Curcumin is a natural phenol in the turmeric plant (Curcuma longa), a perennial herb belonging to the ginger family. Turmeric is commonly used in East Asian curry dishes, and curcumin is responsible for giving these dishes their distinct yellow color. Curcumin has been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine to treat joint pain and various types of chronic inflammatory conditions. A substantial amount of preclinical and human studies have highlighted the health-promoting effects of curcumin, namely its role as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. Over the last decade, there has been an influx of curcumin based natural products on the market.
We sat down with AOR’s founder and director of research Dr. Traj Nibber to gain some insights into AOR from the man who started it all.
1. What is your educational background, and what made you decide to become a scientist?
I have a BSc in Pharmaceutical Sciences with hospital experience (clinical pharmacy) from the University of Aston, UK, an MSc in toxicology from the University of Birmingham, UK and a PhD in histopathology specializing in surgical pathology from University of London, UK. My interest has always been in research. Unlike pharmaceutical research which takes 15-20 years to bring a product to market, nutritional research allows one to work on multiple projects at once and to see the fruits of research much quicker.
2. What were your motives and aspirations when you initially launched AOR?
I started as a retail pharmacist and quickly realized that the nutritional products available were poorly formulated, “kitchen sink” formulas with lots of excipients. There was a need to bring state-of-the-art nutraceuticals to the
market that reflected current research. At the time no one was providing such cutting-edge nutraceuticals that were backed by clinical research.
3. If you weren’t working at AOR what would you be doing?
I would probably be in academia and publishing.
4. AOR is known for being the first to market with newly discovered natural ingredients. What was the first “world’s first” product AOR developed and why?
The first such product we developed was D-Ribose in 1998 which was a world’s first. I had read an article in the Scientific American back in Dec 1990 which talked about how this five carbon sugar prevented secondary heart attacks in dogs. I thought about its application as a natural health product for heart health.
5. How do you find out about these new ingredients and new delivery systems?
AOR has a strong sense of the pulse in the research community, and is involved in many collaborations with academia. AOR has participated in over forty scientific collaborations and currently has over 30 research projects underway with universities across Canada, the US, and Europe. AOR was the first to bring R-lipoic acid, strontium, a complete vitamin E complex, nitrates as a nitric oxide delivery system, a vegan soft gel line, and many others to the market.
6. Why did you choose the name AOR, how did you envisage the brand?
Originally the name was Holistic International, but we always had the AOR logo even back then. I suppose research has always played a role in my life and I wanted the company’s name to reflect this.
7. What about the debate surrounding the orthomolecular approach vs. whole foods approach – do you think one is more important than the other and why?
Both are important. Good nutrition is a key for healthy living. “Orthomolecular” is a fancy name coined by Linus Pauling
in his seminal 1968 paper in the journal Science, and typifies the personalized nutrition concept: the right molecule, in the right dose, in the right place, at the right time. It captures all the frontiers of research that AOR is involved in, including novel, research-based bio-actives, formulated to deliver the right concentration.
8. How large is the company and what are your growth aspirations?
We have around 100 people currently with a strong emphasis in research and quality control.
9. What are some of the challenges a company like AOR faces in the nutraceutical industry?
Being an innovator brings triumphs and tribulations. As a leader, one has the responsibility of bringing new research to the general public, whether it is through retailers or physicians. Many new products are way ahead of their time and pose challenges in disseminating knowledge in the most effective manner. Not everything works out, some products fail to make their mark even though there is incredible science behind them.
10. 25 years is a long time! Why do you think AOR has been so successful and what makes it stand out among the plethora of supplement companies currently available?
Research, quality, and innovation are the hallmarks of AOR. AOR has always taken the most challenging position in
bringing the latest research to the market. Innovation is not limited to finding new bio-actives but also in enhancing delivery systems, as many natural products, not unlike pharmaceuticals, have poor efficacy due to formulation challenges. AOR is a leader in developing unique delivery systems including nano-liposomes, self-emulsifying drug delivery systems, solid lipid particles, and the upcoming “colonic release” line of products.
11. What does quality mean to you?
Traceability, and having control and documentation for each stage of the process from field to shelf. Traceability is important as it allows you to demonstrate confidence in what you claim and are giving to your customers. Further, it’s about transparency. Specifically, companies need to fully disclose all ingredients in a product, whether they add them to the formulation or their suppliers add them to the raw materials.
12. What is the most exciting aspect of this industry?
Innovation with pharmaceuticals is often a slow process, but it happens much more quickly in the nutraceutical field. Also, while research with nutraceuticals has been overlooked in the past, it is now gaining momentum. There is so much research out there that consumers need to be exposed to.
13. What or who inspires you?
Collaborating with researchers all over the world and bringing our discoveries to the market are a constant source of inspiration.
14. How does AOR contribute to developing a greater understanding of the health implications of traditional herbs and nutrients?
Being an innovative company means there is a lot of emphasis on education and telling the story about herbs and nutrients. AOR invests heavily in education with the the main aim being to debunk fads and “flavor of the month” nutrients, which are not always backed by science.
15. How does AOR decide which type of research it gets involved in?
AOR has a wide portfolio of products and research isn’t restricted to certain areas. Rather, AOR keeps an open mind about different nutrients and delivery systems. Good quality science is what we focus on: for example, are studies well thought out? Do they have sound methodology that can lead to accurate conclusions?
16. Take us through the development of a product.
It all starts with reading a scientific paper and following up on it. How strong is the science? Is there any human study? How effective is it? What is the safety? What is the mechanism of action and so on. Then, we follow up by looking into the paper in more detail, examining the materials and method section, and contacting the researcher if possible. If all the above are positive we pitch the idea to marketing who will do their due diligence, including costing, positioning, education, etc. Then we proceed with sourcing of raw materials and registration of the product.
17. Of the supplements you take what is your favorite?
I take too many to choose!
18. Which of AOR’s achievements in the last 25 years are you most proud of?
I would say our new product introductions. AOR works hard to stay ahead of the industry. I would also say that AOR has never supported any products that lack science and good clinical data. Importantly, AOR has never jumped on the bandwagon where fads were concerned, such as coral calcium, or the many weight loss ingredients such as red raspberry ketones.
19. Can you give us any insight into what AOR is working on in the future?
The next step is for AOR to introduce patented ingredients that we have developed from our work with various researchers, and these will be another first in the world; such as PPH, a pea protein peptide that has a unique mechanism of action in reducing blood pressure by inhibiting an enzyme called renin. Also new delivery systems like colonic release for ingredients like boswellia, curcumin, butyrates and probiotics.
20. What do you wish more people knew about in the natural health product industry?
First, that it is a regulated industry, which is a good thing as it raises the quality and effectiveness of products on the market.
Second, companies like AOR follow strict almost pharmaceutical-type quality control measures and good manufacturing practices. Gone are the days when you mixed ingredients at random and packed as many different ingredients in each capsule as possible. Now the whole manufacturing process requires “quality by design” thinking.
Third, there is plenty of very good science showing many products are highly effective and safe. Curcumin is probably
the most widely studied natural molecule on the planet. But we must focus on the quality of the studies we are referencing when formulating.
21. What would you like people to know about AOR and its products?
We are an innovative company through and through, in all aspects, not just with regard to new ingredients but also delivery systems, quality control, and personalized customer service.