With the beginning of a new year it is fun to look back as well as gaze into a crystal ball to predict the future. One of the great things about the natural product industry is that it is dynamic and full of innovation. There are many factors that influence consumer trends and the ability of a product to really take off. An appearance on major headlines, focus on a popular television show, or a significant advertising campaign are obvious ways product sales can grow. But, more often than not in the health food industry, products are pushed off the shelves by enthusiastic retailers who believe in its merits.
Looking Back at Predictions for 2015
Before making predictions for 2016, let’s first take a look back at my predictions for 2015. Here are the three products I predicted would see increased attention in 2015:
• Active forms of folic acid—There is growing evidence that some people have a genetic predisposition to mild impairment in the conversion of folic acid to its active form (referred to as mild MTHFR deficiency). Taking an active form such as 5-methyltetrahydrofolate or 5-formyltetrahydrofolate insures adequate conversion. The disadvantage is that these forms cost 100-400 times more than regular folic acid. It seems that higher price is keeping these active forms from becoming more popular.
• Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)—Here was a prediction that was pretty much on track. Ashwagandha extracts are becoming more popular because research is confirming their adaptogenic effects in increasing the ability to deal with stress. Most of the recent research has focused on two branded forms of ashwagandha—Sensoril and KSM-66, both of which enjoyed increased sales in 2015.
• Sulforaphane—There was definitely an increased awareness in the value of this key cancer-fighting compound found in broccoli. Perhaps the biggest news in 2015 for sulforaphane is that a pharmaceutical firm has developed a synthetic version for drug development.
Predictions for Products That Will Soar in 2016
This year I am very confident in my predictions. Of course, that is the way that I feel every year. But, what makes this year different is that the products I am focusing on have already entered the marketplace. The pump is primed, so it is just a matter of some sort of tipping point where consumer awareness catches up with their scientific merit. And, the science on these three products that I am predicting will soar in 2016 is very strong.
PQQ is a vitamin-like cofactor that was shown to be an essential nutrient to mammals in 1994. One key action of PQQ involves a direct action on major enzymes involved in the energy producing compartments in our cells, the mitochondria. As a result, PQQ improves energy production. Current research has primarily focused on its ability to protect memory and cognition in both aging animals and humans. However, the potential benefits are nearly limitless given its central role in mitochondrial function. Here are some of the effects noted to date:
• PQQ reverses cognitive impairment caused by chronic oxidative stress and improves performance on memory tests in animal models.
• PQQ prevents the development of osteoarthritis in an animal model.
• PQQ protects nerve cells from the damaging effects of the beta-amyloid-protein linked with Alzheimer’s disease.
• PQQ in combination with CoQ10 (respectively, 20 mg and 300 mg) improved mental function in a human double-blind study.
• PQQ (0.2 mg PQQ/kg body weight) increased the antioxidant potential and energy metabolism while decreasing inflammation in another double-blind study.
• PQQ lowered LDL cholesterol in a statistically significant manner in subjects with levels greater than 140 mg/ml.
Berberine is an age-old natural remedy that is an emerging natural product superstar. Its bright light may end up shining even brighter than curcumin, the yellow pigment of turmeric. Berberine is the alkaloid found in goldenseal root, barberry bark, Oregon grape root, and coptis (goldthread) root. What is so exciting about berberine are the results from the clinical trials in diabetes, high blood pressure and elevated blood lipid level. There is also very encouraging experimental data in a wide range of modern health issues including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, among others. Here are some highlights of the research on berberine.
• Berberine activates the important enzyme called AMP-activated protein kinase or AMPk for short. AMPk serves as a “master regulating switch” in energy metabolism. Overall, the activity of this enzyme plays a major role in determining insulin sensitivity and body fat composition, especially the amount of visceral “belly” fat.
• A detailed review of the 27 clinical studies with berberine in type 2 diabetes, high blood cholesterol, and high blood pressure demonstrated efficacy with berberine was on par with the drugs used for these disorders, but with no significant side effects.
• In one double-blind study of 116 patients with type 2 diabetes, berberine at a dosage of 500 mg twice a day lowered fasting blood sugar from just above the range of being classified as diabetes (i.e., 126 mg/dL) to normal blood sugar levels (less than 100 mg/dL) in most subjects.
• Berberine works to lower LDL cholesterol by inhibiting an enzyme called PCSK9 leading to more LDL being removed from the bloodstream.
• Two double-blind studies of berberine as a weight-loss aid showed it to promote significant loss in body mass index (BMI) as well as improvements in insulin sensitivity and fat-regulating hormones.
Tagatose is not a dietary supplement per se, but rather a natural sugar found in apples, pineapples, oranges, raisins, whole wheat and milk. I expect to see tagatose emerge as a very popular sweetener used in a variety of different products in health food stores from nutritional bars, protein powders, and as a bulk sweetener. Tagatose is a low calorie sweetener that is 92 percent as sweet as sugar and has the same look, feel and bulk. However, what I really like about tagatose is that it actually acts more like a special form of fiber than a sugar. As a result, it provides significant health benefits.
Perhaps the biggest health benefit is that tagatose actually helps promote weight loss. A sweetener that promotes weight loss is a major nutritional breakthrough. This weight-loss benefit has been confirmed in several human clinical trials including one conducted at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. My feeling is that tagatose is the perfect sweetener for consumers seeking to manage body weight and/or blood sugar levels. Here are some of its additional benefits:
• Tagatose is a powerful probiotic that feeds lactic acid bacteria like Lactobacillus sp. and Bifidobacteria sp.
• Because tagatose behaves like fiber and is almost completely unabsorbed, it has no impact on blood glucose (near zero glycemic effect) and insulin levels.
• The near zero glycemic effect of tagatose has been confirmed in several clinical studies. Even with an oral intake of 75 g of tagatose it showed no increase in plasma glucose or serum insulin in either normal persons or people with type 2 diabetes.
• Tagatose has also been shown to produce favorable effects on blood lipids. Tagatose appears to be especially helpful in raising HDL-cholesterol levels. Low levels of HDL-cholesterol are commonly seen in obese patients with type 2 diabetes and have been shown to be a major risk factor for coronary heart disease.
There are new products of all types launched in the health food industry all of the time. My caution to retailers is to do their best to evaluate the merits of a new product based upon its portfolio of science rather than buying into any marketing hype. Many new products are promoted as the latest major breakthrough based upon very limited and extremely biased research. That is especially true with products designed to help people lose weight. It is totally fine to be a skeptical retailer because many of your customers expect you to vet the real merits of the products on your shelves.