Growth Asia Summit 2023

Healthy ageing in Asia: Metabolic health, cognition, mobility rank top for consumer need – expert panel

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

A smartphone displaying a step tracker mobile app.  © Getty Images
A smartphone displaying a step tracker mobile app. © Getty Images

Related tags Roquette Symrise International probiotics association

Nutrition products designed for healthy ageing in Asia-Pacific would need to address the most pressing concerns surrounding metabolic health, cognition, and mobility, said an expert panel staged during our recent Growth Asia Summit.

The panel discussion, held on the last day (Sep 28) of the summit conducted in Singapore, was addressing the topic “Asia’s Healthy Ageing opportunity: Innovation opportunities to meet consumers across the region.”

The five panellists included May Wee, senior R&D scientist at Roquette, Nathalie Richer, global health business lead, naturals, at Symrise, Dr Kalpana Bhaskaran, head for the Centre of Applied Nutrition Services and the Glycemic Index Research Unit at Temasek Polytechnic, George Paraskevakos, executive director at International Probiotics Association, and Nathan Cheong, CEO at Melrose Health Group. The discussion was moderated by Gary Scattergood, editor-in-chief of NutraIngredients-Asia ​and FoodNavigator-Asia.

Growth Asia day three panel
George Paraskevakos (from left), Nathan Cheong, Nathalie Richer, May Wee, Dr Kalpana Bhaskaran, and Gary Scattergood.

Kicking off the discussion, Dr Bhaskaran said that hypertension was a top health concern in the region, even more so than diabetes, as the condition could lead to stroke, long-term disability, and renal diseases.

This was also reflected in a survey conducted by Symrise involving over 3,000 Asian consumers, where cardiovascular health was a trending concern.

“Cardiovascular health conditions are on top of mind when it comes to healthy ageing, and so we keep hearing about blood pressure, cholesterol level, and also heart health,”​ said Richer.

A paper published on the International Journal of Hypertension ​in 2021​ showed that the pooled prevalence estimates (PPEs) of hypertension among adults in Asia was 33.98 per cent, higher than the global rate of 31.1 per cent.

Cheong, who heads the Australian health supplement brand Melrose, similarly believes that there are plenty market opportunities in the metabolic health space.

“We feel that the biggest opportunity for a brand like ours is to play to our strengths and those strengths are addressing key issues around metabolic health as the driver of chronic diseases such as hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative diseases, that's where we feel the biggest opportunity is coming from.”

Physical mobility is another area of primary concern when it comes to healthy ageing.

Wee, senior R&D scientist at Roquette, for example, pointed out how the health and nutrition industry could focus on protein solutions that help prevent sarcopenia.

Aside from maintaining muscle health, protein could also help with glycaemic management, she said.

There are clinical studies showing that protein, when ingested with carbohydrates, could help modulate and stimulate insulin production and that helps with glycaemic management and helps to control diabetes for elderly who are suffering from diabetes as well.

“I think [the innovation opportunities in the healthy ageing category] starts from protein intake. I heard so many talks about not getting enough protein, whether it's the young or the aged.

“For us, the opportunity to innovate is having the ingredient or products that are good in function and taste good, that's really all consumers look for, the taste, the texture, the appearance.”

At Symrise, Richer said the company was also focusing on cognitive health for healthy ageing needs.

Specify the age group, find out the preferred formats

When designing and marketing healthy ageing products, brands could consider specifying the exact consumer age groups that their products are intended for. They should also bear in the mind the most suitable product formats for addressing different needs.

Specifying the age group will be helpful as consumers who are seeking to age healthily are from different age groups and backgrounds.

“It's very challenging, because it's a heterogenous population…When it comes to ageing, you can also have the ‘young-old’, the ‘old-old’ etc, so which category are you going to focus?” ​said Dr Bhaskaran.

Cheong had personally witnessed the success of specifying the age group that a product was designed for.

“When I was at LifeSpace, one of our bestselling probiotics was a probiotic for the over 60s and we never expect it to be so successful. It blew away our expectations in terms of targeting that population. 

“Many people thought that if we were to launch a product for the over 60s, the people in their 60s wouldn’t want to identify with it and take that product because they will prefer to take a product designed for the younger age group. 

“But interestingly enough, they didn’t have any issue with it and will buy a product specifically for them and that target market – backed up by clinical research of course,”​ the former CEO of LifeSpace Group said.

On the other hand, consumers seem to prefer certain dosage formats when consuming different types of health foods.

For instance, they tend to choose dairy based products when looking for nutritional products that support digestive, bone or joint health, said Richer.

However, there is a tendency to choose the conventional food supplement formats when purchasing products that support mental health, immune and cardiovascular health, based on the consumer survey conducted by her company.

Plant-based proteins, polyphenols, prebiotics   

Asked the gaps for future research, the panel believes that more research on plant protein and polyphenols on ageing are needed.

In Asia, soy protein is already considered a staple, and Wee believes that the effects of other plant proteins on the Asian population would be an area of interest for future research.

More could also be done to understand the mechanisms on how different plant proteins are being digested, she said.

Richer, on the other hand, said that her company has been studying the role of polyphenols – from its antioxidant activity to its effects on microbiota modulation.

In this case, dietary fibres and prebiotics are also gaining traction for improving gut health in the ageing population.

With ageing, the gut barrier gets thinner, which in turn affects the immune system, Wee explained.

Paraskevakos added that microbial activities in the gut could shift overtime.

“The microbial activities in our gut shift overtime.

“Ingredients with prebiotic mechanisms of actions can help bolster the activities that might fade away, because as we age, we lose certain genus, and so prebiotics are getting traction, alongside postbiotics,”​ he said.

A 2021 study published in Nature Aging​ found that there was a lower amount of Bifidobacterium adolescentis​ in adults aged 60 and above.

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