Cera Products, Established in 1993

November 08, 2019

Cera Products, Established in 1993

Cera Products, Established in 1993 Pioneers in the Research & Development of ORS



This year marks the 20th anniversary of Cera Products.  Charlene Riikonen established Cera Products, Inc. in 1993, and, along with scientific and medical experts from Johns Hopkins University, the Company developed a rice-based ORS called Ceralyte by 1996.  However, their story began well before this. 

In the early 1960’s, in separate parts of the world, landmark hydration research was emerging.  A hydration formula or ORS needs glucose to help the body absorb sodium when stressed. This stress could be from diarrhea, exercise, or severe dehydration.  Too much glucose in the form of simple sugar will cause diarrhea or make diarrhea worse. 

In Florida, Dr. Robert Cade was approached by a coach from the Florida Gators football team about the extreme dehydration faced by the football players. The result, Gatorade was developed, the Florida Gators won their first Orange Bowl and the sports drink industry was on its way to becoming a multibillion-dollar industry.

At the same time in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Egypt, millions of people were dying from infectious diarrhea.  Intravenous fluid therapy was considered standard treatment but IV therapy is costly and requires specialized equipment and trained personnel. A number of investigators to include Dr. Norbert Hirschhorn and a team of physicians from Johns Hopkins developed Oral Rehydration Therapy, coined as “the most important advance in this century”. This simple formula of glucose and salt resulted in millions of lives saved at a significant costs savings.  

Sweat and diarrhea have a lot in common.  Both result in abnormal losses of sodium, chloride and potassium. Both, when losses are extreme, require specialized formulas to replenish without causing gastrointestinal upset. Both, if left untreated can result in death.

In the eighties, Cera founder Charlene Riikonen saw first-hand in Bangladesh the effects of devastating dehydration. Cholera outbreaks were causing suffering and death at a massive scale. Wanting to make a difference, she accepted a position working to raise funds for research at the International Centre for Diarrheal Disease Research (ICDDRB) in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

 Riikonen and the ICDDRB doctors were attempting to stop the widespread death and malnourishment caused by the severe dehydration. By implementing the Epidemic Control Preparedness Program, an innovative teaching and training program developed by Riikonen, they introduced ORS to the local villages throughout Bangladesh in collaboration with the Bangladesh Ministry of Health. Working with future company partners, Drs. W. B. Greenough and David Sack, Riikonen took advice from other preeminent pioneers of the ORS movement, including Drs. Norbert Hirschhorn, Richard Cash, David Nalin, Charles C. J. Carpenter, R. Bradley Sack, Nathaniel Carpenter, James Taylor and Dimon Barua.

In the early 1980’s, Dr. Majid Molla conducted research trials on various complex carbohydrate sources in place of sugar. These grains include wheat, corn, sorghum, and rice.  Riikonen, along with Dr. Sack and Dr. Greenough were very much aware of Dr. Molla’s research. Rice is a glucose polymer so it is a long chain of glucose with a low osmolality.  Rice was proven to be far superior in terms of stability, availability and tolerance.  A rice-based ORS decreased diarrhea by 30%. Riikonen and her team spent three years developing and perfecting the Ceralyte® rice-based ORS formula where 100% of the carbohydrate come from rice.

Riikonen established Cera Products, Inc. in 1993, and, along with scientific and medical experts, the Company developed their own patented rice-based ORS called Ceralyte in 1996.  The first customers being Johns Hopkins and Mayo Clinic patients.  By 1999, Ceralyte ORS was being used by the military in test efforts and it was also being used in disaster relief efforts.

CeraLyte-50 was developed to use for mild diarrhea and traveler's diarrhea, as well as for someone transitioning off Ceralyte-70. Pretty soon, Ceralyte-50 and 70 were being used widely in travel clinics across the USA. 

The company developed Ceralyte-50 potassium-free in response to requests by physicians caring for transplant donors and recipients, patients with renal issues, and for patients who needed an ORS but who were taking medications which had significant potassium.

Individuals from Ft. Detrick who were part of the Joint Deployment Medical Formulary team heard about Ceralyte and invited Riikonen to Ft. Detrick to present on her formula.  Fort Detrick staff were impressed by this simple yet most highly effective ORS formula and sent a request to the Defense Department to have Ceralyte assigned National stock numbers. By 1999, Ceralyte was on the Joint Deployment Formulary.  Around this time, the Cera team finished the formulations for Cerasport® to prevent dehydration from sweat loss and, at the same time, to help with performance.  It was introduced to the military a few years later, after it was tested by triathletes and high-performance athletes engaged in marathons and cycling.

In 2004, Cerasport was introduced into Ranger School and Airborne School.  They had a spike in heat injuries, and a death intensified their mission to get a better hydration source during these highly rigorous training exercises.  The individuals who were at Ft. Detrick when Riikonen first introduced Ceralyte were at Ft. Benning and mentioned it to leadership. Cerasport was put on the Class 1 catalog and available for procurement.  By 2005 Cerasport was put on the Supplemental Nutrition Memo for elite units. In 2005 the Air Force Surgeon General testified before congress on the effectiveness of Ceralyte-70 in treating dehydration in Iraq and mandated all Individual First Aid Kits (IFAK) and Flight Jackets carry Ceralyte-70. 

In 2005 the company developed a product for animals called CeraVet®. CeraVet has been tested in horses, dogs, cats, monkeys, pigs and exotic birds, such as Toucans and parrots.  Cera Products received an award from The Humane Society of the United States for helping save animals during the Hurricane Katrina disaster.  

Cerasport EX1® was developed in 2008.  This formula was the result of feedback from a combat medic from an Asymmetric Warfare Group. They were using Ceralyte-70® to prevent dehydration by diluting it half strength. When the Cera team got that feedback, they made the EX1 formula which has half the concentration of the Ceralyte-70 with added natural flavors.

The most recent formulas added to the Cera Catalog are Cerasport Plus® and Cerasport Endurance®, both available spring 2019. The Cerasport Plus was in response to the military’s request for a formula with more carbohydrate than the Cerasport.  The Cerasport Endurance was in response to our customers who do a lot of endurance sporting events such as marathons, long distance triathlons, long distance mountain biking, and adventure racing, events that easily exceed 5 hours. Cerasport Endurance has higher carbohydrate like the Cerasport Plus, with more electrolytes than Cerasport and Cerasport Plus and added whey protein. 

Since 2005, Cera Products has donated product through Direct Relief to over 15 different humanitarian missions throughout the world. This includes Ebola and Cholera outbreaks, hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis.

Throughout their 25+ years in business, Cera products has kept the same basic formula and philosophy. Cera Products were designed according to these principles: maximum utilization of the glucose mediated absorption of sodium and water, low osmolality, proper electrolyte concentration to maintain electrolyte balance for either sweat replacement (Cerasport or EX1) or for diarrhea and dehydration (Ceralyte). The products do not include artificial colors, artificial sweeteners or fructose as these ingredients would lower the quality of the product. The products only contain ingredients that contribute to hydration. Cera has been Certified Gluten Free by the National Celiac Association for over 10 years.

The Company is a woman-owned and operated small business, includes disabled veteran staff, and is supported by a team of physicians from major medical institutions including Johns Hopkins, plus a retired Army Physician Assistant and a retired Army Sports Dietitian. Cera Products are proudly made in the USA. Initially established in Maryland, its headquarters are now in Hilton Head Island, SC, with offices in Columbus, GA, and operations in Maryland, plus warehouses in other states.  Cera exports to Canada, Central America, and South Africa. 

Use rice in your sports drink, save the sugar for your cookies.


©Copyright 2019   Cera Products, Inc.  88 Main Street, Suite D1, Hilton Head Island, SC 29926 USA    

Tel: 843.842.2600  Toll Free: 866.237.2598   Fax: 843.842.2601 email: customerservice@ceraproductsinc.com 

website: www.ceraproductsinc.com

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