The impact of the pandemic drastically changed the way people are looking at personal health. COVID-19 has brought immunity to the forefront of most consumers’ minds. According to Google Search Trends, since February 2020, “immunity” and “immune system support” overtook interest in gut health and psychedelics almost overnight. Even with the approval of vaccines, some people are wary of getting it and many more are waiting for their turn, which is months away (in fact, only 1.42% of the U.S. population has received it and only 30% of U.S. supplies have been disbursed). Health, in particular immune health, is still on top people’s minds.
On a global level, when the pandemic hit consumers started looking for natural ways to optimize their immune system. The demand for products that help people manage their sleep patterns, stress levels, support mental health, and of course, help support the immune system hit $435 million dollars in six weeks during spring and summer portions of 2020; leading nutritional supplements grew more during the pandemic than in the entire previous year. This trend is rapidly growing, and will continue throughout 2021 as the pandemic continues to drive drastic shifts in consumer purchasing behavior. Aside from the growth in consumer demand, it's also important to not the growth in science-based research surrounding the use of botanicals to support immunity.
The interest in the correlations between metabolic state and immunity goes mainstream
In the past decade, many holistic and functional health practitioners began exploring how the immune system acts as a sensor of a person’s metabolic state. In other words, immunity is not simply linked to metabolic health, they're intertwined at the physiological level. The pandemic brought the exploration of the connection between metabolic health and immunity to the forefront of scientific research as COVID-19 actually serves as the perfect example of this. There are two new studies conducted in 2020 that further support these findings. The first study was published in Endocrinology, where physicians found that "endocrine-immune-vascular interactions" shape the clinical outcomes of COVID-19. Another supporting 2020 study looked at metabolic health and the coronavirus pandemic argued that health and lifestyle behaviors should be leveraged to improve recovery outcomes.
Increased interest in the use Traditional Chinese Medicine has led deeper and well documented scientific research during COVID-19
The interest in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in recent years has been leading to an increase in market demand as well as scientific research to support practice claims, especially as it relates to supporting the body’s immune system. In the last decade, research examining how TCM can be used to treat inflammatory conditions and autoimmune disorders has increased. Overall, TCM has been shown to be very beneficial in immune regulation. The pandemic has accelerated the exploration of the TCM and immune system support.
Five key Chinese herbs used in formulating supplements designed to optimize and support immune system functions
Throughout 2020, we saw an increased demand for the following five Chinese herbs by manufacturers to formulate certain supplements and products. This trend is continuing into 2021.
- Chinese name: Ling Zhi, Hong Ling Zhi
- Western name: Reishi, Red Reishi, Black Reishi
- Botanical name: Ganoderma lucidum, Ganoderma sinensis
Ling Zhi is a member of the plant family Ganodermatacaea. The fruiting bodies of the reishi mushroom can be red in color with a cream colored edge (Red Reishi) or jet black (Black Reishi). Used for centuries in TCM, the mushroom can be used in various forms and is considered a tonic for Qi. Reishi is also a well-known adaptogenic herb, said to have important immunity boosting properties and to promote stress relief. Both red and black reishi are used for immune system support, their uses vary depending on what that they’re formulated for. In traditional Chinese medicine, its properties are cold, acrid, bitter.
- Chinese name: Wu Wei Zi
- Western name: Schisandra
- Botanical name: Schisandra chinensis
Wu Wei Zi, otherwise known as the schisandra plant, is best known for its fruit. The schisandra berries are a staple in TCM and said to hold five flavors, which in TCM translates to properties that promote the body's overall health and vitality. A popular adaptogenic herb, schisandra is said to support healthy liver and kidney function in particular. In traditional Chinese medicine, its properties are sour, bitter, sweet, acrid, and salty.
- Chinese name: Huang Qi
- Western name: Astragalus Root
- Botanical name: Astragalus Membranaceus
Huang Qi is a fundamental herb in TCM. As a member of the plant family Fabaceae, the dried root of the plant is regularly used in various forms. Astragalus is said to have many beneficial immunity-boosting, anti-aging and anti-inflammatory effects. In traditional Chinese medicine, its properties are sweet and warm.
Chinese name: Ren Shen
Western name: Asian Ginseng
Botanical name: Panax Ginseng CA Meyer
Ren Shen is a member of the plant family Araliaceae and is said to tonify Qi, as well as the lungs and spleen. It is a popular tonic in TCM due to properties from its sweet, slightly bitter and slightly warm taste. Asian Ginseng is said to promote a calm mind and act as an immunity booster. Both white and red ginseng come from the same plant, but the processes in which they are preserved are different: white ginseng is usually peeled and dried to prevent decay, whereas red ginseng uses the whole root (including the skin), as well as a process of steaming and drying to prevent decay. In traditional Chinese medicine, its properties are warm, bitter and sweet.
- Chinese name: Shui Qie
- Western name: Ashwagandha
- Botanical name: Withania somnifera
Ashwagandha is found in both TCM, referred to as Shiu Qie, and in Indian Ayurveda, classified as a rasayana herb, but the closely related Asian Ginseng is more regularly used in TCM. Ashwagandha is highly regarded as a powerful adaptogenic herb, which supports stress relief and promotes the overall immune system function. It doesn’t hold any properties in traditional Chinese medicine.
Consumer Demand for Immunity Products Will Increase in 2021
The Natural Marketing Institute also found that 28% of consumers plan to increase their use of vitamins and supplements in the U.S. and a 25% of consumers around the world plan to increase their use of vitamins and supplements due to COVID-19. What consumers are focusing on in their supplement purchases are supplements, drinks, and products that claim to have immunity-boosting nutrients.
According to Natural Products Global, 54% consumers are looking for food, beverages, and supplements that contain immunity supporting ingredients. This includes everything from drinks and snacks containing superfoods and probiotics to the more traditional delivery forms of tablets, capsules and powders. The immune system will continue to be a focus for the whole family. This trend was so strong that Sandra Ballentine, Editor, W magazine, took note of it during the Global Wellness Summit:
Strengthening the immune system (and building physical fortitude) will be a major 2021 wellness trend across the board, from food, to supplements, to educational classes. We will also see more customized immunity hacks, using genetic testing and biohacking…to pinpoint what immune therapies best suit your system and situation.
She also took her predictions a step further, sharing that once people feel comfortable seeing practitioners again, as consumers, there will be a surge in the demand for immunity-enhancing treatments and energy healing. She also made correlations to how immunity will become the key connector between gut health, our microbiome, and brain function. As consumer interest in immunity-boosting supplements continues, brands and manufacturers will continue to explore the creation of new formulations or entirely new products designed to meet their customers' needs. If you need help with your product manufacturing or formulation, reach out to us. We’re happy to help you create new formulations, offer new delivery formats for existing products, or help you design something entirely new.