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How is the continued pandemic impacting nutraceutical purchases?

How is the continued pandemic impacting nutraceutical purchases .jpg
Celebrating ‘Get to Know Your Customer Day’ with a look at how COVID shifted functional supplements intake in the Middle East.

Due to the uncertainty caused by the global COVID pandemic, it is commonly believed that consumers are turning to functional foods and dietary supplements as additional resources to boost their immune response against COVID. To validate this idea, a recent paper published in the European Journal of Integrative Medicine (DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eujim.2022.102102) ran a pilot test with surveys gathering insights from consumers in the Middle East: Lebanon, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), Palestine, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

In this study, researchers from Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, and the United Arab Emirates created and optimised a survey in Arabic and English for increased accessibility; 2,100 participants completed the survey form (1,245 women and 855 men). Researchers used SPSS® software for statistical data analysis.

When looking at the participants’ medical background, researchers noted 17% had COVID infection, and 14% had chronic medical conditions with hypertension (n = 131), diabetes mellitus (n = 95), and bronchial asthma (n 43) highlighted as most predominant, respectively.

The results show that the COVID pandemic caused 43.8% of participants to optimise their dietary intake. Interestingly, only 21.3% of participants believed that supplements are linked to reducing the chances of COVID infections. Nevertheless, 46.6% of the participants reported intaking supplementation for preventing COVID infection.

When looking at how participants chose their supplement sources, 37.5% mentioned 'media' which includes 'television and social media platforms'; 34.6% turned to pharmacists, dietitians, and physician's healthcare service providers; and 27.9% followed nutritional advice from family and friends.

When looking at the type of supplements consumed, researchers found vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc among the most popular choices (77.8%, 55.7%, and 42.9%, respectively). Other referred supplements purchased as a preventive included honey, garlic, black seed, sumac, Indian costus (a species of thistle in the genus Dolomiaea), omega-3 oils, magnesium, iron, multivitamins, folic acid, vitamin B12, and vitamin B complex. Further, when asked about reading the information attached with the supplementation, only 34% of participants disclosed reading it as they were interested in learning more about side effects (76.1%), benefits (70.3%), and appropriate dosage (63.9%).

When understanding the barriers of supplementation adoption, researchers found the most predominant limitations to include not having vitamin deficiency (29.9%), the inability to adhere to them (23.4%), and high costs (23.1%). Other reasons included: no specific reason (34.7%), unsafe (5.3%), ineffective (4.5%), counter-interaction with other medications (2.1%), commitment to a healthy and balanced diet (11.9%), side effects (14.3%), and not knowing which supplements are available in the market (14.3%).

When looking at participants' activity levels, researchers found that those involved in routine exercise have higher supplement intake. Researchers further found that Jordanians have greater supplementation intake than participants from Lebanon, KSA and UAE.

Researchers explained, “This first multinational study that investigated Middle Eastern Arab public’s perception and use of dietary supplements during the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed that the Arab population perceive dietary supplements as immune-boosting agents (71.4%). In addition, they believe these supplements are effective in treating COVID-19 patients (45.4%), and that they are safe with no side effects (29%). Moreover, 21.3% of the participants believed that dietary supplements are essential in preventing COVID-19, while only 15.2% of them recognised dietary supplements to be useful only in cases of deficiencies.”

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