Can natural functional ingredients help customers age gracefully? The evidence says “yes” if adding life to your years means staving off the chronic degenerative conditions of aging, such as vision loss, cognitive decline, and bone and joint degeneration. Research now supports the effectiveness of particular supplements and other health products. Let’s explore.
The carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin and astaxanthin helped boost the overall fortunes of the supplements world in 2008, according to Nutrition Business Journal. Vision-health product sales grew 48 percent in 2008—three times more than sales of products for the second-place condition, bone health, according to NBJ.
Most epidemiological studies and clinical trials support the notion that lutein and zeaxanthin, which are concentrated in the retina and lens of the eye, have a potential role in the prevention and treatment of certain eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration, cataracts and retinitis pigmentosa. The protective effects of these carotenoids may be due to their powerful blue-light filtering activities and antioxidant properties.
The macular pigment is a yellowish orb near the center of the retina. It absorbs harmful ultraviolet and blue light, making it a sort of sunglass for the eye. It is important because the macula degenerates as people age—the leading cause of blindness in the elderly is macular degeneration. And the detrimental effects of glaring light on visual function, including visual discomfort and greatly reduced contrast, are common problems for millions of people.
Lutein and zeaxanthin can help reduce the deleterious effects of glare, improve visual performance and help shield against harmful blue light through antioxidant mechanisms. An Italian double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized human trial gave 27 patients with
non-advanced age-related macular degeneration a supplement cocktail that included 180 mg of vitamin C, 30 mg of vitamin E, 22.5 mg of zinc, 1 mg of copper, 10 mg of lutein, 1 mg of zeaxanthin and 4 mg of astaxanthin daily for 12 months. At both six and 12 months, the supplemented group experienced increased macular thickness and improvement in vision in the central retina but not in the more peripheral retinal areas.
Omega-3 fatty acids can also help with vision. In a comparison of twins, those who did not smoke and who ate more fish or consumed more omega-3s had reduced risk of age-related macular degeneration than their twin who smoked and ate less fish or consumed fewer omega-3s.
Another study found high omega-3 intake can delay age-related macular degeneration. And in a further study, patients with early age-related macular degeneration who took carnitine, Co-Q10 and omega-3s experienced significant improvement in macular markers.
Green tea’s epigallocatechin gallate has been found to fight glaucoma and other eye diseases. Researchers who fed rats green tea found that the rats’ lenses, retinas and other eye tissues absorbed the green-tea nutrients, and harmful oxidative stress in the rats’ eyes was reduced for up to 20 hours.
There are many different ways to slice the cognitive-health market—from brain function to memory to mood. Overall, cognitive health has risen to become the top health concern among the geriatric set, according to Chicago-based market research firm Mintel.
B vitamins are important for cognitive health, in particular choline—a precursor for biosynthesis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Choline is also required to make certain phospholipids—essential components of all cell membranes—in particular phosphatidylcholine. In a recent rat study, neuroscience researchers found that choline improves memory, while choline deficiency impairs memory performance.
Omega-3 fatty acids, in particular DHA, are also regarded as effective natural bioactives for cognitive health. In the Framingham Heart Study of 5,209 adults, those who consumed 180 mg a day of DHA, or 2.7 servings of fish a week, had a 50 percent reduction in dementia.
Phosphatidylserine (PS) helps comprise cell membranes and is especially concentrated in the brain—hence its usefulness for a range of cognitive concerns, from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder to Alzheimer’s disease to depression. And because omega-3 fatty acids also accumulate in the brain, researchers combined PS with EPA and DHA in a three-month, randomized, double-blind study of 60 children with ADHD. With PS acting as a carrier to more effectively ferry the omega-3s into the brain, those children taking the PS-EPA-DHA combination scored higher on the visual sustained-attention performance scale than a group taking only EPA and DHA.
Bone health continues to be a strong growth category, driven by the explosion of vitamin D sales. In 2008, sales of bone-health supplements grew 16 percent, to $1.4 billion, according to NBJ. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has amended the health claim for bones, adding vitamin D to calcium’s efficacy in maintaining healthy bone mineral density. And with the U.S. Institute of Medicine poised to revise its recommended daily value for vitamin D to 1,000 IU or potentially 2,000 IU (up from 400 IU), vitamin D’s fortunes will continue to grow.
Bone-health supplement formulas are beginning to have a baseline of ingredients—calcium, vitamin D and magnesium for starters.
Vitamin D has long been recognized as necessary for efficient calcium absorption. For the postmenopausal set, calcium and vitamin D together have been shown to prevent bone loss and decrease bone breaks. And both nutrients influence calcium-regulating hormones.
Magnesium is typically formulated in a 1-to-2 ratio to calcium. “The hidden cause of calcium deficiency is the fact that available calcium is not being assimilated by the body due to a lack of magnesium,” says Ken Whitman, vice president of marketing at Burbank, Calif.-based supplements manufacturer Peter Gillham’s Natural Vitality.
Inulin is increasingly being used to boost calcium absorption in adolescents, young adults and older women. In one study, adolescents who were given 8 grams a day of inulin-type fructan prebiotics for one year experienced significantly increased calcium absorption and enhanced bone mineralization during pubertal growth.
Vitamin K is beginning to amass enough research to make it a player in the bone-health market. Vitamin K activates osteocalcin in bones, which binds calcium to bone surfaces. The longer-chain menaquinones (vitamin K2), MK-4 and MK-7, are commercially available.
In one important placebo-controlled study on 155 postmenopausal women, researchers gave groups either a supplement containing calcium, magnesium, zinc and vitamin D; the same combination plus vitamin K1; or a placebo for three years. At the end of the study, researchers measured the change in bone-mineral density in the women’s femoral neck and lumbar spine. The difference between the K1 group and the placebo group was 1.7 percent; and 1.3 percent between the K1 group and the other supplementing group.
A population-based study in Japan looked at women in eastern Japan (Tokyo), where MK7-rich natto is routinely eaten, and western Japan (Hiroshima), where natto is not generally consumed. Researchers found there was a statistically significant incidence of hip fractures in women who didn’t consume natto.
A head-to-head comparison study between vitamin K1 and MK-7 vitamin K2 found both were absorbed well, with peak serum concentrations at four hours after intake. However, the half life of vitamin K2 was seven to eight times as long as vitamin K1, which resulted in a more complete activation of osteocalcin.
Even green tea has now been found to help with bone health. In one study, the green tea catechin epigallocatechin boosted the activity of a key enzyme that promotes bone growth by up to 79 percent. EGC also significantly boosted levels of bone mineralization in the cells, which strengthens bones. The researchers also showed that high concentrations of ECG blocked the activity of a type of cell that breaks down or weakens bones.
Sales of products aimed specifically at joint health have grown over the past four years, from $1.26 billion to $1.56 billion, according to NBJ.
Glucosamine and chondroitin are well-known one-two punch leaders in the category. Just to confirm their bona fides: Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled human clinical trials show that 1,500 mg a day of glucosamine reduced knee pain in a three-year study, and 1,200 mg a day of chondroitin reduced knee pain in a four-month study.
New entrants to the joint-health category can boast either working via different mechanisms, thereby making them suitable formulation partners; or in some cases these functional ingredients are being shown to work even more effectively than glucosamine and chondroitin.
A case in point is undenatured type II collagen. A recent human clinical trial compared UC-II brand collagen with a combination of glucosamine and chondroitin in treating osteoarthritis of the knee. After 90 days, UC-II reduced the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Arthritis Index (WOMAC) score by 33 percent, compared to 14 percent in the glucosamine/chondroitin group. Pain scores declined 20 percent in the UC-II group compared to 6 percent in the glucosamine/chondroitin group.
Fast-acting is the story here, though, because although glucosamine and chondroitin are effective, it can take up to six weeks for their effects to be noticed. To that end, another new entrant to the category is natural eggshell membrane. In an eight-week study of 67 patients, 500 mg of NEM led to a significant improvement in pain (15.9 percent reduction) and stiffness (12.8 percent decline) after 10 days of supplementation. Although there was a trend for overall WOMAC score decline, it did not reach significance after 60 days.
Another new entrant is boswellia, known traditionally as frankincense. 5-Loxin, a proprietary frankincense extract, was shown to improve pain and physical-function scores after seven days in 75 osteoarthritis patients.
And one of the hotter joint-health ingredients on the market today is krill, which has the omega-3s DHA and EPA as well as phospholipids, astaxanthin, protein and other antioxidants. Only a handful of human clinical trials have been published on krill, but one of them measured the tiny shrimp-like crustaceans’ effects on chronic inflammation in patients with osteoarthritis. After seven days, the Neptune Krill Oil brand reduced C-reactive protein levels (a marker of inflammation) by 19.3 percent, compared to an increase of 15.7 percent in the placebo group. After 14 and 30 days of treatment with 300 mg of krill, the krill group experienced further C-reactive protein declines of about 30 percent, while the placebo group experienced further increases of 32 percent after 14 days, and 25 percent after 30 days.
Todd Runestad is the editor-in-chief of Functional Ingredients magazine.