The onset of the coronavirus pandemic has sparked Irish people’s interest in supplements, according to the co-founders of a Bandon-based supplements firm.
“Everybody is so conscious of supporting their immune system now,” Dr Paula Gaynor said.
“There's also science behind it [now]”, husband Mark Clifford added.
“I think that's the difference from 20 or 30 years ago where there was a lot of unknowns"
“Now there is strong science to show that certain supplements can have a certain effect when taken in certain quantities.”
Earlier this week, a group of medical experts from Irish universities urged all adults to take a daily vitamin D supplement of at least 400 IU, which they say can significantly reduce the risk of infection, serious illness and death from Covid-19.
Research from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) suggests one in eight older adults (aged 50 - 98) are deficient in vitamin D at some point during the year, increasing to one in four during the winter period, with deficiency more prevalent among those who don’t take supplements
“With vitamin D, the evidence is there to show that people who are deficient are more susceptible to getting Covid-19, and the risk of hospitalization is greater,” Dr Gaynor explained, adding that the Irish population has particularly high levels of Vitamin D deficiency due to the low levels of sunlight we get in the winter and even spring seasons..
Dr Paula Gaynor and Mark Clifford launched their own Vitamin D oral spray in October, entering the market at a time when interest in the vitamin is at an all-time high.
And while vitamin D, in particular, has found itself in the spotlight, Dr Gaynor said other immunity-boosting vitamins, such as their SOMEGA Liposomal Vitamin C product are also seeing a surge in popularity thanks to the pandemic.
United Drug, a pharmaceutical wholesaler reported last year that Irish sales of supplements such as vitamin D, vitamin C and zinc had recorded a 142% increase between March and July of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.
The couple's first product, SOMEGA Easy Omega-3 was launched in 2019 and originally inspired by the couple’s struggle to get their kids to eat oily fish or take fish oil.
“The whole idea of we get everything from out diet is really in an ideal world," Dr Gaynor said, "but when you’re faced with three kids…”
“The reality kicks in,” Clifford laughs.
When they headed to the health store to stock up on supplements, Mr Clifford said they realised supplements, especially the fish oils, hadn't moved on since they were children themselves.
The couple have spent decades studying and working in the area of food science and nutrition, with Dr Gaynor working in the area of supplementation specifically, so Clifford said they knew there were new technologies out there they could “put to use” to make a tastier, more appealing solution.
What they came up with is a peach and mango flavoured product, which has a smooth, smoothie-like texture, and leaves “no fishy taste or oily mouth feel.”
“When we launched the business, we did a lot of tastings with people, and you'd have people in their 40s and 50s who were traumatized by cod liver oil," he said.
“There was a look of fear when we ask them would you like to try ours!"
That’s when they realised this was not a product restricted to kids, Dr Gaynor explained, and like Vitamin D, our national average daily intake of Omega 3 is low.
“We're just trying to get people, even with the supplementation, just to get up to a reasonable level, but there are so many benefits if we could go much further beyond that.”
“Japan and the Mediterranean would be very good examples where there's a high level of Omega 3, and we see the benefits of that from life expectancy to rates of heart disease, obesity and diabetes.”
The couple have been supported by both Enterprise Ireland and their Local Enterprise Office in West Cork, and despite a number of plans being put on pause due to Covid, they say the business has “really grown” in the past twelve months.
“I think looking back at last year, for the first four months after COVID hit, a lot of our retailers were closed, and we didn't know if they were going to open again and if they did if it would be a partial opening or online-only,” Mr Clifford explained.
“But from July onwards, we started seeing a path forward."
“We have plans that we would have been thinking about in 2019 going into 2020, now we can go back and look at them again."
"We kind of missed a year in some regards but we can adjust the plans now and push on again.”