According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), diabetes affects over 220 million people globally and the consequences of high blood sugar kill 3.4 million every year. If such statistics weren’t scary enough, the WHO is predicting deaths to double between 2005 and 2030.
The total costs associated with the condition in the US alone are thought to be as much as $174 billion, with $116 billion being direct costs from medication, according to 2005-2007 American Diabetes Association figures.
With one in three Americans expected to develop type-2 diabetes by 2050, foods targeting pre-diabetics and type 2 diabetics would appear to have big potential.
“Because of the damage caused by excess consumption of sugar--obesity and diabetes-- we agree that the potential market for products addressing the problem is huge,” said Mitch Skop, Senior Director New Product Development, Pharmachem Laboratories Inc, which launched an ingredient for this market last year called Prenulin.
Skop stressed that, as a supplier of dietary supplement and food ingredients, the company cannot specifically target these diseases states.
“However, we can discuss how our ingredient reduces the absorption of sugar and improves glucose metabolism--very important messages to people with the above disease states--or who’ve been told by their doctor’s they are in danger of acquiring the disease states,” he said.
One reason the market has not yet exploded for such ingredients is because the ‘blood glucose management’ concept just does not resonate with the general public yet, according to Tom Vierhile, innovation insights director for Datamonitor. Vierhile told us that natural ingredients that can regulate potential spikes in blood sugar are promising, although it “isn’t really clear that consumers see view a ‘blood sugar spike’ as a major issue to contend with”.
However, Jeff Hilton, founder of branding and marketing agency BrandHive, said that ingredients that can curb blood sugar spikes have potential. “Let's be honest; most consumer love a ‘pill’ or ‘magic ingredient’ which allows them to do what they want and eat what they please but not suffer the consequences,” he told us.
“So anything which could make formerly off-limit foods permissible has great potential. Not an easy proposition to explain or sell, however.”
So how does Pharmachem communicate with consumers about the potential blood sugar management potential without saying ‘diabetic’?
“We discuss the ability of Prenulin to ‘block’ the absorption of sugar and improve glucose metabolism,” said Skop. “By addressing these conditions, we feel we effectively communicate the benefits for the pertinent disease states. We promote these messages by discussing our clinical studies, through advertisements, and consumer media relations efforts. We also point out that Prenulin is for normal healthy individuals, and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure any disease.
“We believe every savvy consumer understands that products like Prenulin, when properly and responsibly marketed by consumer marketers, can help lead a healthier lifestyle.”
Supplements first, then food
Skop explained that, for Prenulin, the early opportunity is in supplements, “which are easy for our customers to launch, and then they evolve to food.
“Prenulin works quite well in both food and beverages so we think there are some great opportunities for food products that reduce sugar absorption and improve glucose metabolism.”
Formulation and science
The ingredient is a combination of L-Arabinose, derived from the corn plant, which acts as a sucrase ‘blocker’, which reduces the digestion of sugar, and Chromium Picolinate (Chromax) which helps metabolize the sugar that is ingested in a more healthful way, he explained. Both components are officially GRAS, he added.
The company has science to support the activity of the ingredient, with two pilot studies and one clinical trial completed, and more studies in the works, said Skop.
“Recent human studies sponsored by Pharmachem have confirmed the inhibitory effect of Prenulin on sucrose absorption,” he said. “A pilot study concluded taking Prenulin led to an average reduction in glucose of 31.0%, using repeated measures statistical analyses; and an average reduction in insulin levels of 32%, using repeated measures.
“A clinical study of blood glucose levels concluded taking Prenulin led to an average reduction in glucose of 24.3%, using repeated measures; and an average of 18.4% using the area under the curve statistical analyses.
“The same study showed that taking Prenulin led to an average reduction in insulin of 20.0% using repeated measures; and an average of 28.2% using the area under the curve.”