Many illnesses, including COVID-19, seem to hit older populations the hardest. Nutritional changes may enhance immune health
Once an illness is contracted, older adults aged 65 and up are often considered to be among the groups at increased risk for developing serious complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As research highlights, however, there is still much to learn about the effects of aging on diseases like COVID-19.
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It is known that as we age our immune system becomes less efficient at defending our bodies because of a process called immunosenescence, potentially leaving us less equipped to respond to health challenges. It’s also been suggested that chronic age-related conditions including diabetes, heart disease and hypertension also impact immunity, potentially creating further risk of complications among older adults who come down with illnesses like COVID-19. Although a decline in immune function may be a natural part of aging, there are ways to help reduce the impact, such as lifestyle and nutritional changes. Here we discuss ways the food and beverage industry can help promote immune support in aging populations via product development and ingredient selection.
Lifestyle and nutritional changes for immune health
Nutrition is a key component of health at any age. Recent Kerry research shows immune health is a key concern for consumers of nutrition products. This can mean eating products formulated wtih ingredients perceived as benefiting health as well as avoiding ones with less healthy ingredient lists. Because reducing sugar and salt consumption can help lessen the likelihood of developing diabetes- and hypertension-related conditions, products developed to support healthy aging can also support overall immune health.
Staying active is also a part of healthy aging, so products designed for active aging are also important. In active adults, supporting immune function can increase bounce-back rates and help protect from common respiratory illnesses. Because older adults show a strong interest in functional ingredients and products such as high protein beverages, for example, there may be opportunities to create products that deliver on multiple health benefits.
Key ingredients for supporting immunity in older people
One way to improve declining immune health—especially in older people—is tied to managing inflammation. Research shows that some substances known as immunomodulators can help bring this inflammation under control. Some of these immunomodulatory substances can be consumed through diet. For instance, yeast-derived beta glucans such as Wellmune® may support the immune system by adjusting the immune response to pathogens.
Additionally, there is emerging evidence that indicates that such ingredients may “train” the body’s immune cells to react more quickly when a pathogen is detected. Manufacturers should ensure research supports specific ingredients under consideration.
Immune health products for aging populations
Growth opportunities for food and beverage products featuring functional ingredients are high. Kerry’s research found that 65% of U.S. consumers seek added functional benefits from their everyday food and beverages, beyond their inherent benefits. As the global population over 60 is expected to grow 56% by 2030, demand is increasing for food, beverage and supplement products that support the immune system. Among global consumers aged 55+ who bought products to increase health or wellness in last six months of 2019, 38% purchased fortified and functional food while 50% bought vitamins and supplements.
Immune support ingredients can be formulated into a wide range of functional foods and beverages, from bottled drinks to fruity snacks. To cater to the aging population, consider which of your products already appeal to this age group, then research appropriate immune support ingredients, taking into account existing research, regulatory and labeling requirements and processing conditions.
To learn more about how COVID-19 is affecting the food and beverage industry, including changes in consumer preferences and purchasing behaviors, visit Kerry’s COVID-19 resource page.