Healthcare Agrifood Cross-sector

Healthy Ageing: what opportunities and challenges in the nutrition segment?

Published on 19 May 2021 Read 25 min

Defined by the WHO as the process of developing and maintaining functional capacity, enabling well-being in later life, “Healthy Ageing” encompasses a complex reality. Indeed, healthy ageing is not limited to mental and physical health but includes the ability to maintain a level of activity and independence throughout one’s life. Among the solutions to be explored, nutrition has a key role to play in supporting Healthy Ageing. What are the opportunities in this segment for the Healthcare and Food industries? What are the associated challenges? Alcimed gives you its vision of Healthy Ageing, to feel good in your head, good in your body and good in your shoes!

Feeling good in your body: a vast field of opportunities in nutrition for Healthy Ageing

From the brain-gut axis to the conservation of bone density and muscle mass, nutrition plays a crucial role at every level.

Nutrition to prevent or mitigate mobility decline

Mobility is a dimension of physical health that can begin to be affected as early as age forty, with declines in physical performance. These declines in performance can eventually take pathological forms. These effects are felt at the musculoskeletal level, i.e. mainly at the muscle, bone and ligament levels.

To prevent or mitigate the decline in mobility, several mechanisms of muscle protein synthesis, mineral absorption, and the maintenance of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory mechanisms have been targeted as essential. As a result, the nutrition industry is actively working to identify the macro and micronutrients of interest, and their appropriate formulation in order to obtain preventive effects on biological mechanisms.

In this respect, Abbott has developed Ensure Gold for the fortified beverage market, a food formulated as a powder and a beverage designed to maintain muscle tissue in adults from the age of forty.

Nutrition to maintain immune system capacity

The decline of the immune system with age is known as immunosenescence. Nutrition can help to slow this process at various levels. Here too, proteins and micronutrients play a major role in maintaining the so-called innate and acquired immune systems by stimulating immune cells and maintaining their constituents.

Upstream players in the value chain such as Good Mills are developing functional ingredients specifically for the segment. Good Mills markets SpermidineEVO, a wheat germ concentrate rich in spermidine. Recent research has demonstrated the role that this polyamine plays in stimulating autophagy, the physiological mechanism for protecting and recycling cellular elements.

Healthy mindedness: a multi-factorial dimension of Healthy Ageing

Cognitive health is multi-factorial and encompasses many mental faculties such as learning, memory and executive functions.

Nutrition to maintain cognitive function

Certain vitamins, fatty acids and probiotics have an impact on cognitive health. Faced with strong individual variations in this aspect of Healthy Ageing, many nutritionists are working to understand which nutrients are involved and how they interact in order to maintain cognitive function.

In this respect, Vitabiotics markets Neuromind Plus, a food supplement designed to maintain normal brain function. As with all targeted Healthy Ageing products, despite the scientific evidence provided during the development of this type of product, the long-term effects measured remain to be evaluated in order to validate the effectiveness of these products.

Nutrition to mitigate the effects of (pre)pathological conditions

Due to the increasing prevalence of neurodegenerative diseases from a certain age, the mitigation of pathological and pre-pathological conditions is a key dimension of Healthy Ageing. For example, the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia reaches almost 10% by the age of 70. Nutricia has developed Souvenaid, a solution to improve memory in early-stage Alzheimer’s patients. The drink contains ingredients such as uridine, which is a precursor of elements involved in the formation of synaptic membranes.

The main challenges of Healthy Ageing

3 major challenges of Healthy Ageing

  1. As the warning signs of ageing are increasingly well identified, particularly at early ages, Healthy Ageing approaches tend to define more precisely the key periods in the individual’s life during which to act. A major challenge is thus emerging, to formulate effective products for each age category, in a prophylactic approach.
  2. A complementary challenge of prevention lies in the personalisation of the approach so as to propose the most appropriate solutions, beyond the age groups, at the individual level. Indeed, markers of ageing can be subject to significant inter-individual variation, as in the area of cognitive health.
  3. Meeting these challenges also depends on individuals’ awareness of the warning signs of ageing, which are sometimes not very perceptible or not understood as being linked to ageing. Raising awareness is therefore a major factor in the success of Healthy Ageing. In this respect, the COVID-19 crisis helps to shed more light on the link between pathological risk and ageing, and could help to raise awareness among individuals.

Early detection and diagnostic solutions

Preventive and personalisation approaches can be greatly facilitated by digital technology. For example, Neurotrack, an American company specialising in e-health, is developing a platform for diagnosing, monitoring and strengthening cognitive functions, with the aim of reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Protinex, for its part, has developed a platform for analysing an individual’s immune status, with a view to prevention and simultaneous treatment. These solutions open the door to a combination of diagnostic solutions and personalised nutritional solutions, taking into account the biological age of the individual beyond chronological age alone.

Nutrition is an essential dimension of Healthy Ageing. Nevertheless, challenges remain regarding the level of scientific evidence required to prove the link between certain nutrients and Healthy Ageing in order to ensure and convince of the effectiveness of the approaches. Through a better understanding of the mechanisms of ageing, prevention, personalisation and good communication with consumers are the key challenges to be met for a successful Healthy Ageing approach!

About the author, 

Mathieu, Project Manager in the Alcimed’s Agri-food team in France

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