Mastering medical nutrition: 5 future trends from ESPEN 2023

By:  Talking Nutrition Editors



  • Our specialist team attended the 45th ESPEN Congress on clinical nutrition and metabolism to discuss the latest scientific developments and trends powering the future of the medical nutrition space.
  • They discovered some compelling findings linked to the rising relevance of plant-based proteins, advancements in omega-3 innovation, the gut-muscle axis and more.
  • Read on to explore five insights from the conference and learn how you can elevate your medical nutrition developments to support the evolving needs of patients of all ages and senior adults.

In the ever-evolving world of medical nutrition, progress never stops. At dsm-firmenich, we believe that insights spark inspiration and this inspiration fuels meaningful impact. That’s why we remain at the forefront of new developments shaping the future of medical nutrition.

To stay ahead of the curve, our specialist medical nutrition team attended the 45th ESPEN Congress on clinical nutrition and metabolism in September. Explore five transformative insights and trends from the show poised to redefine the course of innovation in the medical nutrition – and wider human nutrition – landscape.

1. Plant-based proteins are taking roots

Interest in plant-based proteins for product development is on the rise – including in the medical nutrition arena. Leading players in the field have already launched the first wave of plant-origin oral nutritional supplements (ONS) to the market – signifying a pivotal milestone in the expansion of offerings to meet the needs of more patients and senior adults.

The current plant-based protein landscape is dominated by soy and pea protein, with some less established sources emerging too. However, commonly used ingredients – notably soy – may be linked to concerns like allergenicity and deforestation. Moreover, some plant-sources fall short in providing all essential amino acids and therefore do not deliver complete nutrition. These challenges are serving as a catalyst for innovation; fueling demand for alternative plant-based protein ingredients and presenting an opportunity to develop second-generation products that are more nutritious, sustainable and accepted by the end user.

dsm-firmenich’s solution: We’re helping medical nutrition brands unlock plant-based innovations with Vertis™ CanolaPRO®, a sustainable, plant-based protein isolate sourced from the canola (rapeseed) plant.

2. Omega-3 fatty acids are time-tested heroes

In the ever-expanding realm of medical nutrition, certain ingredients stand the test of time. At ESPEN, the spotlight shone brightly on eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) omega-3s once again – an enduring hero ingredient in the space.

Their anti-inflammatory properties were specifically highlighted, including how they modulate inflammation via specialized pro-resolving mediators – also known as SPMs. Here’s how:

  1. Uncontrolled inflammation influences muscle breakdown (loss).
  2. EPA and DHA are incorporated into skeletal muscle when supplemented at higher doses.
  3. Here, they influence the expression and activation of signaling proteins, including SPMs and mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR).
  4. When stimulated, mTOR enhances the rate of muscle protein synthesis, whereas SPMs exert potent protective actions in the resolution of inflammation.

To reap the full benefits of these important fatty acids, an expert at the conference made the following recommendations for omega-3 supplementation: 1 g/day EPA & DHA for healthy populations and 2-4 g/day for diseased individuals with inflammation. They concluded that although optimal omega-3 levels are achieved within four weeks of supplementation, individuals should supplement beyond this to continue experiencing benefits.

dsm-firmenich’s solution: We see new opportunities with life’s™OMEGA – the first commercially available, 100% plant-sourced omega-3 oil to deliver the benefits of EPA and DHA fatty acids in a single, quality source.

3. Targeting muscle health via the gut

When it comes to enhanced patient outcomes and improved health for senior adults, muscle mass remains a key focus of medical nutrition developments. However, a new concept is gaining prominence in the medical nutrition realm – the gut-muscle axis.

Targeting the gut microbiome to support muscle health is arising as an exciting avenue for innovation. Evidence demonstrates a positive relationship between a balanced gut microbiota and muscle health – including the maintenance of skeletal muscle mass.1 The latest science also suggests a relationship between gut health and sarcopenia – the age-related loss of skeletal muscle mass and function.2

dsm-firmenich’s solution: We stand at the forefront of pioneering advancements in the “Health from the Gut” category. Our portfolio is expanding to offer science-supported, multi-ingredient solutions that will help to unlock the true power of the microbiome and support individuals in specific disease states.

4. Breaking free from ‘one size fits all’

Lastly, the importance of a tailored, multimodal approach to patient care was emphasized during ESPEN. Recognizing the uniqueness of each patient, this approach says goodbye to ‘one size fits all’ to address specific needs in a more holistic manner, with a notable focus on pre-habilitation and personalized nutrition.

A case study in multimodal strategy – surgical patients
Illustrating the effectiveness of this approach, a compelling case study in surgery patients was presented at ESPEN. The strategy involves boosting nutrient stores and metabolic reserves that might be compromised by disease and/or treatment before surgical treatment. It’s a proactive step that creates an adequate buffer compensating for the catabolic response that often follows surgery or critical illness. For optimum recovery, exercise and psychological care are integrated too.

dsm-firmenich’s solution: Delivering the right nutritional support in a timely manner is critical for reducing medical complications and promoting recovery and independence. That’s why we strongly believe medical nutrition is a fundamental pillar in holistic patient care. Our medical nutrition specialists can help to formulate tailored solutions to address the complex nutritional needs of the aging population and patients of all ages.

5. Could HMOs be the next big ingredient in the medical nutrition space?

Human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) are making waves in the dietary supplement arena – but could they be the next big thing in medical nutrition too? They’re an important component of breast milk that help to nourish infants. However, cutting-edge advancements in technology have made is possible to explore and leverage the potential benefits of these unique prebiotic ingredients in adults too – from gut support to normal immune function, and more.

At ESPEN, some discussions focused on the innovation possibilities of HMOs in the medical nutrition market, especially in healthy aging applications and even enteral nutrition. Conversations are still very much in the preliminary stages, but stay tuned for updates!

dsm-firmenich’s solution: With momentum behind HMOs intensifying, dsm-firmenich is committed to investigating their potential in human health and remaining at the forefront of exciting breakthroughs in the space – including in the medical nutrition field. Our team is currently working on novel “smart prebiotics” utilizing HMOs for specific indications and healthy aging solutions…watch this space!

Your end-to-end partner for medical nutrition advancements

As we navigate the evolving landscape of medical nutrition innovation, our focus remains on providing customized, effective and compassionate solutions that resonate with the unique requirements of each individual. We’ve summarized the key insights and trends highlighted in this blog– get a copy here.


  1. Lustgarten. The Role of the Gut Microbiome on Skeletal Muscle Mass and Physical Function: 2019 Update. Front Physiol., 2019.
  2. Chew et al. Gut-muscle crosstalk. A perspective on influence of microbes on muscle function. Front Med., 2023.1

Published on

13 December 2023


4 min read

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