic in the nutrition industry and the biggest concern for consumers today. Anything that eases this condition will have significant business opportunities in Japan, specifically natural products that ease abdominal obesity, atherogenic dyslipidemia (high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol and high LDL cholesterol), insulin resistance and high blood pressure. We estimate that the current volume of metabolic syndrome-targeted nutrition market is about $4 billion and likely to increase 5% a year, meaning that by the year 2010, this market will be a $5 billion industry in Japan.

Paul Yamaguchi & Associates, Inc. is a consulting firm in Tarrytown, NY focusing on the Japanese nutrition market. His office publishes a number of Japanese nutrition market reports, including Functional Foods Japan 2006 and Nutritional Supplements Japan 2005.

For details and information on the reports, visit: http://www.functionalfoodsjapan.com/ or contact Paul at [email protected]
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