Japan’s functional food insights: Sleep, stress and skin health claims on the rise – exclusive data

By Hui Ling Dang

- Last updated on GMT

An illustration of a capsule containing nutrients from various fruits. ©Getty Images
An illustration of a capsule containing nutrients from various fruits. ©Getty Images

Related tags Japan Foods with Function Claims

Health claims related to sleep, stress and skin increased in Foods with Function Claims (FFC) notified in FY2022, while those of concern to the ageing population, such as muscle health, are expected to rise in the near future, exclusive new data reveals.

According to data from Japan-based nutraceutical consultancy firm Smooth Link Inc., 1,429 FFC notifications were submitted in FY2022, including 10 products that were withdrawn.

The number is slightly less than that of FY2021, which saw 1,445 submissions.

Among the notified FFCs, 1,007 products contained a single functional ingredient and 412 products used multiple functional ingredients.

“Ingredients such as GABA and DHA/EPA have remained top-ranking year after year. On the other hand, GABA, black ginger-derived polymethoxyflavon, and Bacillus coagulans SANK7025816 have gained popularity in multiple-use formulations.

“In recent years, lactic acid bacteria (LAB) are often used as functional ingredients. In FY2022, 20 different strains of LAB were used in 136 products. Their functionality ranges from the orthodox one of regulating the intestinal environment to relieving stress and tension, reducing fatigue, alleviating discomfort in the eyes and nose, maintaining immune function, and so on,” ​said Hisaaki Kato, president of Smooth Link.

In addition, health claims pertaining to sleep, stress, and skin health have seen a significant increase over the past two years.

On the topic of new health claims, Kato cited banaba-derived corosolic acid as an example.

The ingredient was known for the function of lowering fasting blood glucose level, before companies starting making claims of its effect on walking ability.

However, the latter was flagged by Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) in 2019 as a violation of the Pharmaceutical Medical Devices Act, and all related FFCs were withdrawn.

Notably, this claim seems to have “revived” recently, likely due to demand arising from the ageing population.

In February this year, pharmaceutical company Toyo Shinyaku filed the health claim stating that “corosolic acid from Banaba leaves, when used in combination with light-impact daily exercise, can help improve walking ability and reduce temporary back and shoulder strain”.

The firm filed another health claim that the ingredient can “reduce discomfort in the knees” in the following month.

“Banaba-derived corosolic acid is believed to act on muscle cells, activating muscle protein synthesis and helping to maintain muscle strength and muscle mass, which in turn supports physical functions such as walking.

To date, there are 24 FFC products containing corosolic acid. In the future, I expect to see more and more health claims for this functional ingredient that claims an effect on muscle.”

It should be noted that Japan’s Consumer Affairs Agency (CAA), which regulates the FFC market, has announced that it will be reviewing the methods​ that companies use to support the science behind their goods amid growing credibility concerns​.

Other key findings

Compared against data from FY2015 to FY2021, there has been a significant rise in health claims related to sleep quality, cognitive function, stress, and immune function, while categories such as fat and blood glucose level saw fewer claims in FY2022.

In terms of health claims specific to body parts, an upward trend has been found in skin, intestinal regulation, knee, swelling of face or legs, among others.

In particular, health claims specific to the eyes experienced close to a 10% increase.

Based on the analysis, 56.9% of the total FFCs were supplements (tablet, capsule, powder format), 39.4% were processed foods and beverages, and 3.7% were fresh foods, including eggs and meat.

Of the processed food products, 30.9% were soft drinks and fruit or vegetable juice beverages.

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