As spices, turmeric/curcumin aligns well with the whole-food supplement and naturally functional foods movements. In 2012, whole-food supplement sales topped $1.2 billion, up 12%, per NBJ.
Six in 10 adults really like/like the idea of getting naturally occurring health benefits/components from foods. Nine in 10 believe (46% very strongly) that foods provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition, per the International Food Information Council’s (IFIC) 2013 Functional Food Survey.
Turmeric/curcumin also benefits from being a member of the polyphenol category, which remains the strongest and most marketable mass market phytochemical group, according to TrendSense.
Lastly, turmeric/curcumin has long played a role in Ayurvedic medicine. In 2012, sales of Ayurvedic supplements rose 26% to $73 million; service revenue for Ayurvedic practitioners topped $200 million in 2011, per NBJ.
Science & Bioavailability
Curcumin’s primary function is as an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant, demonstrating functional health benefits in high growth nutraceutical markets: immunity, natural antioxidants, joint/arthritis, blood sugar control/diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease/dementia, heart health, Benign Prostate Hyperplasia (BPH) and liver health.
While most scientific evidence is limited to animal and in vitro studies, research increasingly shows clinical benefits in humans as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant that modulates immune function, affecting disease states including joint health and arthritis, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Evidence is increasing for heart health, impacting LDL cholesterol levels, blood pressure, vasodilation, circulation and plaque formation. Turmeric and its components may play a positive role in alcoholic liver conditions, cancer prevention, Irritable Bowel Disease and may well be a strong candidate for a natural antacid.
Curcumin is poorly absorbed as a standard ingredient. Its bioavailability is limited due to poor solubility, low rate of absorption from the gut, short half-life with rapid metabolism and rapid systemic elimination. Turmeric/curcumin have been used in western medicine in a fatty matrix that improves bioavailability. Methods to improve absorption and utilization have included phytosomes, phospholipids, celluloses and other nanoparticles. A recent well-controlled human study published in Nutrition Journal (Jan. 24) compared the relative absorption of a curcumin phytosome formulation; a formulation with volatile oils of turmeric rhizome; and a formulation of curcumin with a combination of hydrophilic carrier, cellulosic derivatives and natural antioxidants to a standardized curcumin mixture. Total appearance of curcuminoids in the blood was substantially highest with the formula using a hydrophilic carrier, cellulosic derivatives and natural antioxidants (46-fold over standard).
According to Sloan Trends’ TrendSense Model, curcumin was projected to reach mass market status in 2013, making the timing optimal for launch into mainstream health products. Although curcumin has long been of considerable medical interest, medical research activity (Medical Counts) is at a high level and accelerating rapidly, increasing more than six-fold over the past decade, delivering a plethora of new research findings to support and differentiate new nutraceutical products. Curcumin has been a marketable opportunity in the specialty/health food channel and among very health conscious and condition-specific consumers since 2008.
Although more research activity has been focused on curcumin than turmeric, turmeric is also supported by a fast-accelerating body of scientific activity that tripled over the last 10 years, crossing over the Medical Threshold and confirming a long-term sustainable trend in 2003-04. Curcumin has been a highly marketable opportunity in the specialty food channel since 2008.
Turmeric/curcumin’s health benefits are most closely linked to two of the strongest and highest potential “Mega” markets in the nutraceutical world today: antioxidants and inflammation. Gallup reported that 27% of consumers made a strong effort to get more natural antioxidants in 2012. Moreover, consumers most associate antioxidants with helping to control inflammation.
Turmeric and curcumin are specialty ingredients, which now rank second only to vitamins in nutritional products adults are trying to get more of (Gallup). Specialty supplement sales grew 8.2% in 2012 (NBJ).
- 54% are concerned about inflammation in the body; 19% very concerned (Gallup).
- Two-thirds of adults don’t get enough antioxidants to get a health benefit (IFIC, 2013).
- Annual market potential for pain OTCs/supplements is $7.4 billion (IRI); 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain (National Center for Health Statistics, NCHS).
- Immunity is the health benefit consumers seek most from supplements; immune supplement sales were $2.3 billion in 2013 (Gallup; NBJ).
- 50 million adults (1 in 5) have doctor-diagnosed arthritis; two-thirds are under age 64 (NCHS).
- 54% of consumers believe supplements can be effective for preventing or delaying Alzheimer’s disease (Gallup).
- Diabetic supplements posted strong sales of $1.3 billion in 2013, up 9.6%; weight management, long-term energy are also tied to blood sugar control.
- The annual potential for more natural supplement solutions as antacids is $7.6 billion per year (IRI).
- When omega-3 focused products are removed from the mix, the heart supplement sector remains virtually untapped; atherosclerosis and stroke are among the hottest new heart markets (Sloan Trends).
- U.S. liver supplement sales hit $111 million in 2012, up 26%; alcoholic liver disease is a fast-emerging sector.
Regulatory & Other Cautions
Safe levels of consumption are stated to include up to 8 grams per day, although the European Union proved that rates of consumption up to 22 grams per day for the average male showed no negative effects. High doses and longer term use may cause indigestion, nausea and diarrhea. Caution should be taken in making recommendations for pregnant women, those with liver or gallbladder conditions and those taking some Rx medications (e.g., blood thinners). Prior concerns about carcinogenicity have been overcome.
Turmeric/curcumin’s primary activity is as an anti-inflammatory. Health claims are limited for inflammation since it relates to disease states, and FDA may interpret claims as implied drug claims. Carefully constructed structure/function claims that are written in context are possible.
Effectiveness is a key consumer concern about supplements. Solubility and short half-life are limitations. Time-release capsules or recommendations to take multiple doses during a day may also be required for optimal absorption and functional benefits.
Curcumin and turmeric are a natural fit for functional foods and beverages and have the ability to deliver against a number of the new and emerging high potential markets for supplement marketers. However, the formula must be bioavailable in order to achieve lasting success.
Dr. A. Elizabeth Sloan and Dr. Catherine Adams Hutt are president and chief scientific and regulatory officer, respectively, of Sloan Trends, Inc., Escondido, CA, a 20-year-old consulting firm that offers trend interpretation/predictions; identifies emerging high potential opportunities; and provides strategic counsel on issues and regulatory claims guidance for food/beverage, supplement and pharmaceutical marketers. For more information: E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Website: www.sloantrend.com.