Post-ephedra appetite suppressantSatiety has been called the 'Holy Grail of nutrition'. Although there are still relatively few food and supplement products claiming to enhance fullness or suppress appetite on the market, that may well change as the present flurry of activity in the ingredients sector trickles down to finished products.
Obesity in Europe is a serious problem, with up to 27 percent of men, 38 percent of women, and 3m children clinically obese in some parts of the bloc.
The retail market for weight management products was estimated by Euromonitor International to be worth US$0.93bn (E0.73) in Europe in 2005 and $3.93bn in the US, indicating that call to slim down or face the health consequences is being heeded by a slice of the overweight population at least.
Appetite suppressants are intended to help dieters stick to a weight loss regime. If a person is used to consuming large portions of protein-rich foods with a high fat content, they may still be hungry after eating smaller portions of healthier foods.
Similarly, foods marketed for satiety enhance feelings of fullness after eating, acting as a boost to a person's will-power and helping them avoid a reversion to old habits in a bid to stave off hunger pangs, or 'grazing' in between meals.
In a recent interview with NutraIngredients.com's sister site FodoNavigator-USA.com, Tony DeLio, vice president and general manager of National Starch, said that if satiety can be achieved, it will be "the Holy Grail of nutrition".
After all, up to 40 percent of the US population is reported to be on a diet, so the area of hunger management remains an area of relatively untapped potential.
DeLio also hinted that his company may be investigating carbohydrate delivery systems to target satiety -- although no developments are expected to emerge from the pipeline in the very near future.
The best known appetite suppressant ingredient amongst consumers is undoubtedly Hoodia gordonii, the succulent from Africa's Kalahari desert that has been used for centuries by the bushmen to ward off hunger.
In 2004, Unilever obtained the right to use the patented active extract of Hoodia, known as P57, in a range of slimming foods in a deal with UK-based drug developer Phytopharm. Although a line of Hoodia products has yet to come to market, once it does it could herald the start of a flood of other foods to control hunger.
Indeed the time may already be ripe to steal a march on Unilever with foods containing other foods to control appetite.
The interest in Hoodia over the past few years has highlighted the demand for ingredients fulfilling this function. A combination of its popularity and the authenticity issues surrounding the origins and species of Hoodia available on the market seem to have spurred research into possible alternative ingredients to perform a similar function.
Moreover some industry insiders have suggested that the weight loss market is moving on from stimulant-based ingredients in the post-ephedra era, and satiety is one broad avenue it is venturing down.
NutraIngredients.com has recently learned of studies involving new appetite suppressant ingredients and technologies, and some coming into the market.
For instance, US-based PacificHealth Laboratories is funding research at the UK's Manchester University into its Satrietrim technology, which uses certain proteins and fats to stimulate the satiety peptide cholecystokinin.
And last week we reported on the identification by Swedish researchers of a compound found in green leaves that has been found to suppress appetites and boosts weight loss in lab animals. Tylakoids, tiny membranes in the choloroplasts and sources of minerals, proteins and fats, appear to inhibit the digestion of fat. This means the fat stays in the intestinal tract for longer and sets off satiety signals.
It is too early to say for sure whether this research from Lund University will yield a new ingredient, although there is believed to have been some preliminary interest from potential industrial partners.
However there are already several other ingredients in the category (in addition to Hoodia) that are derived from plants:
Hong Kong-based Gencor is currently launching Slimaluma, from a succulent called Caralluma Fimbriata from India, for use in dietary supplements in the US;
Last year Lipid Nutrition introduced PinnoThin, derived from the long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid pinolenic acid which comes from the seeds of the Korean pine nut tree, Pinus koraiensis;
DSM's Fabuless for dairy products (also known as Olibra, and previously as Reducal) works by encapsulating particles of palm oil in oats, which are then formulated in a novel emulsion. The slow digestion of the oat fraction enables Fabuless to penetrate deeply into the intestinal system and, since digestion is delayed, it sends a message of fullness to the brain.
For ingredients developers, part of the attraction behind natural ingredients lies in their food origins, making them exempt from lengthy regulatory approval procedures in some markets.
For consumers too, natural products are associated with health, and may be better received by those already looking to embark on a healthier lifestyle.
Mintel's Global New Products Database showed up 13 new product launches of foods, beverages and supplements marketed as appetite suppressants since January 2005 (excluding product variants) -- eight in the US and five in Europe.
The level of activity on the ingredients side could soon start trickling down into finished product development, with more products starting to appear on shelves on both sides of the Atlantic.
But however enthusiastic the industry may be about this emerging category, it is still tempered by the need to encourage healthy eating and not see appetite suppressants as a panacea for the obesity crisis.
In a recent interview with NutraIngredients.com, Dr Robert Portman, CEO of PacificHealth Labs, stressed: "The only way to truly affect obesity is a change in lifestyle, and no product can do that for you."
Rather, he said that satiety products can help people to stay on a diet once they have already decided to embark on a healthy eating program.
His view was echoed by Dr Frankie Phillips, spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, who told NutraIngredients.com that, when looking at weight loss strategies, you need to make a lifestyle change you can live with for the long-term.
"Appetite suppressants may only be suitable in the short-term," she said.
She conceded that they may be useful to some people, but people tend to overeat for a variety of reasons -- and hunger is only one of those.
"The bottom line is that appetite suppressants are not a magic bullet, should not be taken in isolation and seen as an alternative to a healthy lifestyle."