Linda Ohr

Linda Milo Ohr

Boost your immune system napkin

COVID-19 made supporting immunity a priority for many consumers. © marekuliasz/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Boost your immune system napkin

COVID-19 made supporting immunity a priority for many consumers. © marekuliasz/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Have you changed your diet or added immunity-supporting supplements to your daily regimen in the past year? If so, you’re not alone. FMCG Gurus research shows that 64% of global consumers say that COVID-19 has made them more conscious of their immune health. Some have increased consumption of fruits and vegetables while others turned to supplements. My family is no exception. In the past year, we’ve added daily vitamin D and occasional vitamin C and elderberry to our diets.

Immune health will remain top of mind for the foreseeable future. Innova Market Insights named “In Tune with Immune” as one of its top trends for 2021. According to Innova’s Consumer Survey 2020, six of 10 global consumers increasingly are looking for food and beverage products that support immune health.

Ingredients like elderberry, vitamin D, vitamin C, and zinc that have long been associated with immune health benefits got lots of attention last year. Here’s a look at some other ingredients poised to move into the spotlight because of their reported immune health benefits.


Ocean spray Immunity

Ocean Spray’s new Immunity Blend touts its potential immune health benefit on the package.

Ocean spray Immunity

Ocean Spray’s new Immunity Blend touts its potential immune health benefit on the package.

Yeast beta-glucans are turning up in mainstream products. Earlier this year, Ocean Spray Cranberries introduced Immunity Blend in its Ocean Spray Fruit Medley dried fruit line. It contains yeast beta-glucan along with Craisins dried cranberries, dried mangos, dried pineapples, and banana chips.

Kerry’s Wellmune is a yeast beta-1,3/1,6 glucan that has over a dozen published, peer-reviewed clinical studies demonstrating that it can improve general immune health, support year-round health and wellness, protect against the harmful effects of stress, and promote healthy energy levels and mental clarity. Using a proprietary process, Wellmune is extracted from the cell wall of a proprietary strain of baker’s yeast.

Wellmune helps to support the innate immune system by priming immune cells to be ready to react to a threat. Primed by Wellmune, those immune cells move more effectively to recognize and kill foreign challenges. Most recently, in a review of multiple clinical studies, De Marco Castro et al. (2021) stated that overall, the balance of evidence suggests that beta-1,3/1,6-glucan supplementation from baker’s yeast (S. cerevisiae) shows immune-enhancing and immune-modulatory effects across different populations. They also concluded that immunomodulators present in some yeast beta-glucans may “train” the body’s immune cells to react more quickly.

Last year, AIDP announced an exclusive sales distribution agreement for PureMune from Immundyne Nutritional. PureMune is a new beta-glucan derived from baker’s yeast with a rapid onset of action allowing for complete immune response within 3 hr. It is unique in that it exerts its action on the innate immune system by activating all three receptor systems: dectin-1, toll-like receptors, and the complement receptor for enhanced immune-modulating properties.

In May of this year, Kemin Industries was granted a U.S. patent on the use of beta-1,3 glucan for modulating human immune function and treating intestinal inflammation. This new patent joins a previously issued patent on the production of beta-glucan for immune modulation using algae from a proprietary strain of Euglena gracilis ATCC PTA-123017. Kemin’s BetaVia Complete (greater than 50% beta-1,3 glucan, protein [greater than 15%], fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and carotenoids) and BetaVia Pure (more than 95% beta-1,3 glucan) ingredients are sourced from proprietary Euglena gracilis algae. BetaVia is made through a patented fermentation process.

Collagen is mainly associated with joint health and beauty from within, but recent research has linked collagen peptides to immune health.


Collagen is mainly associated with joint health and beauty from within, but recent research has linked collagen peptides to immune health. This past January, GELITA, along with the Collagen Research Institute, shared new evidence highlighting the role of collagen-rich tissues, i.e., skin and bone, in supporting a well-functioning immune system. Skin, for example, is the body’s most important barrier and the first line of defense in protecting immune health, explains Lara Niemann, marketing director, GELITA. “Bones are collagen-rich, and all cells of the immune system derive from bone marrow. Bone cells also regulate the activity of immune cells, and vice versa, in a bone-immune system interplay,”
she says.

GELITA introduced IMMUPEPT, which features optimized peptide profiles for stimulation of the collagen-rich connective tissues involved in the immune response. “Health and nutrition experts widely recognize the connection between collagen and the “white” connective tissue (such as bones, tendons, ligaments, and muscle fascia),” says Niemann. Recent preclinical trials with the Collagen Research Institute indicated an immune modulating effect from the Bioactive Collagen Peptides in IMMUPEPT. “IMMUPEPT is showing potential to regulate three key factors for an effective immune response: reduced inflammation, reduced tissue damage, and reduced oxidative stress,” explains Niemann. The preclinical trial data is on file with the Collagen Research Institute in Kiel, Germany, with plans to publish it.

IMMUPEPT 25 is designed to optimally stimulate keratinocytes (cells that maintain the skin’s barrier of defense) and fibroblasts (cells that optimally regulate the biosynthesis of several functional extracellular matrix proteins involved in the immune response). IMMUPEPT 50 offers an added benefit with specific peptides that stimulate the specific bone-remodeling cells that maintain healthy bones, important for the bone-immune system interplay.


Lesser known postbiotics are also receiving attention for immune health benefits. Earlier this month, the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics published a consensus statement on the definition and scope of postbiotics, stating that postbiotics are “a preparation of inanimate microorganisms and/or their components that confer health benefits on the host.”

“It’s easy to confuse prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics,” says Justin Green, director of scientific affairs, Cargill Health Technologies. He uses this analogy to explain the differences: “Prebiotics, like the fiber found in leafy greens, are the food for the beneficial bacteria in the gut. In essence, they fuel the factories that are the microorganisms in our microbiome. Probiotics, such as live beneficial bacteria, add specific factories that make metabolites that may benefit health. Postbiotics are those beneficial metabolites themselves—the goods made by the microbial factories.”

Cargill offers EpiCor postbiotic, a whole food fermentate made using yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) that goes through a trade secret fermentation and drying process. The fermentation makes a unique fingerprint of metabolites, including proteins, polyphenols, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, polysaccharides, fiber, and other nutrients that may support these beneficial bacteria, and when taken daily, it acts like a vitamin for the immune system. More than a dozen published studies support EpiCor postbiotic’s health benefits.

In May of this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration responded with a letter of no objection to Cargill’s GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) notification for EpiCor postbiotic use in certain foods and beverages. The letter of no objection enables food and beverage manufacturers to incorporate EpiCor into a variety of foods and beverages. “EpiCor is well-suited to a wide range of food and beverage applications, with a unique savory flavor that pairs especially well with chocolate, vanilla, and dark red fruits,” says Cashtyn Lovan, marketing manager, Cargill Health Technologies. Some of the prototypes Cargill has created using EpiCor include chocolate coatings, granola bars, gummies, ready-to-drink teas and dry tea mixes, and dispersible powdered drink sticks.  

Probiotics and Prebiotics

Probiotics and prebiotics are better known than some other classes of ingredients because of consumers’ growing awareness of gut health and its relation to immune health. Research continues to support benefits from both.

DeMuri et al. (2021), for example, showed that specific probiotics, Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM and Bifidobacterium animalis ssp. lactis Bi-07 (HOWARU Protect Kids, IFF, formerly DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences), can have a significant impact on a simulated viral immune response in blood cells collected from young children (IFF 2021). The research team showed that 30-day probiotics supplementation resulted in a pronounced anti-inflammatory response compared with pre-supplementation levels of cytokines, which could explain the reduced incidence of respiratory infection symptoms observed in a prior clinical trial in children with the same probiotics. Researchers stated that the anti-inflammatory effect may be one mechanism by which probiotics modulate the immune system; however, further study is needed.

Recognized health effects of prebiotics include benefits to the gastrointestinal tract, such as modulation of the gut microbiota. Soldi et al. (2019) contributed to the evidence on the immune-modulating effects of prebiotics through gut microbiota modifications. Their study aimed to characterize the gut microbiota composition and explore the effects of prebiotic intervention on the gut microbiota during a 24-week intervention and during antibiotic treatment in healthy children. In the study, 258 healthy children aged 3 to 6 yr consumed 6 g/day prebiotic inulin-type fructans (BENEO) or maltodextrin (placebo). The relative abundance of Bifidobacterium was significantly higher in the prebiotic group compared with the control group. Antibiotic administration decreased the relative abundance of Bifidobacterium in both groups. However, children of the prebiotic group receiving antibiotic treatment displayed significantly higher levels of Bifidobacterium than children receiving the placebo.


In January of this year, Friesland Campina launched Biotis Immune Health solutions for natural immunity support using lactoferrin. Friesland Campina controls the entire supply chain for Biotis lactoferrin, using its own raw milk for production, as well as gentle heat treatments to preserve nativity and immune bioactivity. Lactoferrin is a globular glycoprotein found in human and bovine milk, which has been shown to provide multiple beneficial effects for immune health. It has strong antiviral activity against a broad spectrum of both naked and enveloped DNA and RNA viruses (Chen et al. 2017). One possible mechanism is that it inhibits infection by binding to potential virus receptors. Lactoferrin has also been shown to protect against bacteriological infection and iron deficiency (Kell et al. 2020).


Palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) is an endogenous fatty acid amide produced naturally in the body that has shown anti-inflammatory activity. It is found in lipid extracts of foods and plants such as egg yolk, peanuts, and soybeans, and is also produced naturally in the body. PEA has been shown to benefit the immune system and provide symptomatic relief of flu symptoms (Hesselink et al. 2013).

Gencor offers a self-affirmed GRAS PEA, Levagen. The company offers a cold-water dispersible version of PEA powered by LipiSperse delivery technology, Levagen+. This helps increase bioavailability and functionality of PEA for food and beverage applications.

Bell Pepper and Carrot Polysaccharide


New research shows that a polysaccharide found in carrots and bell peppers may support immune health. © Judy Unger/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images


New research shows that a polysaccharide found in carrots and bell peppers may support immune health. © Judy Unger/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images

An innovative potential ingredient derived from bell peppers and carrots has recently been shown to support immune function and modulate the microbiota (McKay et al. 2021). NutriLeads RG-I is a proprietary pectin-derived rhamnogalacturonan-I (RG-I) polysaccharide. The study showed that RG-I can be extracted from affordable and renewable crops, namely carrots and bell peppers, and even obtained from sidestreams of crop processing, allowing for sustainable and scalable production (NutriLeads 2021). RG-I from both carrot and bell pepper showed immune stimulating and microbiota modulating activity in vitro. In addition, bell pepper RG-I was shown to enhance innate immune responsiveness in a proof-of-concept trial in humans.

There’s much to look forward to in the immune health market. Since immunity is an important issue for people of every age as well as various specific consumer groups (athletes, stressed populations), there are opportunities for more ingredients as well as functional foods and beverages to be developed.


Chen, J.-M., Y.-C. Fan, J.-W. Lin, et al. 2017. “Bovine Lactoferrin Inhibits Dengue Virus Infectivity by Interacting with Heparan Sulfate, Low-Density Lipoprotein Receptor, and DC-SIGN.” Int J Mol Sci. 18(9): 1957.

De Marco Castro, E., P. C. Calder, and H. M. Roche. 2021. “β-1,3/1,6-Glucans and Immunity: State of the Art and Future Directions.” Mol Nutr Food Res. 65(1): e1901071.

DeMuri, G. P., L. M. Lehtoranta, J. C. Eickhoff, et al. 2021. “Ex vivo Peripheral Blood Mononuclear Cell Response to R848 in Children after Supplementation with the Probiotic Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM/Bifidobacterium lactis Bi-07.” Beneficial Microbes 12(1): 85–93.

Hesselink, J. M., T. DeBoer, and R. F. Witkamp. 2013. “Palmitoylethanolamide: A Natural Body-Own Anti-Inflammatory Agent, Effective and Safe against Influenza and Common Cold.” Int J Inflammation Article ID 151028.

IFF. 2021. “Research Helps Explain Link Between Probiotic Supplementation and Immune Health in Children.” Press release, Feb. 23. IFF, New York.

Kell, D. B., E. L. Heyden, and E. Pretorius. 2020. “The Biology of Lactoferrin, an Iron-Binding Protein That Can Help Defend Against Viruses and Bacteria.” Front Immunol. 11: 1221.

McKay, S., P. Oranje, J. Helin, et al. 2021. “Development of an Affordable, Sustainable and Efficacious Plant-based Immunomodulatory Food Ingredient Based on Bell Pepper or Carrot RG-I Pectic Polysaccharides.” Nutrients 13(3): 963.

NutriLeads. 2021. “Scientific Paper by NutriLeads Shows that its Plant-based RG-I Food Ingredients Support Immune Function and Modulate the Microbiota.” Press release, March 25. NutriLeads, The Netherlands.

Soldi, S., S. Vasileiadis, S. Lohner, et al. 2019. “Prebiotic Supplementation Over a Cold Season and During Antibiotic Treatment Specifically Modulates the Gut Microbiota Composition of 3–6 Year-old Children.” Beneficial Microbes 10(3): 253–263.

About the Author

Linda Milo Ohr,
Contributing Editor
Denver, Colo.
[email protected]
Linda Ohr