By: Talking Nutrition Editors
The full webinar, ‘Nutritional solutions tailored to the life cycle’, is available to watch on demand here.
The current global health crisis has contributed to a global spike in consumer interest in immunity, with Google searches for food and drinks that boost immunity soaring in recent months. The nutrition industry has already started to respond to this rise in consumer interest - in the first half of 2020 in EMEA, there was a 20% increase in the number of new product launches with immunity claims compared to the previous year.
From probiotics to vitamins and minerals including vitamin D, omega-3s, calcium and zinc, there are a host of ingredients that are being used to deliver immunity-related benefits for consumers across all age groups. But how can manufacturers drive further innovation in immune health solutions that support a healthy immune system throughout life?
An individual’s immune system undergoes many changes over its life course. From early life, where babies are reliant on the mother for shared immune function, to later in life, where the immune system is weakened. Measures such as vaccinations and good hygiene practices can help to protect the immune system but there are also intrinsic ways to support optimal immunity to reduce the risk, severity and duration of infection, and nutrition plays a key role in this aspect.
The immune system needs multiple specific nutrients, which work in harmony to support a healthy immune function. These include the vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E, and folate, as well as the minerals zinc, iron, selenium, magnesium, and copper. Ideally, we would obtain these nutrients from our diet, but the recommended levels are often higher than what is typically consumer by consumers. Studies show that nutritional interventions through supplementation can resolve nutrient inadequacies and there is a growing need for solutions that effectively support immune function, to cope with ever-growing challenges our immune systems face. However, it is important to recognize that the body has different needs at each life stage, so it is essential to ensure optimal intake for each age group to make sure they are working effectively to support immunity.
Babies are born with an immature immune system, which develops and matures over time, thanks to exposure to several maturation factors. Increasing exposure to new antigens, via new foods, pathogens and vaccines, helps to build immunity over the course of infancy. By the time a child goes to school, their immune system should have matured through greater exposure to infection, which helps to provide healthy immune responses and defence mechanisms.
When it comes to nutritional support for the immune system in early life, the mother plays an important role in this development, both before birth through the placenta function and after, through breast milk – considered to be the gold standard in infant nutrition. Supplements are a popular way for moms to be to ensure that they are giving their baby’s immune system the best start in life. For example, daily vitamin D supplementation raises blood serum levels and lowers the incidence rate of acute respiratory tract infections. A Cochrane Review substantiated that at least 500mg DHA is associated with a reduced risk of early preterm and preterm birth with separate studies also describing the immunity benefits for DHA intake.
A child’s immune system is the first line of defence and in a recent DSM survey, immunity was the number one health concerns for parents of children aged 0-16 years old.1 For kids, gummies, juices, milks and yogurts are popular formats for immune-boosting products that contain the essential vitamins and minerals shown to support a child’s immune system including vitamin D, C, B6 and B2 as well as minerals copper, zinc and iron.
Once fully matured and functional, the body can react quickly and efficiently to viruses and allergens. Adults continue to build their immune ‘memory’ over time – either through previous exposure to pathogenic organisms or with the help of vaccines. Immune responses, however, are not fixed, and can vary substantially as the result of a wide range of lifestyle factors such as stress and sleep.
To support an optimized immune system, adults are increasingly looking for healthy food and drinks that will improve their immunity defenses as well as their overall health status. As well as immunity, maintaining energy levels, eye health and mobility are amongst the other trending health concerns for adults. Understanding these health concerns can help to develop products that will successfully appeal to consumers by leveraging nutritional ingredients that address these areas of concen in formats such as fortified juices, coffees, milks and energy drinks that provide essential nutritional support without compromising convenience or taste.
Later in life, seniors are at an increased risk of infection and allergies, as their immune system begins to decline through immunosenescence caused by the decreasing output of new cells and impaired functionality. Older people also have higher levels of inflammation, which contributes to a weakened immune system. This makes them more susceptible to illnesses, resulting in more frequent hospitalisations and in turn, increased antibiotic use. This can become a vicious cycle as antibiotic resistance builds, making them more likely to catch infections. Vaccines are also less likely to be as effective as earlier years, since antibody responses are in decline.
Nutritional needs become more complex as we age. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of managing the nutritional status of the elderly population and recent ESPEN guidelines have outlined the need to manage malnutrition to reduce the risk of complications in elderly patients and to improve clinical outcomes for those infected or at risk of severe infections. Convenience is key when it comes to achieving compliance in nutritional care for the elderly who want real, tasty and affordable foods. Formats such as sprinkles including essential vitamins and minerals that can be easily added to existing meals are a popular option for this age group and can help offer optimal nutrition to manage the risk and improve treatment of illness and disease.
The immune system is complex and in order to support optional function throughout life it’s important to understand the unique dietary requirements of each age group and the most innovative formats to meet consumer preferences for immune health solutions. From omega-3s and vitamin D to zinc and calcium, the nutrients that play a key role in supporting a healthy immune system remain the same throughout an individual’s life but what varies is the format and dosage to support the unique needs at each life-stage. DSM partners with customers at every stage of development, to help develop successful products that support consumer demand for immune health solutions – at every life stage. Get in touch to discuss the concept for your next immunity product with our team of experts.
Want to find out more? You can sign up to the next webinar in the series, ‘Omega-3 fatty acids and the immune system, a life-course perspective’ where Prof. Philip Calder will explore the effects of EPA and DHA on the inflammatory response and immune system activity, why they must be consumed in adequate amounts and ultimately how these nutrients are critical, especially with today's assaults, to the maintenance of health.
 DSM Global Health Concerns Study, 2020.