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The Future Looks Bright—Thank Science

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by Tom Druke -

As 2017 comes to a close, we’re encouraged by the growth and expansion of supplement use and acceptance. We also have some ideas as to the reasons for this progress.

The 2017 CRN (Council for Responsible Nutrition) Consumer Survey found supplement use among U.S. adults has reached an all time high of 76 percent, up from 71 percent the previous year. The survey also reported 87 percent of U.S. adults “have confidence in the safety, quality and effectiveness of dietary supplements."  

While research on the overall validity of supplementation may still produce divergent conclusions, scientific studies on the benefits of supplement ingredients is getting better, being done more extensively, and getting noticed.

When the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA) was first passed, it was uncommon for companies to invest in clinical studies on their products, and only a small number of ingredient suppliers did. Many claims were based on “borrowed" science, many of them animal studies, which simply did not meet the standards of the medical community. Today, there is far more research being done on dietary supplement ingredients. The quality of research, for the most part, has improved, with many human clinical trials conducted each year.

At the same time, public health research into nutrition intake expanded. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) research program conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics investigates and tracks the overall health and nutritional status of adults and children in the United States. This research has likely helped to boost dietary supplement acceptance in the health care community because of concerns about the levels of essential nutrients most people are getting via diet alone.

This has been of particular interest to us, with our focus on choline. In 1998, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) classified choline as an essential nutrient because the body is able to produce it, but not in adequate amounts to meet the body’s needs. The most recent NHANES study found nine out of 10 Americans don’t get enough choline. FDA in 2016 allowed for the inclusion of choline on both food and supplement labels and designated a reference daily intake (RDI) of 550 mg/d based upon the available body of research from IOM.

With a robust body of research highlighting the crucial role of choline in prenatal brain development, you might expect it to be an important part of the conversation around pregnancy. However, most leading prenatal vitamins don’t contain a significant amount of choline, if any. This was likely a main driver behind the American Medical Association’s (AMA) vote in favor of a resolution at the 2017 AMA Annual Meeting, which supports evidence-based amounts of choline in all prenatal vitamins to make sure pregnant women maintain adequate choline levels. We expect this dynamic to put choline firmly on the radar of health care practitioners.

Consumers continue to seek evidence-based reasons for purchases in the dietary supplement category. In a 2016 nationally representative survey conducted by Rose Research, 61 percent of consumers said they would buy a product that contained choline. Interest was even higher among dietary supplement consumers, with 75 percent of consumers expressing purchase interest.  Among those not expressing interest, the most common reason stated for their skepticism was “I’d like to see more research."

With the increased buzz on choline, you might be wondering if consumers are taking notice of the ingredient. Well, the answer is a resounding “yes" based on national survey data. A custom omnibus commissioned by Balchem and conducted by Toluna in October 2017 demonstrated choline awareness has risen to 32 percent among the general population, up 6 points from 2016—an increase of 26 percent.  A bright future, indeed—thanks to strong science.

Tom Druke is director of VitaCholine brand development at Balchem Human Nutrition and Pharma. A seasoned veteran of the consumer packaged goods sector, Druke has more than 20 years of experience working in both the corporate and non-profit sectors. He began his product management career with packaged goods powerhouse Reckitt Benckiser, working on the Airwick and Finish brands. He has also worked in the consumer health care sector with Pfizer Consumer Healthcare and held product management roles on major dietary supplement brands, including Caltrate and Centrum. Prior to joining Balchem, Tom was a co-founder of the Insight Prism, a boutique market research firm specializing in insight discovery.

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