Lack of energy is absolutely at the top of every consumer’s mind these days. It is the first thing they think about in the morning when they grab a cup of coffee and one of the last things they think about before bedtime when they contemplate how much sleep they will need for the next day.
The high interest in energy-boosting products should not be surprising, as daily life has become increasingly hectic for most people. Whether consumers desire a quick pick-me-up or something to sustain their energy throughout the day, the nutraceuticals industry stands in a good position to provide those solutions.
Lack of Energy: How Serious is it?
According to a special health report from Harvard Medical School, a persistent feeling of fatigue is one of the most common health concerns in this country, accounting for 10-15 million doctor visits per year. Joe Marra, executive director, The Natural Marketing Institute (NMI), Harleysville, PA, agreed. He said 77% of consumers feel that maintaining energy is a top health priority (see figure 1), and 75% report that they are concerned with preventing lack of energy.
Mr. Marra also said that consumers are managing their lack of energy with a variety of nutraceutical products. According to NMI’s 2004 Health & Wellness Trends Database, approximately half of consumers will use supplements and foods/beverages to treat lack of energy, while only 5% of the population uses prescription drugs (see figure 2).
Commenting on the perceived seriousness of low energy was Herbert Woolf, PhD, manager, Technical Marketing, Human Nutrition for BASF in North America, Florham Park, NJ, who said energy priorities are different for certain age groups. “How lack of energy is perceived by consumers is a factor of age,” he said. “Young adults will typically prefer an energy boost because they are more concerned with daily performance. Older adults, however, are looking at the ‘home stretch’ and how they can extend their quality of life to avoid certain chronic diseases.” For the future, Dr. Woolf said young adults need to be better educated on proper nutrition and its importance in the context of total life expectancy. “Good eating behavior and recognition of nutrients should begin earlier,” he said. “Consumers on the go must not only consider eating for performance but also for good health.”
Depending on what type of energy need a consumer is looking to fill, whether they need the quick boost of an energy drink or the sustained energy typically available from an energy bar, there are a variety of ingredients available. A majority of the energy-boosting ingredients fall into three categories: amino acids, vitamins and herbs.
Shailinder Sodhi, president, Ayush Herbs, Bellevue, WA, discussed the role of certain herbs. “The herbs we see appearing in most energy-boosting products are ashwagandha, amla, mucuna pruriens and holy basil,” he said. “Ashwagandha is a powerful antioxidant; amla is an excellent source of vitamin C; mucuna acts as a mood elevator and holy basil combats stress.”
Most of the ingredients being used in energy formulas are caffeine-based, according to Ellen Schutt, vice president, Marketing and Brand Strategy, RFI Ingredients, Blauvelt, NY. “Ingredients like guarana, yerba maté, green and white tea, and kola nut are popular in formulations where the customer is looking for a product that provides a quick boost,” she said.
However, for some companies caffeine is not always the way to go. “There are also companies looking for energy boosters that are not caffeine-based,” Ms. Schutt said. “A greens formula will give you energy but it is not the same kind of boost you would get from the traditional caffeine-based ingredients.” She continued, “Likewise, our Chocamine product, which is a proprietary cocoa extract, has components beyond simple caffeine that add to its stimulant quality. Chocamine is particularly strong in the area of endurance energy, rather than caffeine-type stimulant energy.”
Other ingredients Ms. Schutt sees being used in energy formulations are more exotic. “I think the use of exotic ingredients like açai and catuaba are becoming more popular in energy drinks,” she said. “Açai is gaining popularity in energy drinks because in Brazil it is very common to combine this ingredient with guarana,” Another ingredient she highlighted was cupuacu, which is a Brazilian fruit that has a pleasant flavor profile and an interesting story behind it.
Ginseng expert Paul Hsu, president, Hsu’s Ginseng, Wausau, WI, believes one of the most sought after ingredients in the energy arena is Panax ginseng. In Chinese tradition, Mr. Hsu says Panax ginseng is used as a “chi” enhancer. “Chi relates to the flow of things,” he said. “So, ginseng helps facilitate or enhance the flow of things like energy, emotion and digestion.” The Chinese also prescribe ginseng for low sperm count, according to Mr. Hsu, which is why people in Western cultures have attributed sexual energy or virility to the use of this herb.
Dr. Kevin Owen, associate director of Nutrition, Lonza, Allendale, NJ, says the area of energy enhancement has exploded with products. He pointed out, “When you start seeing the big players like PepsiCo and Coke getting involved in launching Red Bull-like energy drinks, you know you are dealing with a pretty formidable trend.” Lonza supplies two ingredients applicable to this category—niacin and carnitine. Mr. Owen says niacin is used because it is a vasodilator and is perceived to ‘get the blood flowing’ and enhance the caffeine effect, while carnitine remains popular for its role in energy metabolism.
A newcomer to the energy boosters segment is cysteine peptide. Fiona Taylor, market development manager, Immune Health, DMV International, Veghel, The Netherlands, discussed the company’s recent launch of this ingredient. “Cysteine peptide is used in the liver to produce glutathione,” she explained. “What we found through consumer research is that people were able to sleep more soundly after taking our cysteine peptide product and therefore had more sustained energy throughout the following day.” She said cysteine peptide will not provide the same boost as a caffeine-based product, rather it provides the body with a natural energy that lasts all day long.
BASF’s Mr. Woolf took a more conservative approach to his ingredient list and shared his opinion of the commonly accepted nutrients in the area of energy enhancement. “We believe in more meaningful energy-enhancing nutrients. For quick energy it is acceptable to use sugars and caffeine,” he said. “Other accepted ways to produce energy would include using B vitamins.”
In the food and beverage segment, it is interesting to note that ingredient crossover between energy drinks and nutrition bars is rare. Ram Chaudhari feels one reason for the lack of ingredient crossover has to do with formulation challenges. “There are ingredient limitations,” he said. “In other words, some are more suitable in bars, while others are more suitable in beverages. For example, an ingredient like guarana, if it was to be incorporated into a bar, would need some sort of protection to prevent it from reacting with the other ingredients in the bar.”
DMV’s Ms. Taylor says there is a complete divide in the energy enhancement market when comparing beverages and bars. “Bars are much longer-term and the energy drinks are short-term,” she said, adding, “The energy drinks market was not really designed around health. However, the energy bar market is a different story.”
She added, “Nutrition bars were designed to give sports enthusiasts extra nutrition when they were going out on long exercise protocols. They needed the real, sustained energy that bars had to offer.”
The Regulatory Picture
The regulatory environment can be described as friendly for energy-enhancement products. As long as companies steer clear of serious conditions like chronic fatigue, navigating the regulations should not be hideously challenging.
According to Todd Harrison, partner, Venable LLP, Washington, D.C., overall energy claims are becoming more prominent in the marketplace, particularly as they pertain to beverages. “Because these products generally do not pose a safety risk, FDA has not been concerned about them. And the FTC does not appear to have an issue with the various commercials,” he said. “In short, as long as the product ingredients do not pose a safety risk and make absurd energy claims, these products will probably not gather much attention from the regulators.”
However, there are still some issues when it comes to ingredient label claims and “truly natural” products. RFI’s Ms. Schutt explained, “When you manufacture a guarana extract, it will naturally contain 10-11% caffeine. However, often manufactures will desire a higher level of caffeine and this can only be accomplished by adding caffeine back into the product, which defeats the purpose of a ‘natural’ product.”
She added, “This is a very important message for the natural products industry and one that warrants further discussion between suppliers and manufacturers.”
Caffeine labeling also has the potential to become issue, according to Ms. Schutt. “Although there has been a push by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Washington, D.C., to get FDA to require caffeine labeling on products, there has been no formal mandate yet,” she said. “Most people know coffee and tea contain caffeine, but many of them don’t know caffeine is found in other ingredients such as yerba maté and guarana. If the labeling of caffeine-containing products goes into effect, there will be a significant change in the landscape of the nutraceuticals market.”
Steve Siegel, vice president, Ecuadorian Rainforest, West Paterson, NJ, cautioned manufacturers who are stepping away from ephedra and replacing it with energy-boosting ingredients. “The weight loss category is closely related to the energy boosters category, so companies need to be careful when promoting these types of products because the categories are being watched very closely by regulatory bodies,” he said.
Ingredient Round-Up: A Short List of Popular Energy Boosters
The following descriptions were provided courtesy of Seltzer Nutritional Technologies, Carlsbad, CA; RFI Ingredients, Blauvelt, NY; and DMV International, Veghel, The Netherlands.
Açai is a nutritionally rich tropical fruit that is high in fiber and anthocyanins, minerals and vitamin E. It can be incorporated into nutritional bars, frozen smoothies, nutraceutical beverages or supplement applications. It is usually coupled with guarana in energy formulations.
Catuaba is a small tree that grows in the northern part of Brazil. The bark of catuaba has a long history of use in herbal medicine as an aphrodisiac. Indigenous tribes of the Amazon Rainforest and city dwellers in Brazil have used catuaba for generations as a natural herbal remedy for libido enhancement. Another primary use of catuaba is as a central nervous system stimulant. It is also used for general exhaustion and fatigue, agitation and poor memory.
Cupuacu is a small to medium tree in the rainforest canopy. Cupuacu fruit has been a primary food source in the rainforest for both indigenous tribes and animals alike. The cupuacu fruit is about the size of a cantaloupe and is highly prized for its creamy exotic tasting pulp. Like açai, cupuacu is rich in vitamins, minerals, fats and fatty acids, and is traditionally known for its nutritive, stimulant and tonic properties.
Guarana is a creeping shrub native to the Amazon that produces a small red fruit that grows in clusters (see photo this page). South American Indian tribes have used the fruit for centuries to prepare various foods, drinks and medicines. The rainforest tribes have used guarana mainly as a stimulant and as an astringent (drying agent) for treating chronic diarrhea. Today it is used to increase mental alertness, fight fatigue and increase stamina and physical endurance.
Maca is a hardy perennial plant cultivated high in the Andes Mountains, at altitudes from 8000 to 14,500 feet. The part used is the tuberous root, which looks likes a large radish. To the Andean Indians and indigenous peoples, maca is a valuable commodity. Native Peruvians traditionally have utilized maca since pre-Incan times for both nutritional and medicinal purposes. This energizing plant is also referred to as Peruvian ginseng (although maca is not in the same family as ginseng). Traditionally maca has been used to enhance fertility in humans and animals. In herbal medicine today, however, it is used to increase energy, stamina and endurance in athletes, as well to enhance memory and mental clarity.
Marapuama/Muira Puama, also called “potency wood,” is a small tree that mostly grows in the Brazilian Amazon and other parts of the Amazon rainforest. It has long been used in the Amazon by indigenous peoples for a number of purposes, which are still the main uses in current herbal medicine. Marapuama traditionally and currently is a highly regarded sexual stimulant with a reputation as a powerful aphrodisiac.
Suma is a large, rambling, shrubby ground vine with an intricate, deep and extensive root system. It is indigenous to the Amazon basin and other tropical parts of (southern) Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela. In South America, suma is known as para toda (which means “for all things”) and as Brazilian ginseng. While not a true member of the Panax ginseng family, it is an authentic adaptogenic herb. South American natives have used suma for centuries to treat wounds, skin rashes, low energy and sexual disinterest. Suma root is also quite valuable nutritionally, as it contains essential vitamins, minerals, amino acids and trace elements.
Yerba maté is a widely cultivated, medium-sized evergreen tree that can grow up to 20 meters high in the wild. It is indigenous to Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, however, it is now cultivated in many tropical countries to meet the world demand for its leaves. Yerba maté has long been a part of South American culture where it is more heavily consumed than coffee or tea. Maté bars are as prevalent in South America as coffee bars are in North America and Europe; maté drinking has deep cultural roots. This stimulating herbal beverage has the unique ability to wake up the mind without the nervousness and jitters associated with coffee. Furthermore, it does not interfere with sleep cycles. It contains a rich combination of nutrients in the form of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, antioxidants and chlorophyll.
Ginseng, used in Chinese medicine for 2000 years, may increase stamina and endurance, and protect the physiological systems against stress-related illness, increase physical endurance, and increase mental alertness.
Arginine has many physiological roles applicable to energy promotion. These include the detoxification of ammonia formed during amino acid catabolism, and serving as the precursor for synthesis of the potent vasodilator nitric oxide.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)—L-Isoleucine, -Leucine, and -Valine—are important components of skeletal muscle and, upon digestion, preferentially partition to this tissue. During muscle activity, BCAAs become a major fuel source and serve to promote protein synthesis, limit muscle catabolism and serve as precursors for glucose biosynthesis. Thus, their contribution limits protein breakdown, while providing a source of energy for muscle contraction.
Carnitine contributes to energy generation by converting the BCAAs (isoleucine, leucine and valine) into their keto-derivatives that are suitable for energy needs during physiological states of low carbohydrate availability. The primary function of carnitine is as a transporter of fatty acids into the mitochondria where their oxidation generates energy.
Taurine is a common amino acid concentrating in tissues with high electrical activity (eye, brain, and heart). Its contributing mechanism in energy production is not known, but may be attributable to its antioxidant and membrane-stabilizing activities.
Antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, alpha lipoic acid, quercetin, flavonoids, grape seed extract and green tea extract are sometimes used in energy formulas because increased energy output requires increased oxygen consumption and nutrient metabolism. These processes increase free radical production. Supplementing with a synergistic antioxidant mix can quench and terminate these damaging compounds, as well as the chain reactions propagating them.
The B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B6 and B12) are water soluble vitamins that are necessary for red blood cell formation and nutrient metabolism. They also serve as cofactors for energy generation.
Caffeine, either pure or from a natural source like guarana, may improve performance in some individuals by increasing reaction speed, enhancing concentration and promoting accuracy. These effects may increase athletic endurance.
Cysteine Peptide is a whey protein hydrolysate that assists the liver in synthesizing glutathione. This in turn helps the body remove unwanted substances and their oxidation products, and as such, supports restorative sleep and provides energy and vitality.
Inositol-based compounds (i.e., inositol hexaphosphate) serve, among other physiological roles, as a pool of energy currency and a phosphate source for ATP generation. Supplemental inositol may spare glucose stores, from which it can be produced, in times of energy generation and usage.