How to build a longevity supplement that lasts

Marketing matters. Substantiation of claims is vital. So how do you get there when studying life span? (Who’s got the time or money for a 50-year human clinical?) Here’s how.

Douglas Lynch, CEO

July 10, 2024

6 Min Read

At a Glance

  • Aging is not a disease. That spells opportunity!
  • Think biological age, not chronological age.
  • If you promise a longer life on the label, regulators will take note.

[Editor's note: The healthy aging market is the core of the supplements industry. For your complete “toolbox for better business” on the subject — marketing insights, nutrition science news, formulation advice and business strategies — download the free Natural Products Insider digital magazine here.]

Aging is not a disease. It’s a fact of life. That makes it a promising area for dietary supplement creation. 

While aging is not a disease, it is the gateway. The aging process is the mother of all health conditions, including very serious ones. 

We don’t want to live longer if it means spending the end of our lives in a home or in a wheelchair or on a breathing apparatus. That’s not life extension — that’s torture. What we want is to increase our healthier years (also called the “health span”), live longer in that healthy state, and then compress or shorten morbidity (the downside, unhealthy part of life) so that we can go quickly at the end. 

How do you talk about that? 

If you’re going to say it, you had better substantiate it. 

Screening to see if the life span of simple organisms can be extended is possible. C. elegans is one example. A little worm — about 1 mm long — it only lives about 13 or 14 days, and it loves to eat bacteria. Hello, probiotics! If you feed them a probiotic, prebiotic or postbiotic and the worms double their life span, that’s a good indication that you’re on the right track in your investigation. Additional positive effects on the health span of these tiny invertebrates can be measured by parameters like muscle mass and mobility. 

Other organisms that can be used for these screenings include yeast and fruit flies. One advantage is they don’t tend to live long, so extending their lives is not that, well, time-consuming. 

But while flies and yeast can be signs you are on the right track, the only problem is if a yeast lives longer, how do you dose that to a human being? Do our lives mirror that of a fly? And even more importantly, how can you make statements that resonate with consumers? These organisms are quite a bit different from you and me. But a solution is available. 

The gold standard of these types of studies is our little friend, Mickey Mouse. He shares an awful lot of our own DNA and, more importantly, we know that in the mouse we can map where these gene clusters are, see how they are being activated (or the reverse), and we can actually match them to the human genome. Mice live around three years, so studies are longer than a worm — but way better than tracking the life span of a human being. Who’s going to conduct a 50-year study on humans? Who can afford it? 

The IP play 

A very important plus from doing this work is you can get patents. You can say that you’ve extended life span in the patent itself. And all of this starts to come into substantiation — that’s with a little “s.” You can celebrate the award of the patent with a press release, which draws attention to you when picked up in traditional and new media. Again, substantiation with the little “s.” But people see these press reports … consumers, scientists, trade — and investors! 

Here’s a tip if you are looking for longevity intellectual property: Often you can find universities that are sitting on IP. They might have clinical, preclinical and mechanism of action research … and patents ready to in-license. So, look to your local universities if you’re in product development for a longevity product — they might be sitting on one right next door. 

The other great thing about involving universities is that they will publish the longevity results, and they are going to provide the key opinion leaders that can make speeches on the stump. They’re going to start being asked to present their findings at academic conferences and trade shows, and then you’re going to do another press release (that’s right) to announce the talk. The little “s” again, creating an ecosystem of science meets claims, claims meet awareness. 

Once you get those claims, it’s a gold mine. Then you can put those things on the web about your amazing research so you can start to tell the story of improving health span and life span. As you begin to really build up this information, you can move on to a clinical trial. 

Substantiating claims 

As a company, are you going to follow a group of people for the next 30 or 50 years to see if they live longer? That’s not going to be very cost-effective, among other challenges. Alternately, once you have the patents and IP, you can invest in your clinical trial. 

To substantiate longevity, the first thing we need to talk about is two types of aging — chronological versus biological. How old do your cells really think you are? As a marketer, my preferred way to start to talk about whether a supplement does something is looking at biological age (versus chronological age). It’s a number you can see change in a group of people, so, it’s a good indicator. 

Let’s talk about genomic instability — one of the hallmarks of aging. What kind of structure/function claims are we talking about here? Supports healthy aging, right? Yeah, that’s going to sell a lot of products, right? Wrong. But let’s say you have data about DNA repair. Cosmetic companies do that all the time … “Supports a healthy DNA replication process.” That sounds really scary — but it sounds cool, too. And the same buyers who are looking for this type of life hack, they’re looking for that kind of story to tell. 

The trick is to merge all of this information into a topic that’s going to pass muster with FDA and FTC while presenting a meaningful group of benefits that will be understood by consumers and sell products. 

But here’s the problem: Making a fruit fly last four days instead of two is not a claim, so be super careful. It’s not a substantiation that’s going to survive scrutiny, when you say, “This translates to humans.” Just keep in mind that if you promise a longer life on the label, you’re probably going to run into a problem with regulators. 

So, what now? You can do tests on biological aging, but even the experts are not unified as to which tests and markers have a scientific consensus as being the right ones. 

I suggest you design a clinical trial that links chronological age to a group of biomarkers, as in the ones typically linked to biological age. Insurance companies, for example, have all the data as to the likelihood that someone at age 50 has conditions which result in mortality, versus someone in their 40s. 

In this case, you can blend strong data on chronological age with your biological age markers. For example, do a 12-week study and compare the markers in your treatment group to what is already known about the markers you are studying. 

Then you will have meaningful data and be on a stronger regulatory footing. You ultimately will have something to say about impact to a chronological age number, linked to biological age, and the markers which on average help people live longer. That’s substantiation with a capital “S” — and that’s how you’re going create the next breakthrough supplement for longevity.

The healthy aging market is the core of the supplements industry. For your complete “toolbox for better business” on the subject — marketing insights, nutrition science news, formulation advice and business strategies — download the free Natural Products Insider digital magazine here.

About the Author(s)

Douglas Lynch

CEO, MarketWell Nutrition

Douglas Lynch is CEO of MarketWell Nutrition, which works with manufacturers of finished dietary supplements, nutricosmetics, functional food/dietary supplement ingredients, natural products and medical foods. The company conducts pre-launch product assessment, product and business development, strategy and sales/distribution. In particular, the company focuses on searching the world over for researchers pushing the frontiers of not just the genome but also epigenetics — nutrition’s effect on gene expression. 

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