Since the year 1900, the life expectancy of mankind has roughly doubled worldwide. There are quite a lot of factors responsible for this progression, but two of the leading causes are the availability of a substantial variety of food and the development of modern, evidence-based medicine. Scientific progress brought us a detailed understanding of the complex mechanism that is the human body and we can use this knowledge in large as in small matters to improve our quality of life significantly. A field where we see this understanding applied is the world of supplements. Not only do we have a market with an enormous growth rate, but better informed customers are driving increasing demand for high quality products and conclusive evidence for the health claims made.
Right now we see the development of the next generation of supplements, but before we come to that let's take a step back. Until today, a common approach to designing a supplement was to find an active substance, mostly derived from a plant, and sell it in its purest form for consumption. Then, if the desired effect is insufficient, the first solution is to simply increase the dose. This course of action is neither efficient in terms of cost and efficacy spectrum, nor is it the safest way regarding potential side effects. The core of the matter is not even about one specific active substance, but rather the question of which product would be best suited to deliver a desired effect (for example pain relief or enhanced sleep quality). Therefore, three points have to be taken into account:
- How do we deliver our active ingredients?
- How does our body processes them?
- Are there combinations with other substances that improve the mode of action?
1. How do we deliver our active ingredients?
The first point falls into the category of drug delivery. We can choose the route of administration—meaning the path through which a substance enters your body. For example, you can use a solution that is swallowed (orally), placed under the tongue for absorption (sublingual) or a cream (transdermal). Furthermore, we can design drug delivery systems around our active ingredient that help the body with uptake. These could be chemical modifications and additives or physical factors like the production process or the structure of the target substance. However, the right choice of delivery systems allows us to influence the onset, intensity and place of action.
2. How does our body processes them?
To tackle the second point we have to look at the way our body detoxifies itself. Predominantly, it is our liver's task and it does so by breaking up and oxidising chemicals making them water soluble and therefore easy to excrete. Since there is no distinction between useful and harmful chemicals, active substances are subjected to this process as well, significantly decreasing the amount available to display their potential. For this matter, bioenhancers can be utilised. These are mostly plant-based molecules that can lower the rate of degradation and increase the uptake within the body.
3. Are there combinations with other substances that improve the mode of action?
The last point is the most exiting one for it provides multifarious possibilities to create new, more efficient supplementary products. From our perspective, we started with the research of cannabis and the realised that one active ingredient isolated from the plant does not perform well compared to an extract containing most of the plants active biomolecules. Even at higher concentrations, the isolated compound fell behind in comparison with the whole spectrum. The effect suspected behind this finding was named entourage-effect. It basically describes the whole to be more than its individual constituents. It can be said with certainty, that further research into this topic is needed but so far, the findings strongly indicate that interactions between the right substances can multiply desired effects.
In conclusion, we have multiple tools to adjust and improve the efficiency of an active substance. As we have seen, it is not about the amount of intake but rather about the amount that can be made available to the body.
The next generation of health products will be based on a well thought out, scientific based approach combining the best suited drug delivery system with synergistic acting ingredients supported by bioenhancers to deliver a product exclusively designed for the customers' needs. These products will provide a strong effect with the right onset and duration while simultaneously being cost-efficient and with a lower degree of side effects.
Dr. Tobias Meller is chief scientific officer at TINY Technologies