Nutritional Keys to Mentally Sharper & Stress-Free!

The latest science and trends in the cognitive health space.

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Stressed, tired, foggy, and forgetful–that’s not how we want to spend our days. And increasingly, people are taking action to optimize their cognitive health.

“Market research shows interest in cognitive health has grown steadily over the last decade,” says Sébastien Bornet, VP Global Sales & Marketing, Horphag Research. “That interest and growth is rooted in being proactive—taking care of your cognitive health earlier in life for better cognitive performance throughout your life.”

Cognitive health is becoming a priority for consumers of all ages.

“Twentysomething consumers are entering the market seeking ways to enhance their academic performance,” Bornet says. “Adults in their 30s, 40s, and 50s often want to manage the impact of stress and improve focus and decision-making in the workplace and at home. Adults in their 60s, 70s, and advanced ages continue to be at the core of the cognitive health market, seeking memory and concentration support.” More consumers are aiming to live their lives on their own terms when they reach advanced age, he adds. “The anxiety of the pandemic and the long-awaited conversation on mental health is further fueling interest and market growth of cognitive support supplements.”

Offering more data, Hank Cheatham, VP, Daiwa Health Development, says the global brain health supplements market size is expected to expand at a CAGR of 8% from 2021 to 2028. “The growing number of promotional activities, rising self-directed users, and increasing willingness to improve brain functions, are positively impacting the growth of the market,” he says. “These supplements help improve consumers’ memory, focus, mood, sleep, creativity, relaxation, and other brain functions. Moreover, the easy availability of these OTC products in both brick and mortar retail outlets and online stores is boosting sales.”

5 Factors Driving Growth in Cognitive Market

Demanding, stressful days:

“A piece of the puzzle is the increasingly complex modern world of work and play that places more demands on our brain functions,” says Neil Edward Levin, CCN, DANLA, Senior Nutrition Education Manager, NOW. “Younger adults—especially IT workers, students, and gamers—also place a value on their ability to function in demanding environments requiring technical skills and multitasking. And the pandemic caused many people to work remotely, which continues for many people, reducing their ability to efficiently interact with colleagues, IT departments, customers, friends and family, and creating more mental stress.”

David Winston RH(AHG), Founder and President, Herbalist & Alchemist, adds to that: “The gaming community were early adopters in the cognitive support category, but interest has grown far beyond that population. Stress is known to impact the ability to focus and ‘think straight,’ and it’s hard to imagine a more stressful time than we’ve all gone through the last few years. So consumers are seeking brain support to help improve their focus, memory and cognitive function.”

All the multitasking we do these days is another factor, says Matt Ruggiero, Marketing Manager, Nutrition21. “That requires several corners of the brain to be functioning like a well-oiled machine. Some of the top contenders for brain health products are younger generations, including students, those who work long hours, and new moms and dads. Middle-aged adults, too, are actively seeking out solutions that will help them keep their heads above water.”

No doubt, we live in an increasingly fast paced, competitive world, and people want an advantage. “If your brain is firing on all cylinders, you can perform better in every aspect of life,” notes Tony Shields/CEO and Founder/FreshCap. “Whether it is to gain an edge at work or school or stave off cognitive decline, keeping your cognitive health at peak performance has never been easier or more important.”

Unsettling world events:

“The increase in stress from global uncertainties and the pandemic have contributed to more than the usual concerns with cognition,” says David J. Foreman, The Herbal Pharmacist. Also pointing to reverberations of the pandemic, Brian Keenan, ND, LAc, Education Manager, Ayush Herbs Inc., adds, “Many people’s lives switched to being near fully online, information and discourse were everywhere, and fear gripped the world. These all have lasting impacts on our cognitive capacities and adrenal glands. Children in particular struggled with the move to online learning. We saw a huge request for how to help kids stay focused, stay calm, all while supporting their development.”

Aiming to feel better in the midst of it all is a strong focus for many. “Mental wellbeing is now more important than ever as consumers recognize the link to good mental health with a better quality of life,” says Derek Timm, Ph.D., Technical Sales Director, Taiyo International. “The unease and disruptions of the world over the last few years has led to more people seeking products to help calm their minds.”

COVID brain fog:

“Consumer interest has been growing rapidly due to ‘brain fog’ attributed to COVID-19,” says Foreman. How big of a concern is this? Dr. Qi Jia, Unigen’s CEO and CSO, says COVID brain fog has been a broadly reported side effect of the pandemic, and has increased consumer awareness of the importance of supporting cognitive function. In one survey of participants who recovered from COVID, cognitive dysfunction counts into about 70% ongoing symptoms. At an average of seven months into long COVID, 64% of participants said having COVID affected their mental health; 75% said it affected their work.

In last four years, there has been a 15% drop in the number of North American consumers who were satisfied with their overall cognitive health, and there is a similar global downward trend, says Mrs. Rajat Shah, Director, Nutriventia Limited. “We could assume that the COVID-19 pandemic, which came with increased stress, brain fog as a long-term COVID effect, and longer working hours as individuals worked from home, has played a significant role in consumers’ dissatisfaction with their overall cognitive health.”

Overwhelmed youth:

“The main reason for the growing demand is the general tendency for consumers to look to nutrition to meet a growing range of health need states,” says John Quilter Kerry VP of Global Portfolio – ProActive Health. “This is particularly evident among Millennials and Zoomers, who are exhibiting holistic approaches to wellness and pursuing a range of strategies to improve sleep and mental and emotional health as well as their physical wellbeing.”

Younger generations, notes Rian (Heungsil) Lee, Chief Executive Officer of Korea Ginseng Corporation (KGC) U.S., “are facing increased stress from the past few years of routine disruption caused by the pandemic and are showing added interest in proactive and preventative health and wellness measures. They are asking themselves, ‘What can I do now that will strengthen my cognitive health with benefits for later in life?’ While you can only control so much of your environment, consumers are looking for extra measures to support cognitive function and help reduce the risk of cognitive decline.”

Cheryl Myers, Chief of Scientific Affairs and Education at EuroPharma, Inc., adds, “I think the demographics may be shifting to a younger range for two basic reasons. One, people are more aware of brain issues, including problems with concentration and stress, at much younger ages. And two, people want to be proactive in preserving their cognitive health and well-being for healthier aging. This may be one of the reasons you see so many of those ‘Three Ways to Hack Your Memory’ articles all the time–there’s a real interest in stretching our mental abilities, whatever the ultimate goal: promotion at work, more creativity, or being more mentally ‘on’ to stay out and be more social (especially after these past couple of years!).”

Laurentia Guesman, Business Manager, Food & Supplement Ingredients, AIDP, Inc., also sees stressed younger adults playing a role in the rise in the category. “Historically, cognitive support addressed memory and cognitive decline which appealed to an older audience,” Guesman says. “More recently, the health segment has expanded to maintaining focus and addressing stress and anxiety. The expansion has propelled the category to a broader and younger consumer base. There is also renewed  interest in traditional ingredient solutions as the growth of botanicals and Ayurvedic herbs grow. An emergence of alternative delivery methods, such as beverages, shots, and gummies, has occurred as brands look to differentiate themselves within the space.”

Increased desire to maintain mental wellness:

“We see some consumers reaching retirement age and refusing to go gently into the good night; in other words, part of their motivation is seeing the often-slow mental and physical decline of their elders, which stimulates a strong desire to avoid that same fate,” says Levin. “Brain support products are frequently used by college students, but more broadly by those over age 50 or 60 to retain brain functions and structures. We are notably seeing a rapid escalation of cognitive function products geared toward the growing number of people approaching retirement age, who are becoming highly motivated to maintain optimal brain functions as long as possible, striving to maintain healthy cognitive function and independent living.”

Myers agrees. “One of the major drivers in consumer interest in cognitive health is certainly an aging population, and whether you’re seeing people from the Baby Boomer generation wanting to keep their cognitive powers sharp, or those in Generation X who have noticed their parent’s cognitive challenges, there is a lot of curiosity about how a person can keep their memory, focus, concentration, and recall operating smoothly. There is also a much better understanding of the risk factors of brain diseases that affect cognitive function, such as Alzheimer’s disease and multi-infarct dementia, and the role that nutraceuticals can play in addressing those risk factors.”

Consumers who don’t even have a specific health problem are interested in products that aid mental wellbeing, notes Scott Smith, VP of Taiyo International. “FMCG Gurus research shows that, in 2018, 53% of global consumers stated that they were interested in cognitive health products, although not suffering from specific health problems. In 2021, this increased to 66% of global consumers. This shows a 13% increase over the course of three years, suggesting that a growing number of consumers are becoming more aware of the importance of their mental wellbeing.”

Many consumers look to change their diets to get the benefits, Smith adds. “Consumers are now more likely to be seeking out products that have a direct effect on their cognitive health, allowing them to have that extra boost. FMCG Gurus research shows that 71% of consumers find food and drink products positioned around improving cognitive health appealing…Consumers have dramatically shifted toward proactively tackling health and wellbeing and have dedicated themselves to improving their brain health and overall longevity to improve attention and focus, which has led to higher acceptance of these supplements.”

And people really are more aware of the need for a holistic approach. “Consumers are increasingly aware of the importance of cognitive and brain health in longevity,” says Bobban Subhadra, Ph.D., CEO & Founder, Biom Probiotics. “Traditionally, it was all about brain-boosting supplements. However, with the new research on gut microbiome—your gut good flora with its genetic elements and metabolites—it is obvious that gut flora plays a key role in optimizing cognitive brain health, which we call as microbiota-gut-brain-axis. Specifically, metabolites produced by gut flora, such as short-chain fatty acids play a key role in brain health and also prevent vascular dementia.”

Lifestyle Factors to Safeguard Cognitive Health

“It’s a commonly held misconception that memory loss is inevitable as we grow older,” says Steve Holtby, President & CEO, Soft Gel Technologies, Inc. “There are many different factors that can affect our ability to take in, store and recall information, such as genetics, disease, drugs, general health, and so on. It’s true that many people will appear to have less of an ability to remember things as they get older, but memory loss isn’t inevitable. 

What factors can keep the brain active and in good condition into our twilight years? 

Adopt a brain-healthy lifestyle:

“Recognizing risks and designing your own brain health action plan is really the best bet for delaying the onset of memory loss,” says Holtby. “Learning about the growing links between cardiovascular markers (blood pressure, blood sugar, body weight and BMI, blood cholesterol, C-reactive protein) and brain health is crucial.” He points to a population study from Finland that features a scale that can predict 20-year risk for dementia. “It’s sort of a ‘brain aging speedometer.’ Obesity, smoking, lack of physical activity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol are some of the culprits this study identified, so keeping these under control is imperative.”

Fill up on brain foods:

“As the brain ages, it becomes more prone to inflammation and oxidation, which causes free radical damage to brain cells,” Holtby says. “The cumulative effect of free radical damage in the brain over the years as a result of aging can negatively influence cognitive function. This can result in memory loss. In order to reduce the risk of cognitive decline, one must look to improving lifestyle by adopting healthy habits. Antioxidant-rich foods and/or supplements provide powerful compounds that not only slow oxidation, but also serve as anti-inflammatory agents.” Keenan notes that, while many foods may be useful for cognitive health, “green leafy vegetables in particular are prebiotic, meaning, they help support a normal and healthy gut microbiome. In turn, a healthy microbiome nourishes the entire nervous system.”

A healthy diet also includes coldwater fish such as salmon and tuna, says Steve Holtby, President & CEO, Soft Gel Technologies, Inc. In terms of fats, he adds, “The brain is comprised of 50% to 60% fat. The type of fat one eats alters the fat molecules in the brain, affecting thoughts and feelings. Brain cells need a certain degree of flexibility to function properly.This is accomplished by maintaining a balance of different types of fatty acids in the cell membranes. The goal is to keep the brain cell structures malleable so that communication is enhanced. The particular physical size and shape of individual fatty acid molecules is what gives the brain cell membrane its structural flexibility and fluid-like properties. Normal fatty acids have a natural curve to their molecular shape. When they fit together in vast numbers, enough space still remains so that the membrane has the proper structure it needs to function at its best.” Keenan points to organic nuts and seeds, as well. “These contain healthy omega-3s as well as fiber. Moreover, they may help protect the brain, especially for those who smoke or are otherwise exposed to inflammatory molecules.

Avoid the brain drains:

“The brain is the organ most sensitive to a change in blood glucose levels – too little produces fatigue, confusion, irritability and aggression while too much may result in loss of consciousness,” Holtby says. “Glucose intolerance, gut dysbiosis and mineral and vitamin deficiencies—all of which impact on mental functioning—are also risks associated with a diet containing too much refined sugar. Fast foods and processed foods are full of added sugar; which spikes the body’s blood sugar levels, and hampers the brain’s memory and learning ability.” In addition: “A healthy diet also limits the amount of saturated fats and trans fats, which have been associated with cognitive decline.” And avoid fried foods. “This seems obvious, but it goes back to supplements like fish oil,” says Keenan. “These omega-3 fatty acids are part of the building blocks of our brains. Frying foods wrecks a lot of the value of Omega-3s through oxidation that comes with high heat.

Move more:

“Exercise improves the blood flow to the brain,” Holtby says. “Unfortunately we do tend to become more sedentary as we get older, so give your body and brain a regular workout no matter what age you are.” He adds that exercise is important for stress management. And flex that mental muscle, too: “Use it or lose it’ is apropos here, meaning, learn something new. Read. Do crossword puzzles, join a debate club. Be mentally active.”

Supplements to Support Cognitive Health

Lifestyle strategies are key, and supplements offer a proven assist. “Supplements offering support for stress, anxiety and mood performed particularly well since the pandemic, and we believe this trend and growth will continue,” says Tyler Ris, Vice President of Sales, Bionap USA Inc. Read on for science-backed branded ingredients and formulations that offer proven benefits.

Arginine & inositol:

Nutrition21’s Ruggiero says nooLVL is a patented, non-stimulant nootropic that boosts cognitive performance in gamers. “The Bonded Arginine Silicate in nooLVL is a highly bioavailable, long-lasting form of arginine that increases nitric oxide production and blood flow, allowing for enhanced delivery of oxygen and nutrients to blood flow-sensitive tissues, such as the brain. In addition, the inositol in nooLVL is a potent, cognitive-enhancing nutrient that is vital for the functioning of some neurotransmitters involved in learning and memory. The combination of these ingredients, at a specific ratio, synergistically provides the cognitive benefits gamers are looking for in a nootropic. But nooLVL is certainly relevant beyond the e-sports space, particularly in areas where concentration, reaction time and energy levels are required.” The nootropic is backed by several studies, showing benefits for cognition and mood, and cognitive and executive function.

Ashwagandha:

“Ashwagandha has a long history of traditional medicinal use for stress, and cognitive health,” says Stacey Daigle, Vice President of Marketing, Sales Ops. & Int’l, NutriScience Innovations, LLC. The company offers Shoden, a branded ashwagandha with demonstrated effects on stress reduction through reduced cortisol (Lopresti 2019), and reductions in non-restorative sleep (Deshpande 2020). “The biochemical mechanisms behind ashwagandha have been studied for its GABA mimetic properties (imitates GABA) and cholinergic effects (activates the parasympathetic system by maintaining normal acetylcholinesterase). Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, so it demonstrates phyto-hormonal behaviors and helps to decrease the stress hormone cortisol, helping to improve overall cognitive function. Shoden is dosed at 120 mg for cognitive support, and the benefits can typically be felt in about one week.”

Quilter points to the studied benefit of another branded ingredient: Sensoril, derived from a blend of both the leaves and roots of ashwagandha. “Studied in more than 10 human clinical trials, it can help improve cognitive health, mood and the quality of sleep, among other benefits. In one study, subjects consuming Sensoril showed nearly double the ability to concentrate than a placebo group. It also found that Sensoril decreases overall everyday stress by 62.2% compared to placebo.”

Regarding ashwagandha’s anti-stress effects, Shah says, “A recently published study on 100 healthy volunteers with mild to moderate stress demonstrated that Nutriventia’s sustained-release ashwagandha extract. Prolanza reduced perceived stress and cortisol levels and helped support cognitive function, specifically memory recall and visual accuracy, at a single daily dose of 300mg. Prolanza contains a high concentration of the 10 USP-compliant as well as additionally identified withanolides.”

Bacopa:

Foreman notes that there are several branded bacopa ingredients in the marketplace all with solid science. “One study showed that taking 300mg of BacoMind daily for 12-weeks improved measures of verbal learning, memory and retention. Bacopa may also have neuroprotective effects. In addition, another study done with Bacognize showed improvements in cognitive function when taking just 150mg twice daily for six weeks.”

AIDP offers BacoMind, which Guesman says addresses the need-gap of cognitive wellness across the life cycle from school-age children to seniors. “Bacopa has its origins from ancient wisdom of Ayurvedic science with centuries of traditional usage. It is known to be a flagship botanical within Ayurveda. It is clinically useful for school age children for improving attention and learning. BacoMind is also beneficial to young and middle-aged working adults for improving focus and memory. Most importantly, BacoMind is helpful for senior adults in enhancing their visual and verbal memory, both long and short term and age-related cognitive decline symptoms, enhancing their quality of life.”

Berry-based supplements:

Dr. Jia says evidence shows berry-based supplements and foods have beneficial effects on resting brain perfusion, cognitive function, memory performance, executive functioning, processing speed, and attention indices. “Unigen’s Lasoperin is a bioflavonoid standardized plant extracts from Scutellaria and Acacia for cognitive health. Beyond the well published neuroprotective function from Baicalin and Catechins that are two major active bioflavonoids in Lasoperin, the anti-oxidation and modulations of arachidonic metabolic pathways of bioflavonoids in Lasoperin provide manufacturers with a science-based, clinically proven, patented novel ingredient to expand the product market beyond anecdotal supplements.”

Curcumin: 

Studies on curcumin reveal its role in improving memory, easing depression, and helping brain cells grow, says Shah. “Curcumin protects the brain from oxidative stress and inflammation, and preclinical studies elucidate various action mechanisms, including clearing the brain’s amyloid-beta. TurmXTRA 60N is Nutriventia’s water-dispersible, free-flowing turmeric extract of 60% curcumin supported by bioequivalence and clinical trials demonstrating efficacy at 250mg input.”

Foreman points to a recent study showing that combining iron (Ferrous sulfate) and bioavailable curcumin (HydroCurc) significantly increases Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). “BDNF is like a fertilizer for your brain. BDNF helps the brain develop new connections, repair failing brain cells, and protect healthy brain cells from becoming damaged. When your BDNF levels are high, it is easier to learn new things. When BDNF levels are low, you will have difficulty learning, trouble remembering things, and may have poor mood or mood swings. The increase in BDNF was nearly 35% compared to those just taking iron.”

A curcumin product from Europharma: CuraMed Brain. “The ingredients in this supplement, which include BCM-95 Curcumin, vitamin D3, and concentrated oil extracts of rosemary and sage, reduce inflammation in the brain and help keep neural connections running smoothly,” says Myers. “In experimental models of Alzheimer’s disease, BCM-95 Curcumin reduced beta amyloid levels and shrink the size of accumulated plaques by over 30%. Other studies have shown that curcumin plays a role in regenerating neurons, creating new brain cells, and refreshing cells that may have once been considered irretrievable.”

Another option from NOW: CurcuBrain, which features Longvida Optimized Curcumin. “Longvida is absorbed by the GI tract and delivered to the rest of the body as free curcumin, the active form in the body,” Levin says. He adds that Longvida Optimized Curcumin has statistically significant data from over a dozen studies, including improvement of working memory and attention tasks at a low dose in just 30 days. Also from NOW: Brain Attention with Cera-Q, a silk protein derivative that Levin says can help maintain healthy brain functions in both children 7 and up and adults.

Ginseng:

“The powerful adaptogen has been shown in numerous studies to benefit circulation thus bolstering cognitive function,” says Lee. “A study by the Brain Performance and Nutrition Research Centre at Northumbria University found that Korean Red Ginseng may help improve aspects of working memory performance and calmness in some individuals. A study in Journal of Ginseng Research suggests that when red ginseng is administered over long periods, age-related decline of learning and memory is ameliorated through anti-inflammatory activity. At KGC, we follow an optimal sourcing process, taking two years to condition and prepare each field for planting, allowing each plant to grow for six years in order to reach its optimal state of maturity, and then allowing each field to rest a full 10 years before replanting. This is important for the Korean Red Ginseng root to offer its optimal health benefits.”

Europharma includes HRG80 red ginseng and bioavailable B vitamins in Mental Advantage. In a clinical study, HRG80 helped restore mental focus and physical vitality to individuals reporting anxiety, exhaustion, brain fog, and an inability to concentrate due to already-existing fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and post-viral fatigue, Myers says. “The results were impressive. Among the 60% of participants who noted improvements, four major categories stand out: a 67% average boost in energy, a 48% average increase in mental clarity, 46% average improvement in restful sleep, and a 72% increase in stamina.”

Grapes:

“One ingredient derived from Sicilian red grapes is Cognigrape, which provides anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins,” says Ris. “It has been studied to improve cognitive function and brain health. A clinical study with Cognigrape showed improved cognitive function related to attention, language, immediate and delayed memory. It was also able to help the mood status in healthy older individuals. These benefits are being confirmed in an additional study with a younger population.”

Green oat extract:

Nootropics are desirable for gamers looking to improve speed of performance and visual acuity, Trevor Wagner, Global Health Category Manager, IFF Health, says. “With the rapid growth in the e-gaming industry—26.6 million monthly e-sports viewers in 2021, a 11.4% increase from 2020—savvy brand owners can consider prioritizing e-gaming supplements. Neuravena, our proprietary green oat extract, has been shown to support improved mental processing and resilience to mental fatigue. For those looking to address mental fatigue, reaction times and performance, Neuravena is highly marketable. In addition to e-gamers, college students would benefit from enhanced focus, to excel in the classroom. But honestly, in this fast-paced world, a natural brain boost is appealing to all. With a fast-acting ingredient, such as Neuravena, e-sport enthusiasts, students, and general consumers alike can benefit from an increased speed of sustained performance in cognitive tasks.”

Lion’s mane:

“First things first, you need to have the basics covered,” says Shields. “There is no better nootropic than proper sleep, adequate water intake, and a balanced diet. But for those of us looking for an edge, especially as we age, there are other things we can do, like using effective supplements. One of these is lion’s mane mushroom, a safe-yet-powerful natural brain booster.” Shields notes that lion’s mane can significantly  improve cognitive functions and prevent deterioration and improve mild cognitive impairment.

Lion’s mane has a long history of use by traditional herbalists in Asia, Levin adds. “Recent scientific research suggests that certain constituents in lion’s mane may support brain and neuronal health, such as maintaining normal levels of a nerve growth factor (NGF), prolonging nervous system activities, and reducing the levels of stress markers already within the normal range,” he says. “NOW Lion’s Mane is made with certified organic lion’s mane fruiting bodies (mushrooms, not mycelium), which have naturally occurring beta-glucans, encapsulated in a base of organic inulin powder.”

L-theanine:

“Suntheanine is by far the most studied form of L-theanine, which is an amino acid that is commonly found in green tea,” says Timm. “L-theanine directly impacts the brain by crossing the blood brain barrier and interacting with the GABA receptors. This results in a shift in brain activity to an alpha-wave pattern, which results in a wide range of benefits. The branded L-theanine Suntheanine has specifically been shown to help relaxation (Kobayashi, 1998), focus (Nobre, 2008), stress reduction (Unno, 2013) and enhancement of cognitive performance (Hidese, 2019). In addition, its been shown to enhance working memory and reaction time in older adults (Baba, 2021). Overall, the wide-ranging cognitive effects of Suntheanine can be experienced within 30 to 60 minutes and last for several hours.”

Lutein and zeaxanthin:

“While lutein and zeaxanthin have long been associated with eye health, more recent studies have been undertaken to examine the effects of lutein and zeaxanthin on brain health,” says Dr. Lelah. “In 2017, a large-scale longitudinal study found that plasma levels of lutein and zeaxanthin are associated with improved cognitive function in adults. They found that supplemented patients experienced significant increases in brain blood flow in areas of the brain vital to cognition and memory. No such activation was seen in those regions in the placebo group. Other studies on lutein and zeaxanthin supplementation and cognitive function have followed. These studies have demonstrated the effects of lutein and zeaxanthin supplementation as producing a ‘brain maintenance effect’ by shielding against the impact of aging on cognitive performance and enhancing brain blood flow in the specific areas that support cognitive function. With lutein and zeaxanthin being an in-demand cognitive health ingredient, there is also growing interest in organic and cleaner label ingredients delivering cognitive benefits, like XanMax Organic Lutein. This first-of-its-kind, USDA Organic Certified lutein ingredient delivers all of the benefits of lutein and zeaxanthin in a clean label, organic certified format, creating many new and exciting opportunities for brands.”

Magnesium:

“Our core ingredient is Magtein (Magnesium L-threonate), a highly bioavailable patented magnesium compound with strong evidence supporting cognitive function and overall brain health,” says Guesman. “Magtein has several published studies in highly regarded journals reporting its mechanism of action and cognitive function benefits. Our most recently published study highlights the benefits of Magtein for stress and anxiety. With this new study and others ongoing, this highly successful ingredient is moving into the broader cognitive market. One of our most exciting brand launches recently includes Magtein in the mood line of Recess functional sparkling waters.”

Microbiome supporters:

“Over the last five years, brands around the world launched more than 8,500 new supplements to manage mood, stress, or anxiety,” says Wagner. “Among those offerings, 333 were probiotic-based, a niche market segment that saw 34% growth during that time period. This consumer demand—accompanied by a growing knowledge of the gut microbiome’s impact on cognitive health—has positively affected the probiotics market, and for good reason. Research continues to emerge on the gut-brain connection and how bolstering healthy gut microbiota can introduce various cognitive health benefits.”

To address brain health concerns, IFF introduced HOWARU Calm, which Wagner says promotes a reduction in perceived stress. “This product contains Lacticaseibacillus paracasei Lpc-37, a probiotic strain that has been demonstrated in a clinical trial to significantly decrease perceived stress, compared to the placebo, from baseline to end-of-study. Not only can HOWARU Calm help adults manage their psychological response to stress, but it also promotes a balanced mood, relaxed state of mind and supports overall mental well-being.”

With emerging science on the gut microbiome’s impacts on cognition, Subhadra says a balanced diet featuring fresh produce with a variety of superfoods, including blueberry, pomegranate, and broccoli, is key. “The more diversified the diet, the more diversified your gut flora, which is key to a healthy microbiome. Including fermented products and taking specific nootropics dietary supplements such as resveratrol, nicotinamide mononucleotide, citicoline, and urolithin, work synergistically with good flora to produce key metabolites that complement cognitive health. At Biom Probiotics, we are focused on combining products with these nootropic ingredients with probiotics and prebiotics to develop optimal brain-stimulating supplements. In a study conducted among healthy young adults, the abundance of a gut bacterial community was associated with fluid intelligence scores and cognitive enhancement. This study suggests that cognitive performance may potentially benefit from gut microbiome-based intervention. With the increasing aging population with a higher incidence of Alzheimer’s and other memory diseases, there is no doubt that the gut microbiome will be a crucial component in optimizing cognitive function and longevity.”

Nootropics formulations:

Winston notes the benefits of assorted herbal nootropics and adaptogens. “People are interested in safe, effective products that enhance memory, concentration, focus and cerebral function,” he says. “In Ayurveda, herbs that can do this are known as medhya rasayana’s, and in western herbal practice they are known cerebral tonics or nootropics. These herbs promote cerebral circulation, inhibit natural neuroinflammatory response, have neuroprotective activity, and enhance memory and cognitive function. Commonly used herbs in this category include ginkgo, bacopa, blueberries, gotu kola, holy basil, lavender, lemon balm, rosemary, sage, and white peony. Some adaptogens such as rhodiola, Asian ginseng, holy basil and schisandra have also shown the ability to improve neurological function. One of the actions that defines an adaptogen is its ability to up-regulate molecular chaperones such as heat shock proteins, forkhead proteins (FOXO), and Neuropeptide Y (NPY). These compounds help to protect against the damaging effects of stress, including mitochondrial dysfunction, stress-
induced cognitive dysfunction (brain fog), anxiety, depression, and neuro-inflammation.” Winston has several targeted products, including David Winston’s Clarity Compound, David Winston’s Focus Formula, and David Winston’s Daily Adapt.

Regarding sage, Foreman says, “One study showed a significant improvement in cognitive performance within one hour of treatment. This included the improvement of secondary memory, recognition, and recall, accuracy, and speed of attention.”

Omegas:

“We know from numerous studies that omega-3 fatty acids like EPA and DHA are essential nutrients for the development of the growing fetus, infant, and child,” says Beate Opstad Thy, Customer Service Manager at GC Rieber VivoMega. “In particular, DHA is a critical building block of the brain, retina, and nervous system. Throughout the last decade, there have also been several studies on the cognitive health of the senior population and looking at how we can maintain and support brain health in the later stages of life…The research so far has found a positive effect with omega-3s high in DHA for cognitive health throughout life, from fetus to senior.”

Along with research exploring the role of DHA in neurodevelopment, Quilter says there is evidence for DHA’s role in mood and sleep. “Eupoly-3 is a natural source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. It offers a new approach to brain development, and has exceptional technological and organoleptic properties.”

Opstad Thy notes that, according to GOED, adults should get 250 to 500mg daily of EPH and DHA omega-3s. A healthy diet is key, but “if you know that you’re not getting enough fatty fish in your diet, supplements of omega-3s rich in EPA and DHA are an excellent choice. These two long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are essential to develop and function optimally in every stage of life. In fact, there have been more than 40,000 studies showing the health benefits associated with EPA and DHA. Because the human body cannot produce adequate amounts of these healthy fats, fatty fish and fish oil supplementation are recommended to aid a healthy nutritional intake.”

SGTI has an offering that is neutral in taste and contaminant-free, says Steve Holtby, President & CEO, Soft Gel Technologies, Inc. (SGTI). “EZ Mega 3 offers the optimal solution of providing omega-3 essential polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). Many EPA and DHA products are unstable against oxidation and taste unpleasant. Typical omega-3 oils have a fishy aftertaste, cause reflux (burping) and often come in large, hard-to-swallow capsules. EZ Mega 3 softgels contain fish oil concentrate with no burp, no taste, no smell!”

Myers adds that Europharma offers Vectomega, which provides DHA, EPA, bound to phospholipids and delivers peptides that help reduce anxiety.

Phosphatidylserine (PS):

For those looking to prevent cognitive decline, Wagner points to Sharp-PS, or phosphatidylserine (PS). “A natural building block of our tissues, found in every cell membrane, PS has been shown to play a crucial role in the brain’s structure and function, as well as in muscles and other tissues. Sharp-PS helps to support cognition, lower cortisol levels during moderate intensity exercise for men, and is clinically demonstrated to aid elderly cognitive decline. Plus, combining HOWARU Calm with soy phosphatidylserine, Sharp-PS, can maximize the end-product benefit with cognitive enhancing properties. Given Sharp-PS’s brain health benefits, we thought that this ingredient would pair well with HOWARU Calm. Though we researched a variety of ingredients, Sharp-PS was ultimately identified as an excellent candidate for probiotic combination, due to its naturally low moisture content and low probability of negative interactions with the probiotic. After testing formulas under different storage conditions and delivery formats, we confirmed that stress-reducing Lpc-37 can successfully be combined with memory-boosting Sharp-PS.”

Holtby notes that, available only from SGTI, Smart PS finished dosage soft gels feature an exclusive fluid dispersion phosphatidylserine material that has significantly enhanced stability for maximum brain benefits. The company offers both soy-based PS and a non-soy option from sunflower.

And from AIDP comes CogniPLUS, a proprietary branded complex of phospholipids including phosphatidylserine and phosphatidic acid with manufacturing and use patents as well as several human clinical studies focused on stress, memory, mood, and PMS symptoms. “CogniPLUS’s patented water extraction technology is solvent free, allowing for a clean label claim,” says Guesman. “CogniPLUS is supported by two human clinical studies for cognitive support. Participants recorded higher memory, learning, association, and information gathering scores after three months and an improved quality of life.”

Plasmalogen:

Daiwa Health Development recently introduced Daiwa Brain Health into the U.S. market, says Cheatham. “The active ingredient in this dietary supplement is Hokkaido Scallop Oil Plasmalogen (HSOP), an innovative, natural source of plasmalogen, which is stored in the brain for memory and cognitive function.” Plasmalogens are a type of phospholipid present in almost all human tissues, and most abundant in the brain and heart. They are essential for their role in memory, focus, and other cognitive functions. Cheatham says a multicenter, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial suggests that oral administration of scallop-derived purified plasmalogens may enhance cognitive function and promote memory loss inhibition.

Pycnogenol:

“Our flagship ingredient, Pycnogenol, has been the subject of numerous studies for cognitive support over the last several years,” says Bornet. “Pycnogenol helps endothelial cells produce more nitric oxide (NO), which has multiple beneficial effects on brain function. Pycnogenol’s benefits are backed by 40+ years of independent, peer-reviewed research, making it one of the most well-researched ingredients available on the market. Its powerful antioxidant effects and circulatory benefits have been shown to be safe and effective to support brain function for all ages.” For those over 55, he points to a 2018 study that found Pycnogenol improves symptoms of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), a potential risk factor for dementia and other degenerative cognitive conditions. In 2015, a study found Pycnogenol to improve attention span, decision making, memory and overall cognitive function for Baby Boomers. And for those 35-55, a study published in 2015 found Pycnogenol helps improve overall cognitive function in the workplace, including mental performance, sustained attention, and mood. For those under 35, Pycnogenol was found to improve memory and test scores in college students in a a study in 2011.

Coenzyme Q10:

“To differentiate an antioxidant from a similar one already on the market, one needs to pay more attention to improvement in its health benefit, such as better delivery system, its manufacturing process (preferably no solvent), and its price,” says Holtby. “SGTI offers a wide range of antioxidants available in a soft gelatin capsule delivery system, including green tea extracts, lycopene, alpha-lipoic acid, and CoQ10. CoQsol is an all-natural, enhanced absorption, soft gel formulation of CoQ10 that includes other valuable antioxidant ingredients, such as natural beta carotene and mixed tocopherols. CoQsol-CF is a crystal-free soft gel formulation of CoQ10. CoQsol-CF is a completely solubilized form of CoQ10 in a proprietary matrix. Using Soft Gel’s crystal-free (CF) technology, CoQH-CF was created. This unique soft gel delivery system with Kaneka QH allows individuals who are unable to process CoQ10 effectively on their own (primarily Baby Boomers and those with disorders of elevated oxidative stress) to increase plasma levels of CoQ10 in its reduced form. Ubiquinol from the supplement is readily available to enter the energy production process. CoQH-CF soft gels contain a liquid inner fill of Kaneka QH, alpha lipoic acid, d-limonene, and capric and caprylic acid. This solution protects the Kaneka QH material from oxidation and crystallization.”

Vitamin D:

“SGTI supplies several potencies of vitamin D,” says Hotlby. “There are several risk factors for the development of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, and an increasing number of studies link these risk factors with vitamin D deficiency. There is also laboratory evidence for the role of vitamin D in neuroprotection and reducing inflammation, and ample biological evidence to suggest an important role for vitamin D in brain development and function.”

Myers notes that a clinical study published in Neurology tracked adult volunteers aged 65 and older for six years, monitored their vitamin D levels, and assessed their elevated risks to cognition. At the end of the study, even moderate deficiencies in vitamin D increased the risk of dementia to 53% and Alzheimer disease to 69%. This was for those who are only moderately deficient, Myers notes. For anyone with severe deficiencies, the risk of dementia was 125%, and the risk of Alzheimer’s was 122%. Vitamin D, she stresses, is absolutely essential for the brain.

The Last Word: Smart Strategies

“We should help consumers become more informed,” says Holtby. “There are many ways to feed the brain. Choosing the right foods to eat will certainly maximize brainpower. The message commonly held by consumers that brain cells just naturally die as you get older and that memory loss, dementia, and senility are natural to getting old needs to be debunked. Becoming more nutritionally conscious and paying attention to what you eat will certainly help to keep your brain functioning at optimal levels throughout your lifetime. We feel it is truly never too early for any healthy individual to be proactive and protective of his or her health. Parents can and should guide their children to eating healthy, staying active physically and mentally, and encouraging them to treat their bodies and minds with respect. Developing good habits while young will help set the stage for a long and happy life. Products should be launched that focus on brain-support benefits, as people respond more favorably and openly to positive claims such as, ‘improvement in problem solving ability’ and ‘enjoy clearer memory.’”

For a deeper dive, read expanded coverage on www.WholeFoodsMagazine.com, and join us at the Naturally Informed virtual event Stress and Mental Wellness: Mastering the Market, this September 20-22. Visit www.NaturallyInformed.net to register. WF