When searching drug store shelves for solutions to improve their health and prevent disease, many people are opting for natural products.
In 2017, researchers from the University of Minnesota and Chapman University published a study in the Journal of Patient Experience, stating that more than one third of U.S. respondents reported using herbal supplements. Consumers tended to be older than 70, with a higher than high school education and with diseases such as stroke, cancer and arthritis.
The natural products space also includes homeopathic products. Homeopathy is a medical system that subscribes to the belief that the body can heal itself—also believes products that would cause symptoms in large quantities can be used as treatments in much lower, diluted doses.
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In 2018, the journal Homeopathy published a study by researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center who wrote that more than 2% of the U.S. population used homeopathy, “predominantly for respiratory, otorhinolaryngology and musculoskeletal complaints.”
While consumers may vie for specific natural products for individual reasons, Nathan Jones, founder and owner of Xlear, a manufacturer of xylitol-based natural hygiene products, said he believes one broad trend is that some consumers have lost confidence in the pharmaceutical industry.“I think people are looking and trying to find non-pharmaceutical ways to help them stay healthy, and even when they're sick, to help them get better,” Jones said.
Of U.S. respondents to a 2021 Deloitte study, 50% disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement, “I trust pharmaceutical drug companies.” Study members said their reasons for distrust were companies’ profit motives and high medicine prices.
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“Consumers are increasingly interested in natural options in more and more healthcare areas, so we’ve seen growth across most of the categories we play in now,” said Annie Chen, VP, marketing at Hyland’s Naturals, a maker of homeopathic products and dietary supplements.
Homeopathy in the Home
Hyland’s Naturals came online in 1903 with homeopathic products and has been going strong for the past 120 years. The company sells products for for immune health, headache, pain relief, cold and cough, and more.
The largest recent change to the homeopathic category has been that consumers have increased their use and familiarity with the products, Chen said.
“Today’s consumer accepts homeopathic options because they use natural active ingredients and consumers are seeking those natural alternatives,” Chen said. “We are proud to offer a wide range of options in this area for consumers, and our product offerings make it easy for families to switch to homeopathic options.”
Mothers comprise a top demographic that purchases Hyland’s homeopathic products, Chen said, adding that “we’ve seen the most growth in products for babies and kids as many moms prefer to use natural alternatives for their children.”
Some of the reasons consumers like and purchase Hyland’s Naturals products are because they are clean, gentle, natural and manufactured in the U.S., Chen said. The company’s homeopathic products contain active ingredients in low-dose designations that have been outlined by the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States.
Hyland’s Naturals ensures products are free of harsh chemicals, which Chen said is especially important among products for babies. In addition, the products do not contain petroleum, parabens, phthalates or synthetic fragrances.
Over the past few years, Hyland’s expanded its products beyond homeopathy into the dietary supplement and skin care categories.
“From an initial offering of four gummy supplements, we have since expanded our pediatric line with organic supplement offerings supporting cough and sleep, and launched a gentle baby skin care line,” Chen said, noting that the skin care line uses organic-certified ingredients when possible, meets the highest clinical testing standards for dermatologically tested products, and is safe for sensitive skin.
Uses of a Sugar Substitute
Xlear’s xylitol-based natural hygiene products, including nasal sprays, dental products and sugar substitutes. When the company conducted a demographic study in 2019, Jones said, consumers were about equally split between men and women. Many consumers skewed older, he said, though consumers were purchasing for children and grandchildren.
Consumers are gravitating toward natural products for symptom prevention as opposed to curative care, Jones said. “I think that the trend in the market is people doing stuff to stay healthy rather than waiting until after they get sick, and that’s where hygiene products shine,” he said.
In 1998, Jones’ father, physician Dr. Lon Jones, created a nasal spray with xylitol—a natural sugar alcohol—to block the adhesion of bacteria in babies’ nasal passageways and to prevent ear infections.
Research supports xylitol’s link with reduced ear infections. In one 2016 review, scientists from the University of Toronto and Cochrane Acute Respiratory Infections Group wrote that children who took xylitol had a reduced risk of middle ear infections from 30% to around 22%.
In Xlear’s Spry Dental Defense product line, offerings include toothpaste, mouth wash, gum and mints.
“The big body of science with xylitol, originally, was in oral care, tooth decay,” Jones said. “Those studies were coming out in the late ’60s.” He also pointed to more recent studies in which researchers from the University of Washington and the University of Michigan discovered that xylitol could reduce and reverse tooth decay.
On the dietary front, Xlear offers its line of XyloSweet sugar substitute products. XyloSweet has a glycemic index of 7, compared with a glycemic index of 65 for most table sugar, according to Xlear’s website. XyloSweet also has 40% fewer calories than sugar, per the site.
“Xylitol looks like sugar, tastes like sugar, you can use it one-to-one like sugar, it’s granulated like sugar,” Jones said. “It just doesn't feed any of the pathogenic bacteria that cause oral disease or respiratory disease.”
“We’ve known about how effective washing your hands is,” Jones said. “We’ve known about how effective brushing our teeth is, using good oral hygiene, supporting oral hygiene products and nasal hygiene products that actually support a healthy oral and nasal microbiome.
“The gut microbiome—a lot of people are talking about that now—but the gateway microbiomes are actually your mouth and your nose, and that's going to affect your gut microbiome.”
Soothing Cough and Throat Irritation
Lifelab Health sells products in multiple categories, such as digestive health, cold and cough. All of the business’ SKUs are either pure organic or contain natural ingredients, said Louis Machin, managing director.
Some of the business’s most popular products are in its HoneyWorks cough and cold line, Machin said. HoneyWorks syrup and throat sprays contain 100% U.S.-sourced, USDA Certified Organic dark honey from wildflowers.
Machin highlighted that a bestseller is the HoneyWorks Organic Soothing Throat Spray Plus Zinc, a metered-dose spray for ages 12 and up. It’s not only soothing but safe, he said, adding that with some other sore throat sprays on the market, customers are advised to spit them out.
“The bottom line is, ours, you should swallow it,” Machin said. “It’s good for you, and it soothes you, and it’s got organic ingredients that are beneficial.”
As far as demographics purchasing these products, Machin said it runs the gamut. “If you have a sore throat, you can use the spray,” he said. “So, if you're in the boys’ choir, you want that spray. If you're an adult singer, you want that spray. If you're talking all day as a teacher, that kind of job, you want that spray.”
HoneyWorks currently has three other honey products, all for children and containing zinc: a throat spray, a daytime syrup with ivy leaf extract and a nighttime syrup with melatonin.In the first quarter of 2024, Lifelab Health will introduce the HoneyWorks Plus line, which includes daytime and nighttime cough syrups for adults and children, Machin said. The syrups are made with dark honey, other natural ingredients and the active ingredient dextromethorphan, with the nighttime syrups also containing doxylamine succinate.
Machin said he anticipates HoneyWorks to capture a sizable portion of market share in the adult cough syrup space, adding that “when we launch the HoneyWorks Plus, it’s going to give consumers an alternative to taking a product that’s loaded with chemicals and artificial ingredients.”