COVID-19 represented one of the most challenging events for global public health and healthcare systems. The pandemic also transformed consumer attitudes to preventive nutrition and maintaining immunity.
Lessons from the Covid pandemic
“During the pandemic, health authorities and the medical community focused on recommendations for social distancing, washing hands and wearing masks and were waiting for the availability of vaccines,” notes Manfred Eggersdorfer, professor for healthy ageing at the University Medical Centre Groningen in the Netherlands.
“Authorities and the medical community did indeed learn from previous pandemics like the SARS-CoV pandemic in 2003 and others. However, a lot of time was wasted just waiting for the availability of vaccines. And when vaccines did become available, we learned that they did not fully protect. Infections and transmissions still happened with vaccinated people.”
Eggersdorfer firmly believes that immuno-protection should be the cornerstone of medical practice. In other words, it is not something that should be over-looked in either the presence or absence of threats. He also notes that consumers increasingly took it upon themselves to stay informed during the pandemic, through social media as well as scientific publications.
“We saw a wealth of scientific information about the role of optimal nutritional status for a well-functioning immune system,” he says. “A number of studies with micronutrients were initiated. Studies demonstrated that people with optimal micronutrient status had a lower risk of infection, and in case of infection a milder case and a lower risk of mortality.”
Step-change in consumer attitudes
Eggersdorfer believes that consumers have taken lessons learned from the coronavirus pandemic, and have continued to use micronutrients to support their immune systems. “I think we experienced a fundamental step-change in people caring for themselves,” he says. “People are keen to build on healthy nutrition combined with supplements.”
Furthermore, nutrition experts have since published many papers about the role of optimal nutritional status for the immune system, with benefits not only in strengthening the immune system but also in reducing risks for cardiovascular disease and other issues. Eggersdorfer notes that experts including professor Hermann Brenner from the German Cancer Institute in Heidelberg have argued that supplements are a safe and effective was to fill the nutritional gap, helping individuals to reduce disease risks and for society to reduce health care costs. The EU recently called for the eradication of micronutrient deficiencies, and a reduction of nutrition inequalities across the EU. “Optimal nutrition and the role for health, well-being and performance has become a priority in science,” says Eggersdorfer.
A wake-up call for industry
Eggersdorfer aims to use his presentation at Vitafoods 2023 to call for the medical community, authorities, and industry to join forces and address the widespread issue of inadequate intakes of essential nutrients.
“Optimal nutrient intake is important for health, wellbeing and performance,” he says. “Food fortification and nutritional supplements offer a safe option to complement diets and eliminate potential nutrient shortfalls. Solutions are available, and it is on us to make it happen. I plan to summarise the latest scientific findings, study results and nutritional solutions in the field.”
Furthermore, the immune health market is now a key opportunity for supplement producers. “The supplement industry was innovative to develop new combinations of key nutrients for the immune system, as well as new product formulations,” Eggersdorfer remarks. “I expect that immune health will continue to be high on the agenda by consumers, scientists, and industry.”
Manfred Eggersdorfer is Professor for Healthy Ageing at the University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands. His scientific work focuses on the role of essential nutrients for health, vitality, and well-being, especially on the impact of inadequate intake and status of micronutrients over the life cycle with a focus on long term health and healthy ageing. He will be giving a presentation at Vitafoods 2023 entitled ‘Optimal nutrient status for a well-functioning immune system’.