Natural Foods Merchandiser

Natural rheumatoid arthritis treatments gain momentum

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease affecting 1.3 million Americans. RA causes the immune system to attack the joints and can lead to long-term damage, resulting in chronic pain, loss of function and disability. Early and effective RA treatment can improve the prognosis and may help prevent related joint and bone destruction. While there is no cure for RA, many nutritional supplements and herbs show substantial promise. Vitamins and minerals include food supplements, like borage and fish oil, and vitamin E. Herbs include boswellia, cayenne, devil's claw and turmeric.

Sales-growth data suggest that consumers are interested in natural alternatives for treating RA. SPINS' Rheumatoid Arthritis Health Condition segment tracks sales of vitamin, mineral and herbal supplements, as both single products and primary ingredients in combination formulas, that may alleviate symptoms caused by RA. These products have experienced annual compound growth of 28.8 percent since April 2006, with a combined-channel sales increase of 17.2 percent during the 52-week period ending April 19. Sales in the conventional food, drug and mass channel totaled $241.2 million and increased by 16.2 percent during the most recent 52-week period. In the naturals supermarket channel, sales totaled $98.9 million, representing a 19.6 percent sales increase versus one year ago.

Among the combined-channel's fastest-growing RA health condition ingredients are celardin, DHA, fish-oil concentrate, flaxseed oil and DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide). Ingredients with the most significant dollar sales include fish oil concentrate, vitamin E, turmeric, DHA and glucosamine. Thirty-four ingredients comprise SPINS' RA Health Condition category in the natural supermarket channel, and 33 in conventional FDM. Although the number of ingredients per channel is similar, the individual ingredients vary. Eight ingredients are exclusive to the naturals channel, including green-lipped mussel, DMSO and bovine cartilage.

Of the 138 active RA Health Condition brands in the naturals channel, Nordic Naturals, Carlson and New Chapter have the highest dollar volume, for a combined 51.4 percent of total segment sales. In FDM, there are 153 brands; Nature Made, Nature's Bounty and Sundown are the leading three and together represent 76.5 percent of sales.

Lifestyle changes are imperative in treating the symptoms of RA. Advances in research and the increased availability of natural alternatives are helping more people with the disease live healthier lives. As a result, supplements, minerals and herbs that help minimize the impact of this RA will continue to grow in popularity and demand.

—Alison Tirone

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