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Four Key Learnings About Consumer Health in Times of COVID-19

As I see the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, it forced me to do a review of assumptions, ideas, and knowledge on the state of the Consumer Health industry. The first thing that came to mind was the scares of the short-lived SARS in 2002 and H1N1 in 2009 pandemics buried in the archives of memory lane, now just to be uncovered as previous learnings for humanity.

In 2020 the field of Consumer Health is being suddenly reshaped by an urgency to develop new and fast approaches and solutions to keep people healthy. We thought we knew it all as industry leaders, yet COVID-19 made us literally fall from our chairs and realize that nature, after all, has the upper hand on humanity.

Remembering Pneumonia as one of top killers of humanity

One of the biggest killers of humanity had been Pneumonia for many centuries. Today it is making a loud come back in the 21st century as complication of COVID-19. By doing some quick research I found a very interesting perspective published 2012 in the 200th Edition of The New England Journal of Medicine titled “The Burden of Disease and the Changing Task of Medicine” that discusses how medicine should move away from communicable diseases to pay more attention to lifestyle diseases. Pneumonia had the largest share of death rates in 1900 followed by Tuberculosis, both comprising almost 50% of all deaths. Interestingly, both are respiratory diseases.

The shift of investment on the development of therapies to address chronic non-communicable diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, etc. away from infectious diseases has put an extraordinary and sudden burden for a quick medical and financial response to COVID-19 in 2020. We were not ready at all for an infectious disease to become as virulent and a truly global pandemic.

The good and controversial role of Over the Counter (OTC) medications during the COVID-19 pandemic

I will be controversial on this point. Some OTCs aimed to reduce a fever, treat pain, or other minor ailments such as cough are widely available for purchase without a recommendation from the healthcare professional or by prescription in many countries. There is no doubt that OTCs have contributed to the improvement of the health of consumers while reducing the cost of care and burden on health systems. Yet, I would ask how many minor asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 where treated with OTCs by individuals who never knew they were infected with COVID-19. This thought makes me think that many undiagnosed COVID-19 sufferers will never be accounted for until massive and effective antibody testing becomes mandatory.

On the positive side, OTC options such as fever reducers and cough suppressants provide relief to minor COVID-19 symptoms at the comfort of home under quarantine. Many pharmacies have extended the delivery of OTCs to make it more convenient to get access to medication without interrupting a quarantine. Makers of pain medication such as Johnson & Johnson are experiencing shortages due to high demand to treat pain and fever related to COVID-19. High prices of cough medicines are also being reported in the United Kingdom as example due to lowering supply.

Products and interventions deemed to extend human longevity may see growth plans derailed by virulent pathogens

In recent years human longevity had been a dominating topic within the field of consumer health. Products, diet interventions, and services aiming to extend longevity gained traction especially amongst techies, celebrities, and elites. After all, who does not want to invest in living longer, but healthier? In an ironic turn of events, a pandemic may negatively affect longevity prospects. Italy, one of the countries with the highest longevity in the world at 83.4 years has been one of the hardest hit countries with COVID-19 affecting the older adult population. To this point, while we know that COVID-19 does not boast a high mortality rate such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, or Alzheimer’s, it still adding additional numbers to all-cause of death rates in every country that will ultimately affect the curve of life expectancy. Therefore, the longevity curve may potentially see a decline, especially since mature adults seem to be affected the most. In a nutshell, the new disease is adding another 47,000 known deaths in the US as of April 22, 2020 that otherwise would not have happened. This figure will grow for the rest of the year. Not until then, we will be able to grasp the full impact on mortality rates from all causes and its impact on the longevity of the population.

Next in line, are we waiting for a contagious microbial disease to become the next global pandemic? Will we be prepared?

Last year I read about the threat of Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) to humanity. While many efforts have already taken place to minimize the use of antibiotics for minor conditions along their use in animal and soil management, microbes keep evolving to the point that the most advanced antimicrobials at the moment are losing effectiveness to combat some diseases. The World Health Organization (WHO) published a report in April 2019 stating that “drug-resistant diseases could cause 10 million deaths each year by 2050 and damage to the economy as catastrophic as the 2008-2009 global financial crisis. By 2030, antimicrobial resistance could force up to 24 million people into extreme poverty”.

Similarly, the Centers for Disease Control in the US published the 2019 AR Threats Report last November stating Antibiotic Resistance as major public health threat to the US. I invite you to read the report to learn about the list and severity of microbial strains that may affect our health and mortality rates. It is really concerning. Last resort antibiotics such as Colistin (Polymyxin) to treat severe cases of Salmonella have become less effective, thus putting more stress than ever to find effective antibiotics. Alternatively, some hope is being placed in the development of macrophages therapy.

I wish everyone health and let us brainstorm ideas about living with the consequences of a new transmissible disease to be applied as a great learning for the future and betterment of humanity. Let us make the best out of the Great Pause!

Artificial intelligence (AI) is now a tangible reality transforming consumer health and the industry of over-the-counter (OTC) products

Society is smitten with the advances of digital technologies not only from the impact that the Internet and social media have on trends, knowledge, and progress of humanity, but also as a disruptive platform in self-care and health management. While wearables, web and mobile apps have become a great tool for consumers to monitor and track their health, now it is artificial intelligence that is disrupting the way people perceive, experience, and engage in health. This shift is helping increase the awareness of consumers on brands and treatments that may lead to potential market expansion, sales, and visibility for organizations and firms involved in the consumer health industry.

Trying the AI experience through a simple question

I did a Google’s voice activated search in my mobile phone with the question of “OK Google I have a cold, what should I take?” To my surprise Google responded in both voice and content on how I should treat my cold. Most interestingly is that the top answer provided by the Mayo Clinic mentioned a distinction between pediatric and adult care, even to the point of mentioning brands such as Tylenol, Motrin (Johnson & Johnson) and Advil (Pfizer). The advent of home personal assistants such as Amazon Echo (Alexa) and Google Home will take this AI technology even further, especially when people are sick at home and need quick advice from the healthcare practitioner or pharmacist. In fact companies such as GSK have envisioned this new era. Also, voice-activated purchases via AI assistants can expedite the delivery or pick up of a needed non-prescription medicine for minor conditions.

Chatbots to become a reliable health advisor

Alternatively, chatbots guiding people on self-care and the treatment of minor conditions at home or on the go will become more ubiquitous. Companies such as Ada HealthMed What, Your.MD, and Babylon Health – this last just partnered with the National Health Service (NHS) this year in the UK amongst others are launching chat bots based on medical mobile apps powered by AI that provides a reliable and personalized advice to consumers at fast speed any time of the day. The savings are tremendous with this type of technology, not only in the pockets of consumers for not having to travel to the point of care and pay for a consultation, but also for healthcare practitioners wishing to save in healthcare delivery costs for minor conditions such as a common cold that could be safely treated at home. Next to emerge will be the chatbot pharmacist recommending people what to take and providing additional information on safety and risks of medications.

As AI evolves it will take an even more important role in self-care. I invite you to use a mobile AI personal assistant to discover the wealth of information on health and the recommendation of brands now available to consumers like you.

The New Medicine: 5 Trends In Lifestyle Food and Specialty Dietary Supplements

Rethinking how we approach health via nutrition

Each day in my newsfeed, I come across novel foods and nutritional supplements touting therapeutic benefits creatively promoted to circumvent regulation on specific health claims. The recent boom of personalized nutrition via dietary interventions using health status, level of activity, social interaction, and even genomics is shifting the manner how we used to think about nutrition. Based on my most recent observations, five main trends are expected to influence nutritional approaches.

1. The market of nutritional supplements is becoming saturated

Highly competitive pressures in the marketplace of vitamins, minerals and supplements – particularly in the United States – are pushing many players to think out of the box on how to market and sell their products, an approach especially followed by smaller and niche firms.

A rising consumer demand preoccupied with wellness and prevention has produced an explosive growth in the sales of nutritional supplements in most retail channels, including brick-and-mortar, e-commerce, and multilevel selling in the past ten years. This trend has caused many more brands to become available for purchase. I did a quick search in Amazon US for calcium supplements and returned about 14,500 results!

Granted, the results may include same products sold by different vendors, yet the list is still overwhelming. And this is just one channel. So the question is how can a consumer choose amongst the thousands of options and brands available to them?

2. Personalized nutrition will continue to grow

This leads to the second trend. As personalization takes a stronger hold in the mind of consumers – and of course the media – the confusion on what brand or nutritional supplement to choose may be narrowed to what’s promised to be a “personalized” product for the consumer.

In the new consumerism of health, more adults seem to be interested in purchasing an experiential product that relates or talks specifically to them. This development has helped start-ups and smaller firms tap into the personalization of nutrition represented either by a unique dietary supplement mostly promoted in social media, or by a convenient and specifically tailored formulation based on gender, age, health status, lifestyle, and genomics of the individual.

Consequently, the retail trend is now being threatened by the rise of personalization and the increasing influence of sales via the healthcare practitioner’s channel, which seems more likely to adopt the personalized proposition for their patients.

3. The long-awaited validation by the medical community

The ongoing issues in the media dealing with the validation of health benefits of nutritional supplementation promoted in the retail setting are forcing firms to search for new channels of growth.

For decades, supplements have been largely favored by the recommendations of naturopaths, chiropractors, and alternative medicine practitioners. A disconnect between allopathic and natural medicine was strong in the past, but now with the emergence of integrative, concierge and anti-aging medicine, the market rules are changing.

Moreover, the newest generations of graduates from medical schools are young adults not only embracing the concepts of wellness and prevention, but being digitally connected as well. Thus, the merging of personalization, digital health, and a broader medical awareness on the health benefits of supplementation and natural wellness is giving room to a new form of market expansion.

This may represent a win-win situation for manufacturers who will get the endorsement from the medical community; for healthcare practitioners, who will maintain a steady flow of patients for regular wellness checkups adopting digital tracking and monitoring technologies; and most importantly, for consumers who will truly get their personalized nutritional and wellness program.

4. Innovation based upon nature

An extensive influx of venture capital and investments from some of the largest pharmaceutical and consumer goods companies are helping biotech and start-ups spear ahead in the discovery, research, development, and marketing of innovative formulations based on natural ingredients claiming to have a therapeutic effect ranging from anti-inflammatory virtues to healing and rejuvenation.

This development could be summarized as finding the next blockbuster “natural medicine” in the form of a functional food or nutritional supplement. (This trend is not to be confused with botanical extracts or homeopathic drugs.) Interestingly, these so-called natural and medicinal therapies are coming in a wider array of forms, but notably it is capsules and powders that take the lead.

The correct calibration of dried and milled fruits, vegetables with nuts, protein, spices, minerals and other natural ingredients is being sold as formulations with potential unique health benefits. Many of these nutritional powders are being added to regular foods and beverages that make it very convenient for consumers to boost their health.

My attendance to Natural Products Expo West on March 9-12, 2017, left me with a big impression on how many of these dietary supplements, botanical medicines, and functional foods and beverages are aiming to disrupt how we approach food as preventive medicine and maintenance support for some chronic diseases.

5. Food and supplements as lifestyle medicine

The new ways of nutritional supplementation has led big companies to rethink their go-to-market strategy.

Campbell Soup & Co invested in Habit, a revolutionary health and well-being food personalized program using a shake to reset the body, followed by a dietary program based on an individualized plan using blood tests, digital monitoring, tracking and genetic testing.

Alternatively, new ventures such as Virta Health and Livongo sell programs aiming to help reverse chronic diseases such as diabetes by merging digital health with dietary interventions in a timely and enforceable manner. Moreover, the TrueHealth Initiative is a relatively new global initiative promoting lifestyle as medicine. These developments peek into what lies ahead in the future of preventive medicine via healthy diets and lifestyle.

In conclusion, the consumer health trends highlighted above provide a beautiful picture of possibilities where many forces will join to recreate, shape and enhance the new concept of nutrition as medicine.

Press mentions and media

Vitafoods Geneva 2018 – Personalization in Nutrition

WSMI and ASMI World Self-Medication Industry and Australia Conference 2017

AJP – Consumers taking charge of their health

Natural Products Insider – Heart health market moves into personalized nutrition

Yahoo Finance

OTC Bulletin

Drug Store News

Nutraceuticals World

Healthy Ageing

PharmExec.com

Inside Retail

The Impact of Regulation on the market Value of Nutraceuticals

OTC Toolbox