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Immune health function and ingredients

Immune health function and ingredients.jpg
Pomegranate extract and several species of mushrooms are among the many researched ingredient options available for 2020’s immune health craze.

2020 has been a great year for the immune health category. Jeff Crumpton, manager of retail reporting for SPINS LLC, noted sales of these supplements have been trending much higher than the same periods last year. Specifically, March sales were “staggering” for the three best-selling immune supplements: vitamin C with US$ 83 million, elderberry with $49.5 million and echinacea with $25 million. Through May, he added, vitamin C was still bringing in $12 million, elderberry $8.9 million and echinacea $4.7 million.

Two major immune ingredient categories are divided primarily by mechanism of action:

  • Strengthening natural barriers (e.g., gut mucosa and microbiota modulation).
  • Direct modulation of biological processes underlying immune response—both innate and adaptive immunity, according to Julie Imperato, marketing manager, Nexira.

She elaborated that improvement of innate immunity increases efficacy of nonspecific defense, such as mucosa impermeability and macrophage activity, while adaptive immunity provides a defense targeting a specific antigen pattern notably throughout lymphocytes activation. Studies are increasingly showing that the gut microbiota physical barrier and immunity are linked together,1 and a cross-talk occurs between gut microbiota and immunity regulator cells.2

Kotaro Soga, general manager, House Wellness Foods Corp., agreed. “We consider the first barriers, such as the small intestinal mucosal barrier, as one of the most important organs for innate mucosal immunity; the small intestine plays an important role as a ‘first barrier.’ Approximately 70% of the immune cells of the whole body are in the small intestine.”3


Plant- and fungi-based immune support products are in growing demand. Fungi remain mysterious to many and enchanting to others. This unique kingdom yields species that are both supportive of human health, and species that are deadly. Of the health-promoting species, several have shown to increase efficacy of immune function. Additionally, plant-based and/or botanical ingredients often benefit from a healthy halo.

Feno-Chaga from Eevia Health is a chaga mushroom extract standardized to a high concentration (≥10 %) of both 1,3-1,6 beta-glucan and polyphenol content, and also to a maximum concentration of starch. According to Petri Lackman, chief technology officer, the company will have a study of Feno-Chaga’s efficacy in human immune health published in late 2020. “The paper will discuss many things from detected changes in cytokine expression and myeloperoxidase activity as a response to Feno-Chaga supplementation in both in vitro and ex vivo,” he reported.

A line of finished products called Host Defense Mushrooms originates from both mushroom mycelium grown on organic brown rice, as well as mushroom fruitbodies grown on alder wood. According to Jerry Angelini, head of education and formulator for the company, several key studies link the mushroom supplements with increased efficacy of the immune system.

A recent study on Host Defense Turkey Tail was undertaken to determine its efficacy and the mechanisms of action.4 According to Angelini, the turkey tail mycelium engaged immune cell activation, specifically natural killer (NK) cells, monocytes, NK T cells, B cells and T lymphocytes. The mycelium also engaged various growth factors that support tissue regeneration. The fermented rice engaged cell signaling cytokines that support immune cell functioning as well as pacify immune cell reactivity, and also engaged various growth factors for tissue regeneration. “The immunologists running the primary study reported that both the mushroom mycelium and the fermented rice were robustly immunologically active in different yet complementary ways,” Angelini commented.

Earlier studies showed that the immune-enhancing activity of a seven-species mushroom mycelium formula increased immune functioning greater than the sum of the immune enhancing activity of the seven species when tested individually.5

Pomegranate extract

Plant-based immune-support ingredients vary widely, which is a favorable characteristic in formulating, as it allows for more proprietary blends and targets. Pomegranate, for example, is typically consumed for heart health benefits, but there are distinctive immune-support actions as well, according to Leisha Jenkins, marketing associate, Verdure Sciences.

Pomella, Verdure’s patented Punica granatum extract, “may offer immune support benefits as a powerful antioxidant in addition to prebiotic potential,” she commented. “In healthy humans, just one dose of Pomella led to a significant 32% increase in antioxidant activity in the blood.6 Further, to highlight the relationship between the gut microbiome and healthy immune responses, study authors said ‘it is evident that the gut microbiota has a profound effect on the host immune system.’”7

Editor’s Note: This article was excerpted from the “Immune health: Empowering resistance” deep dive. Click the link to read it in its entirety.

Lisa Schofield is a veteran writer and editor who got her start interviewing rock stars for national music magazines. She now writes and edits content for B2B media and suppliers in the natural health product industry. She has served as editor for Vitamin Retailer and Nutrition Industry Executive, and prior to that as associate editor for Whole Foods Magazine.


1 Min YW, Rhee PL. “The Role of Microbiota on the Gut Immunology.” Clinical Therapeutics. 2015;37(5):968-975.

2 Jiao Y et al. “Crosstalk Between Gut Microbiota and Innate Immunity and Its Implication in Autoimmune Diseases.Front Immunol. 2020. DOI:10.3389/fimmu.2020.00282.

3 Vighi G et al. “Allergy and the gastrointestinal system.” Clin Exp Immunol. 2008;153(Suppl 1):3-6.

4 Benson KF et al. “The mycelium of the Trametes versicolor (Turkey tail) mushroom and its fermented substrate each show potent and complementary immune activating properties in vitro.BMC Complement Med Ther. 2019;19:342.

5 Stamets P. “Potentiation of Cell-Mediated Host Defense Using Fruit Bodies and Mycelia of Medicinal Mushrooms.” Int J Med Mushrooms. 2003;5:181-193.

6 Henning SM et al. “Variability in the antioxidant capacity of dietary supplements from pomegranate, milk thistle, green tea, grape seed, goji, and acai: Effects of in vitro digestion.” J Agric Food Chem. 2014;62:4313-4321.

7 Wu HJ, Wu E. “The role of gut microbiota in immune homeostasis and autoimmunity.” Gut Microbes. 2012;3(1):4-14.

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