What Is The Immune System And How Does It Work?
The immune system is a complex system of cells, molecules, tissues, and organs that reach throughout the entire body. Each element, from cell to organ, has its own crucial role to play.
As a whole, the immune system acts as our defense against pathogens like bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other invading foreign bodies.
There are two 'branches' to the immune system - the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system - each with a different but significant role.
The role of the innate immune system is to defend us against the microorganisms that try to infect us, such as the flu virus. It uses a system of 'seek and destroy' to find anything that doesn't belong in the body and does its best to eradicate it.
Running alongside the innate immune system is the adaptive immune system. This is the part of our immunity that's responsible for remembering and recognizing pathogenic bugs, so that next time we come in contact with them, we can produce antibodies to destroy them.
There are many cells of the immune system that help to identify, remember, and destroy harmful pathogens and signal to other parts of the immune system that something there is a problem. Immune cells include B cells, T cells, NK cells, neutrophils, macrophages, and dendritic cells, each with a unique role:
B cells are a part of the humoral response, so they go after pathogens before they have infiltrated cells, and are still free-floating in the body. Simply put, B cells generate antibodies, but the process to get to that point is pretty interesting. B cells [or B lymphocytes] are a type of white blood cell that comes from the hone marrow. The outside of these cells is covered with hundreds of little proteins called "membrane-bound antibodies". Each B cell has a different antibody variant that will attach to different types of viruses, bacteria, or other pathogens. When they bind they become activated, with the assistance of a helper T cell. Once the specific B cell binds with a new virus, it begins cloning itself so that there are more B cells with their specific antibody variant available to fight that specific pathogen.
When they multiply, they differentiate to become memory B cells, that will remember that virus if it enters the body again in the future, or effector B cells, which turn into "antibody factories" to produce free-floating antibodies. These free-floating antibodies can then float around and bind to their specific virus to "tag" them to be picked up by phagocytes like macrophages and neutrophils.
T cells are another type of white blood cell. T cells start in bone marrow but mature in the thymus, giving them the T in their name. These cells function on what is called a “cell-mediated response” meaning the response is carried out by a cytotoxic cell. There are two types of T cells: helper T cells and cytotoxic t-cells.
- Helper T Cells work as an alarm for the immune system. Say a phagocyte ( this could be a dendritic cell, neutrophil, or a macrophage) has consumed a pathogen. As it is broken down within the phagocyte, it will produce a molecule, or antigen, on its membrane that can be identified and bound by other cells. The helper T cell has a receptor that binds to the antigen presented on the phagocyte’s membrane. When they bond, the cell becomes “activated” and can then make a bunch of copies of itself, much like the B cells. These copies can become effector helpers or memory helpers.
An activated T cell can raise the alarm to other cells that there is an intruder in the body. This alarm is accompanied by the release of cytokines that tell other activated lymphatic or immunological cells to have an immune response. This also tells B Cells that have been activated that they can divide more often. In order for B cells to divide they need to be activated by one of these helper T cells that has recognized the same pathogen from an antigen-presenting phagocyte. If it is a match, it can bind to the B cell allowing it to divide and produce antibodies. In this way, it acts as a failsafe in case the B cell is malfunctioning and trying to create antibodies against a naturally occurring cell in the body.
- Cytotoxic T cells, on the other hand, attack and kill other cells. They target and attack cells that have already been infiltrated with a harmful virus or bacteria, or even cancer cells in some cases. After the pathogen has infiltrated the cell, an activated cytotoxic T cell can attach to the antigen on the pathogen-containing cell’s membrane. Once bonded, it releases molecules that cause holes to form in the membrane, and other molecules into the cell causing the infected cell to die.
NK cells, or natural killer cells, can recognize infected or defective cells in the body. As the name suggests, they can also “kill” other cells, NK cells are not phagocytic and do not attack pathogens directly. They target cells that have already been infected by a virus or pathogen and kill those cells by secreting biologically active compounds inducing cell suicide by apoptosis. NK cells are signaled by the infected host cell that needs to be destroyed. They work to contain viral infections while the adaptive immune response (with the cells mentioned above) generates antibodies and cytotoxic T cells that can help clear the infection.
Neutrophils are another type of white blood cell and the most common of the phagocytic cells (meaning they can “engulf” and destroy pathogens). Neutrophils are generally the first cells at the site of infection because there are so many of them in circulation. They are also known for being quick into action. Neutrophils are classified as granulocytes because they contain granules in their cytoplasm that are toxic to bacteria and fungi, and cause them to either die instantly or at least stop reproducing, making them very valuable to contain an infection.
Macrophages are another type of phagocyte and the most versatile white blood cell. Macrophages circulate the body through the bloodstream but have the ability to leave the circulatory system wherever they please by moving across the walls of capillaries. These cells are special because of this ability to move around the body. This freedom is important because it allows macrophages to hunt down pathogens with fewer limits to clear away infections in other tissues and areas in the body. Macrophages can also release cytokines to signal and recruit other cells to an area where pathogens are present.
Dendritic cells are the third type of phagocytic white blood cell. Although the name might make you think of the dendrites of the central nervous system, they are in no way associated. They received that name because the shape of the cell appears to have a dendrite-like structure. Dendritic cells are the best at activating helper T cells. Dendritic cells are antigen-presenting cells that are found in tissues. Since dendritic cells are located in tissues that are common points for initial infection, they can identify threats and act as messengers for the rest of the immune system. Dendritic cells also act as a bridge between the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system.
Molecule-wise, antibodies are molecules released in response to an immune attack on a pathogen. They help to stop infections in their tracks. Cytokines are another type of immune molecule released during an immune response that helps to pass messages between the cells, tissues, and organs, to coordinate the immune response.
The tissues and the organs of the immune system include the spleen, appendix, lymph nodes, bone marrow, and the skin. They all have an individual role to play in producing the cells and molecules of the immune system, and in the case of the skin, providing a physical barrier against infectious agents.
The immune system is a complex biological system, but it is possible to support it through a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, regular outdoor exercise, plenty of nourishing sleep, and making generally healthy lifestyle choices.
Immune Health & Gut
As with many aspects of health, the first place to begin with immune health is the gut. In fact, around 70% of the entire immune system is located in the gut. Our small intestine is 20 feet in length and because of its physiological function in food & nutrient absorption, the intestinal lining or lumen is thin and permeable.
Likewise, the thinness and permeability create vulnerability to infection and this is the primary way our body becomes infected, through the small intestine. The majority of our immune response starts initially in our gut through the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) embedded in our intestinal lining. The functional importance of GALT in our body's defense relies on its large population of plasma cells, which make antibodies. About 80% of plasma cells, primarily immunoglobulin A reside in GALT.
When you begin to think about it, the link between the gut and the immune system makes perfect sense. All nutrients enter your body through the gut. This includes digested food, and any food-borne pathogens or otherwise ingested bacteria. So there must be some defense in place to deal with those ingested threats to your health. Many of these pathogens are killed off by your stomach acid since they can not survive that level of acidity. The ones that do make it through are the ones we need to worry about. The defense begins with your good bacteria. The immune system promotes the growth of “good bacteria” that create a stable microbiome. In turn, that microbiota can signal an immune response if something is off.
The real zone of the gut-based immune system can be found in the Peyer's patches. These small round bumps on the intestinal lining hold a concentration of immune cells and lymphatic tissue. The surface of the Peyer's patch has special cells called M cells that open and close to regulate which substances and microorganisms to allow through the intestinal wall. They are also the main site that pathogens use to get into the body. Within the patch, dendritic cells reach out into the intestine between the cells to “sample antigens”, scanning the contents for pathogens. When they find something, they call over T cells within the patch to find one they can pair with and stimulate the immune response. Once this begins and inflammation signals are sent, neutrophils come in to take care of the problem, and leftovers are cleaned up by macrophages.
Additionally, there is another layer to gut-based immune health, stemming from the gut-brain connection. Nerves within the gut can send a “pain signal” to the brain when it senses an intruder entering the Peyer's patch. This signals the gut to close the gates of the entry (M cells) so that fewer pathogens can get through. It also sends a signal to boost the number of beneficial bacteria in the area to form a protective layer against pathogens. This immune response is just one of the ways that the gut and brain work together.
Key Nutrients for Immune Health: The Vitamins & Minerals You Need
Looking after our immune health is just as important as looking after our physical health and mental health. There are many things we can do to keep our immune system in good shape, such as getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, exercising, and avoiding stress where possible.
But one of the most important things we can do for good immunity is to eat well and make sure we get the full range of nutrients we need. Whether by including them in your diet or by taking a daily supplement, here are the key nutrients for immune health that will help to support your immune system: Vitamin C, Vitamin D3 and K2, Selenium, and Zinc.
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant vitamin that supports the cellular function of both branches of the immune system – the innate and the adaptive immune systems. It also supports healthy skin, which is our biggest organ and forms an important part of the immune system by creating a physical barrier to pathogens and foreign bodies. Antioxidants neutralize damaging free radicals, which if allowed to build up, can lead to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is a condition that can cause damage to the cells of the body, including those of the immune system, effectively weakening it. Good food sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwis, bell peppers, and sweet potatoes.
Vitamin D is not just for strong bones and teeth! Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that our bodies manufacture when sunlight hits our skin. It’s present at low levels in some foods including oily fish that have edible bones (such as sardines, pilchards, and whitebait) and fortified dairy products. As well as helping to support strong teeth and bones, vitamin D helps to modulate our immune response and help protect us against infection. During the winter months when sunlight levels are low, it'd be advised that we all take a vitamin D supplement to ensure we’re getting enough of this key nutrient for immune health. Vitamin K2 supports the role of vitamin D, and without it, the immune system can become weakened. You’ll find vitamin K2 in green leafy vegetables such as kale and cruciferous vegetables such as brussels sprouts and broccoli.
Selenium is a mineral that acts as an antioxidant, helping to clear the body of the immune system damaging free radicals and inflammation. Studies show that those with lower blood levels of selenium have a lower immune response than those with higher levels. Good food sources of selenium include oysters, brazil nuts, eggs, and sardines.
Zinc is a key nutrient for immune health. Zinc is a mineral that supports good immunity by acting as an antioxidant. Research shows that specifically, it helps the manufacture of helper T cells, which are important components of the immune system. Helper T cells play a role in recognizing pathogens and helping to trigger the release of cytokines, a type of molecule essential to the immune system’s signaling process. Zinc is found in meat, shellfish, dairy products, and wholewheat cereals.
Ensuring that you get enough of these vitamins and minerals in your diet, whether by consuming foods rich in these nutrients or by taking supplements, could be the extra support your immune system needs. Just remember that not all supplements are made to the same level of quality, and do your research before choosing your source of these vitamins.
Traditional Chinese Medicine & Medicinal Mushrooms
If you are looking for a natural remedy for immune health, you have probably come across Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). When thinking about TCM, you probably think of herbal teas, acupuncture, and maybe even picture some tai chi movements. But the history and ideas behind TCM are much deeper than those simple practices, and those deeper more researched layers are what we find important when discussing immune health.
First a little background on Traditional Chinese Medicine. TCM has been in practice for thousands of years but began gaining recognition by Americans in the 1970s through the popularity of acupuncture. TCM has two main focuses: Qi (the body’s vital energy), and the concept of Yin and Yang (or balance). Yin and yang are the opposite forces that make up the Qi, and a healthy state means that they are in balance. TCM emphasizes a holistic approach, focusing on the prevention of illness as well as treatment of illness, and looking into the underlying cause of the symptoms instead of simply treating the symptoms.
The first layer of this preventative health approach is very similar to western ideals: eat a healthy diet, and get adequate amounts of exercise. The difference is, TCM looks at which foods are right for your specific health goals. Some favorites are garlic for antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, ginger root for antihistamine and a decongestant use, and various mushrooms such as cordyceps, Agaricus, and Coriolus for strengthening the immune system. Other herbs That often show up are Astragalus root and Ginseng. Each of these mushrooms and herbs works in its own way to aid in immune health function:
Cordyceps sinensis is a fungus found in the Tibetan high plateau. This is a curious mushroom, as it grows from the head of a specific caterpillar 3,800 meters above sea level. It has been used in China for thousands of years by royal and elite families for energy, vitality, endurance, and supporting a healthy immune system. Cordyceps sinensis has been found to increase the activity of NK cells showing evidence that it may help support a healthy immune system.
Agaricus blazei murill (or ABM) is a mushroom native to Brazil and widely cultivated in Japan for its medicinal uses. ABM is now considered as one of the most important edible and culinary-medicinal species. It was first identified by Dr. Takatoshi Furumoto, who noticed that the population living where this mushroom was discovered was statistically healthier. Causing reason to believe that this mushroom was the reason. Since then many science-based studies have been conducted over the health benefits of this mushroom, concluding that ABM shows immune benefits including stimulating macrophages and NK cells, synthesis of anti-inflammatory cytokines, and potential defense against infection.
Coriolus versicolor is commonly known as Turkey Tail mushroom. This mushroom has a history of being used to nourish the Qi in TCM practices. Coriolus mushroom is a fungus that has been used for centuries and has several active polysaccharides, including PSK and PSP. These polysaccharides have been found to be beneficial for inflammation, immunity, and various other therapeutic effects.
- Astragalus membranaceus and Panax notoginseng are both very well known herbs in the world of Chinese medicine. Astragalus root has been claimed to be one of the best herbs to enhance the immune system to function. It is said to increase the number of active immune cells when used properly. However, it works best to fortify the immune system of healthy individuals, so should be considered a preventative herb and not one to take when you are starting to feel sick.
Ginseng works in a similar way, increasing the effect of the cells that make up the immune system. Many athletes also turn to Ginseng for its supposed effect of boosting endurance and strength. If you begin to look, many supplement brands on the market (both sports nutrition and general wellness) will include these two herbs in their formulas for these reasons. There are even proprietary blends (like AstraGin®) that take specified extracts of these herbs blended together to take advantage of their specific functions. AstraGin®, for example, took specified extracts from these herbs that related to gut health and function.
The rising popularity of these TCM practices and the need for a more natural way of healing has led to a growing demand for functional mushrooms and herbs like these. People are doing their research, and are more open to trying new methods to health.
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The Importance of Beta-Glucans for Immune Health
One of the reasons these mushrooms show such promising benefits to the immune system lies in their content of immune-supporting beta-glucans.
Beta-glucans are a class of polysaccharides found in certain plants, grains, and fungi that have been studied extensively for health and immune benefits. Although, not all beta-glucans have immune-supporting properties. Beta-glucans derived from baker’s yeast and mushrooms are the best-documented immunostimulators, while glucans from cereals and other plants did not aid in immune support.
To get more technical, Beta-glucan 1-3 and 1-6 are the only immune-supporting structures of beta-glucan. The chemical structure of those two specific forms is what allows them to bind to immune cells, where other beta-glucans cannot.
These beta-glucans stimulate an immune response by binding to macrophages or other phagocytic cells. They can then affect their immune response by stimulating cytokine production and inducing an oxygen burst, increasing the cell’s ability to destroy harmful microorganisms. The stimulated release of cytokines increases the cell’s ability to recruit other immune cells like neutrophils, dendritic cells, and NK cells into the area, and even B and T cells to produce antibodies.
Beta-glucans begin working in the gut in this way, but as they are "digested" by the macrophages, smaller "dissolved" portions of the Beta-glucans can be transported to lymphatic tissues all over the body to activate other immune cells.
The "digested” Beta-glucans can then bind to neutrophils, priming them for activity. When pathogens then enter the body, antibodies bind to the pathogen and call over immune cells like those macrophages and neutrophils. Beta-glucans help these cells reach the pathogens faster and assist in enhancing cytotoxicity making it easier to kill pathogens, thus “boosting” the immune system.
Beta-glucans are very well researched for immune health and have shown to stimulate not only immune response in humans but also in inter vertebrates and animals as well, indicating that beta-glucans are part of a general evolutionary process. Beta-glucans are one of the few natural substances that can activate all of your immune responses, from macrophages to Natural Killer cells.
Staying Well and Healthy: Best Practices for Healthy Living
To live our best lives, it’s crucial that we do all we can to look after our immune health. With a strong and healthy immune system, we stand more chances of living a healthy fulfilling life free from disease and illness. Looking after our immune health is very similar to looking after our general health and wellbeing, so thankfully, we don’t need to do anything out of the ordinary to achieve good immunity. A few best practices to get you started on healthy living are eating a healthy diet, staying hydrated, getting plenty of sleep, and washing your hands:
Eating for immunity. One of the best things we can do for immune health is to eat well. This means feeding our immune system with a nutritious, balanced diet. Specifically including a range of differently colored fruits and vegetables. It also means going easy on the high fat, high sugar, high salt processed foods. Instead, fill up on lean meats, oily fish, beans, legumes, and whole grains.
Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. A crucial best practice for healthy living is drinking plenty of fluids. This means mainly water, but sugar-free or low sugar juices and herbal teas also count. Aim for eight glasses a day – a good test for hydration is the color of your urine. Urine should be a pale straw color, any darker and you risk becoming dehydrated. Water is essential for the health of our kidneys, which play a crucial role in flushing toxins from the body in our urine. The fewer toxins, the less work the immune system has to do to defend us, leaving it free to do its important job of seeking and destroying pathogens.
Sleep is essential for good health. How often have you felt groggy after a night of broken sleep? Most of us know that feeling. But a chronic lack of sleep caused by stress, noise, discomfort, insomnia, or a new baby can have much worse consequences. Continued poor sleep can lead to a weakened immune system, putting us at greater risk of disease. Not to mention poor judgment skills, poor memory, and concentration, a higher risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even obesity. It can also lead to a higher chance of being involved in an accident.
In some cases, poor sleep is unavoidable, but there are some natural supplements that could help such as Zylaria™. Zylaria™ is a supplement extracted from Xylaria nigripes, a medicinal fungus commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It’s rich in gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) which is proven to promote relaxation and normal sleep quality. If you are someone that struggles with getting a full night of sleep, looking for natural alternatives for sleep aid like this could benefit immune health in the long term.
Washing your hands: the simplest, but best practice for healthy living. The WHO and the CDC say that our best defense against bacterial, fungal, and viral infections is as simple as washing our hands regularly. We can easily pick up pathogens that cause stomach upsets, coughs, colds, and flu by touching surfaces such as handrails, doors, money, and pretty much anything else including shaking hands. It’s easy to then touch our eyes, nose, or mouth, effectively transferring these pathogens into your body. It’s advised to wash your hands after using the restroom, touching animals, blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, caring for someone who is sick, and before and after preparing food (especially raw meat and fish). The CDC has useful advice on how best to wash your hands, and if you’re away from a sink, using hand sanitizing gel is your best alternative.
Though these best practices are not the only things that can affect your immune health, they do hold a significant impact. Even talking two or three of these into practice would be beneficial not only for improving your day-to-day health but also for your immune function. Remembering that a healthy body generally has a healthier immune response.
Another way to support immunity is through exercise. We know that a generally healthy lifestyle involves a balanced diet full of a variety of fruits and vegetables, and a good consistent exercise routine. Exercise is well known to assist in cardiovascular health, increase mobility, manage weight and weight-related diseases, and even improve mood and sleep quality. But it also means a well functioning immune system. Exercise specifically contributes to immune health by promoting good circulation, allowing immune cells in the bloodstream (like macrophages) to move through the body and do their job efficiently. In addition to this “short-term” exercise immune boost, some have claimed that long term regular exercise can slow immune system changes that happen with aging, therefore reducing the risk of future infections.
Although regular exercise is highly recommended for improving your health, some studies have reported that too much exercise can be damaging to your immune system. This is not something for everyone to start worrying about since this data was focused on those training for competitions, and otherwise unusually high levels of exercise intensity. These would be elite athletes that are pushing their bodies to the brink, traveling through time zones to compete, and getting inadequate sleep. In this case, the immune system is decreased, depression or anxiety levels increased, and 2-18% experience illness after the event has ended.
The rest of us, amping up the exercise routine is nothing to be afraid of. That same study reported that moderate to vigorous-intensity exercise is seen as an important stimulant to the immune system. Assisting in the exchange of active immune cells between the bloodstream and tissues. More specifically, each time you exercise improves macrophage activity and enhances the circulation of anti-inflammatory cytokines, neutrophils, NK cells, cytotoxic T cells, and B cells which are all vital cells to the immune system response. So for optimal immune support be sure to work out regularly, but leave time for proper recovery and listen to your body.
When discussing immune health, or any level of health for that matter, you need to start with a baseline of body awareness. This way you will be able to feel when something is “off” and know when the issue is something you can handle yourself with some rest and nutritional changes, or when it is time to see a physician.
If you don't know where to begin with your personal health survey, here are a few things that are potential signs of a weakened immune system:
Continuously high-stress levels. The long term stress has been shown to weaken your immune system. If you feel continuously stressed, it may be a good idea to pay more attention to your body, and take steps to reduce stress where possible.
If you constantly feel sick or get colds frequently. It is completely normal to get two or three colds per year, but if you have a cold that has lingered much longer than normal, or you seem to catch a cold immediately after recovering from another your immune system may be having a hard time keeping up.
Frequent gut-related issues, such as constant diarrhea, gas, or constipation. Since such a large portion of our immune system is located in the gut, this could be a signal something is wrong. It may be a food sensitivity, or it may be your immune system trying to tell you something. Either way, you should always pay attention to fluctuations with your gut health.
If your wounds heal slowly. The healing of wounds is dependent on the immune cells. If your immune system is lacking, then it may take longer for cuts and burns to heal properly.
You have frequent infections. This could be over three sinus infections per year, over four ear infections per year, and more. These could be signs of a compromised immune system.
You constantly feel tired or lack energy. If your body is using too much energy to fight off an infection, then it may affect your overall energy levels. Feeling tired is your body’s way of communicating a problem to you. This could be a time to take stock of your sleeping habits and see where you can make alterations.
Some of these, like the lack of energy, can be remedied on your own by getting a little more sleep and seeing what difference that can make. But if these persist it may be time to get a professional involved. Be sure to be open with your healthcare provider about anything you have been feeling, however small, because they may be able to make connections you had not thought of. Listen to what they have to say, and of course, comply with any CDC and WHO regulations in a health crisis situation.
Knowing these signs of a weakened immune system, and paying attention to what your body is telling you will be your best signals to know when it is right to seek medical attention. Many health professionals are happy to talk to you over the phone if you have questions about your symptoms, and can then direct you to the best plan of action for your situation.
Immune Health Market: A Global Opportunity
Right now, with the world collectively in the grips of COVID-19, the immune health market represents an ideal opportunity for many health and wellness businesses. With sales of dietary supplements already at an all-time high pre-coronavirus, it’s clear that Americans are looking for ways to supplement their diet and support their immune health.
But it's not just Americans; Europeans and Africans and those living in the Middle East and Asia-Pacific countries are also buying up immune health supplements. As the threat of viruses and pandemics becomes all too real, people around the world are taking charge of their health and doing all they can to avoid getting sick. In particular, they’re looking for plant-based, organic superfood supplements to provide the best protection.
So if you’re in the business of helping to keep people well, you may be able to make the most of this boom in the immune health market.
According to Research Nester, Asia Pacific countries such as China, India, and Japan are expected to “bounce back progressively” after the effects of COVID-19, before the rest of the world. As the world’s attention turns to healthcare and the provision of medical devices, products, and advice, investments are expected to shift towards the healthcare sector the world over, meaning a potential surge in money being invested into companies like yours.
A recent, mid-coronavirus pandemic report, produced by a panel of scientists states that the continued surge in interest of consumers wanting to look after their immune health. This represents “a lot of opportunities for food and supplement companies to communicate and advocate the role of micronutrients to support a healthy immune system”.
NutraIngredients, who provide news and analysis on health supplements report spikes in demand for certain supplements already. Thus proving that the immune health market is on the verge of its own boost.
What's the General Outlook for the Immune Health Market? Given the strong interest in the general public to investigate and ultimately invest in products for their immune health, coupled with fear over the current coronavirus and the uncertainty over the possibility of another pandemic and the analysts predicting a boom, the general outlook for those in the health and wellness market is very good.
Research Nester forecasts that online health is set to expand notably, meaning that searches and purchases for online health supplements are only going to grow.
If your target market is anyone looking to take control and do what they can to support their own immune health, you need to be ahead of the curve.
The Importance of Innovative Products in the Immune Market Category
If you’re already a part of the health and wellness market, you know it is more than just wanting to make a great product that makes you successful. Being in this business means understanding your market, your customer, and what your customer actually wants. The same is true in the health and wellness industry. In this mid/post COVID-19 world, your customers are looking for supplements they trust to support their immune system and to help protect them from becoming unwell.
Never before has there been a need for innovative products in the immune market category. No more does a tube of effervescent vitamin C tablets cut the mustard. Your business needs to follow the trends, get ahead of the curve, and stand out from the crowd.
Here's our advice on making the most of the boom in immune health supplements to help your products and business stand out:
Understand that consumers are blurring the lines between traditional multivitamin tablets and newer nutritional supplements and functional foods. Consumers now think nothing of adding superfood powders to their morning smoothies or consuming medicinal mushrooms on a daily basis to support their immune health. Therefore, adding these kinds of products to your offering could be the first step.
Include scientific evidence in your online literature showing that your products contain ingredients that actually work. For instance, all our functional mushroom extracts are thoroughly studied and supported by robust research. And we proudly display that. Gain your customers' trust, and you’ve won half the battle.
Know your market. If your target customer is a young, cash-rich, research savvy professional, then they are likely to move to your competitors if you’re not keeping up with the current trends. Talk directly to your customers, tell them you understand their fears and worries, and understand their drive to live the healthiest lifestyle possible. Inform them that you have the immune-supporting ingredient they’re looking for. Or better still, that it’s such an innovative product in the immune market category, that they didn’t even know they needed it, yet.
Keep innovating. Let your customers know that you’re changing with the times and are just as curious about innovative new immune health products as they are. Then keep supplying them. Let them know what you are doing to stay innovative, keep an up to date blog, and be active on social media. Nobody likes a show-off, but when it comes to providing solutions to your customers' problems, they’ll be listening.
Sourcing Ingredients for Immune Health Products
How often have you had the best idea, but actually, zero ideas on how to execute it? Many of the world’s best inventions could still be sitting scribbled in the notepad of a frustrated designer, unable to get it off the paper and into real life due to struggles actually making it.
If this is sounding all too familiar about your goals as a health and wellness brand, here’s a bit of advice on how to source raw materials to complete your product vision:
Know your market and keep up with trends by reading, researching, and repeating. Social media is a great way of keeping up with current trends and spotting emerging ones. That is your first obstacle. Getting to know your market and discovering what ingredients you want to source.
Invest in trade publications such as Nutritional Outlook or SupplySide Global Storefront. These buyers’ guides are the Holy Grails of raw material sourcing and beat a Google search for “immune health ingredient providers” hands down.
Make sure your research also extends to the lab or the company you’re sourcing from. Only ever buy raw materials from reputable, trustworthy sources. At NuLiv Science, all of our ingredients are fully researched and we display all of our scientific findings on our website. If a supplier is cagey about the validity or efficacy of their products, avoid them like the plague.
Get a couple of quotes from suppliers, and ask for their minimum order quantity and lead time for delivery. Specifications are also important, as these will detail the quality aspects of the ingredient.
If you have the time and the cash, find a third-party lab to also test the specifications of the product independently. That way you’ll also have more clout with your customers. Or choose a company like NuLiv who do all of that for you.
Experiment and experiment some more. Use small samples from your supplier to make up your product and test it for flavor, solubility (if it’s a powder), color, eye appeal, longevity. Test it on friends and family and only when happy, place your bulk order.
And finally, be bespoke. There’s little point copying someone else’s formula because there’s nothing to set you apart. Yes, it’s a crowded market but little tweaks here and there will go a long way to helping you stand out.
How to source raw materials shouldn’t be getting in the way of your brand's success. If you’d like to know more about our range of scientifically backed ingredients, get in touch today. We’re waiting to launch you to your target customer!
Immune Health Simplified
Although the immune system is a complex and complicated system to fully understand, we hope this breakdown of how the immune system works, best practices for immune health, and a breakdown of supplements and the immune health industry has been helpful.
The main takeaways to remember: wash your hands, eat a healthy diet, get plenty of sleep and exercise, look into which supplements are right for you, have an open mind to alternative health remedies like medicinal mushrooms, and maintain a healthy gut. The Immune System is complicated when you get into the details, but staying healthy doesn't have to be.
Are you with a brand looking to develop new products targeted at immune health? If so, we invite you to fill out the form below to get more information. We look forward to connecting with you!