From the Editor's Desk

Supplement industry can help consumers change their health regimens after the crisis

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Getty Images
Getty Images

Related tags coronavirus COVID-19 Vitamin d status Vitamin k2 Prebiotics

Given the current torrid pace of sales for some categories, the dietary supplement industry could emerge from the present crisis is a significantly strengthened position. Even categories that are in the doldrums stand to benefit.

Manufacturers report that they are experiencing unprecedented business conditions. Demand for any product with a potential immunity tie in has spiked.  Some companies, like NOW, based in Bloomingdale, IL, have responded by putting on mandatory overtime shifts in an effort to keep out of stocks to a minimum.

New research supports category

While tens of thousands of new consumers, spurred by their search for solutions to their pandemic fears, come into the supplement category, the crisis is causing new research to pile up as well.  Recent research published as an opinion piece in the Journal of Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics​ shows what the authors see as a ‘clear link’ between higher vitamin  D status and better outcomes from instances of COVID-19 ​disease.  As consumers digest that information they may also come across recent research on vitamin D’s benefits in bone health​ and a lower risk of dying from cancer​.

Similarly, a recent study using the data from blood draws of COVID-19 patients in the Netherlands has shown that patients with a higher vitamin K2 status had significantly better outcomes​ from their infections.  Fewer of them required intubation, and fewer of them died.  

The research behind this vitamin and it’s effects on bone health as well as cardiovascular disease is becoming so compelling that one of the major suppliers, Norwegian company Nattopharma, is working toward official recognition in the form of an RDI for the substance​.

For probiotics, the research has become compelling enough on these ingredients’s effects on supporting immune function and reducing the severity of respiratory infections to enable the International Society of Sports Nutrition to put out a position paper on the subject​.  Athletes, who can compromise their immune systems as they train for and compete in high stress, long term events, can benefit from using these supplements, the paper says.

Google Trends data, which records the number of searches done with certain search terms, can be interpreted to show that many new consumers are coming to the prebiotics category​. The same could be said for other categories.  For example, searches using ‘vitamin D’ hit their all time (2004-present) high point in March.  But so too, did searches using the term ‘what is vitamin D’.

Consumers thrown onto their own resources

The confusion in the federal government’s response to this crisis might benefit the supplement industry as well.  The Trump Administration has given state governments to understand that they’re on their own in terms of sourcing critical medical supplies.  At the same time the President has encouraged anti lockdown protesters who are making it more difficult fo the states to deal with the crisis.

The upshot may well be a diminished trust in what organs of the federal government have to say, including the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration.  Consumers may come to believe that they are on their own in terms of how they support their own health, and dietary supplements can figure into that calculus.

Supplement industry’s role in how nation recovers

There is much talk these days of what the world will look like on the other side.  In terms of what matters to the dietary supplement industry, some of that conversation will surely focus on diet and nutrition. 

In the wake of this crisis questions will certainly be raised about why the death toll has been so high in this country, where some people still pride themselves on having the world’s best health care system.  One issue that experts are likely to fix upon is the poor general health status of many average Americans.  We’re fat, we’ve got reams of underlying health conditions, we eat too much of the wrong things and we don’t get enough of the right nutrients.  Sitting ducks, in other words.

 Consumers have been given a wakeup call that choices like eating the rest of that bag of potato chips instead of going for a walk can have real consequences. If the dietary supplement industry plays its cards right it can play a role in how Americans’ diets and personal health regimens are reformed. It could put the industry into a commanding position in the decades ahead.

At the moment immune health products are all the rage, while the sales of weight management products to some extent and in particular pre workout products suffer.  But in the post COVID-19 world I see those categories roaring back vigorously.  There are lots of statements these days about how we can’t go back to the way things were before, and that ought to include the idea that we can’t go back to remaining obese, overfed but malnourished and in chronic poor shape.

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