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What's in demand?

The decision to make health food stores 'essential retailers' during lockdown was the right one

Generally, the lockdown has led to less healthy lifestyles but ask any health store colleague and you'll discover that you're not alone in experiencing a surge in demand for healthier food and immune system products.

Awareness of what overseas countries have achieved with vitamin C combined with renewed Public Health England recommendations for vitamin D saw demand for these nutrients grow dramatically, along with zinc.

But is this just a flash in the pan?

Lucy Redfern, MD at Wholesale Health, said: "The demand for core immune support products such as liposomal Vitamin C still remains strong.

"Alongside these, general health products such as full spectrum vitamins and minerals have become even more popular as people look to support their health as a whole.

"However, the big product of the second phase of shutdown was definitely vitamin D3. We've all seen the studies being reported how low levels of D3 increases the severity of Covid-19, and this resulted in an increase in sales of over 300% as the initial panic buying for this product hit."

She is concerned that people will feel less able to browse to discover new products for the foreseeable future, and suggests some alternatives to side-by-side advice from a store assistant. New ways of displaying and talking about products would include free magazines such as Your Healthy Living and Naturally Healthy News, regular e-newsletters to the customer database, and selling online (see our Retailing Better Online section).

"It's definitely a good time for health shops to make themselves stand out from the crowd by stocking products only available in independents," she added.

NHS support

It's heartening to note that our industry has taken its knowledge and generosity direct to the NHS front line in the coronavirus fight. Herbalist Charlotte Pulver's Frontline Immune Support is a free service funded by donations for NHS workers supported by a number of suppliers including Pukka, Abundance & Health and Cytoplan.

Charlotte's clinic was helping many including some doctors and nurses during their recovery. Determined to make the products she was using available to frontline NHS medical staff, she created the Frontline Immune Support Team ( Packs of essential nutritional supplements such as liposomal vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc are delivered free to front line NHS healthcare workers.

Front line weaponry

Charlotte's weapons for NHS workers in the coronavirus war includes the following:

Vitamin C: Has six known anti-viral functions and, in doses above 6g, has consistently shown to substantially reduce severity and duration of infections.

Vitamin D: Plays a critical role in promoting immune response. It has both anti-inflammatory and immunoregulatory properties and is crucial for the activation of immune system defences. In fact, the vitamin is so important for immune function that low levels of vitamin D have been associated with an increased susceptibility to infection, disease, and immune-related disorders.

Zinc: Helps regulate the immune system and its innate antimicrobial activity. Without enough you don't produce T-cells or B-cells which make antibodies to tag the virus. Macrophages, which gobble up viruses, don't work and the immune system becomes inefficient.

Reishi-Cordyceps: A number of epidemiological and clinical studies have confirmed the ability of mushrooms in general to increase the effectiveness of both our innate and adaptive immune responses to a range of pathogens including viruses. Cordyceps species have been shown to inhibit viral replication in a number of studies. It also shows strong anti-inflammatory activity and has been shown to actively protect the lungs from acute injury due to the type of inflammatory immune response seen in more serious Covid-19 infections. Reishi also has strong anti-inflammatory activity and has been shown to inhibit viral replication and viral binding.

Homeopathic Remedies: Homeopathy is used for immune support and to promote self-healing in over 200 countries. Public health initiatives in Cuba and India are giving it to their vulnerable people to support their immunity. It has a track record as far back as outbreaks of scarlet fever and cholera. It may help the mental emotional stresses and strains that our NHS staff are under too.

Essential Oils: Work with the immune system to rid the body of infections, whether of bacterial or viral origin, and have been used for hundreds of years by doctors in France, where the essences are diluted in jojoba oil before administration, and are valued as 'powerful and effective natural drugs'.

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Selenium: During a viral infection, the body loses its selenium reserves while it fights off the infection. Viruses produce substances known as reactive oxygen species (ROS) which can potentially cause damage to our cells and according to recent research, can even make a virus spread faster in the body. Fortunately, these ROS can be stopped by glutathione which selenium helps to make.

Probiotics: One of the major mechanisms of probiotic action is through the regulation of host immune response. Studies have identified several genes and specific compounds derived from probiotics, which mediate immunoregulatory effects.

New investment

Lytham-based Nutrition Group, contract manufacturer to the supplements industry, has seen a dramatic rise in demand for its immune system-boosting products during the coronavirus crisis. So much so that it created 20 new jobs, invested in faster machinery and increased its working hours to keep up. Orders for Vitamin C, Vitamin D and Zinc tablets increased by almost 100% in February, with similar rises in March and April.

Vitamin D and COVID-19

Public Health England reissued its recommendations for people to consider taking daily vitamin D supplements throughout the spring and summer as the coronavirus crisis continues and many of us miss out on spending as much time out of doors in the sunshine.

People in the UK are already advised to consider taking a supplement of 10mg a day during the winter months but this has now been broadened to include the summer months too and is especially relevant for anybody who is self-isolating.

An adequate supply of vitamin D is essential to keep bones and muscles healthy and an increasing number of clinical studies have shown it also plays an important role in the immune system. The body naturally produces vitamin D from sunlight and it's difficult to get enough from diet alone.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Social Care recommends that those with darker skin, for example those of African, African Caribbean or South Asian backgrounds, consider taking a vitamin D supplement all year round (even during the summer months) as they may be at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency.

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