National Geographic kicked off 2020 with a new iteration of its TV show “Brain Games.” With host Keegan-Michael Key, mentalist Lior Suchard and field correspondent and neuroscientist Cara Santa Maria, the reimagined season challenges A-list celebrities to exercise their brain power. Although the average consumer will not see their own cognitive skills put to the test on cable TV, consumers across every age demographic are noticing the increasing importance of brain health.
“A few years ago, the cognitive health market was dominated by anti-aging supplements marketed toward a select group of consumers,” says Andrew Wheeler, vice president of corporate marketing for FutureCeuticals, Momence, Ill. “Now, people from every stage of life are interested in products with cognitive benefits. And, according to Mintel, each segment has unique needs and goals defined by the demands they face.”
For seniors, those needs include maintaining and improving cognitive function, Wheeler notes.
Katie Ferren, vice president of sales and marketing for Blue California, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., adds that as the baby boomer generation is closer to passing age 65, cognitive impairment related issues are expected to greatly increase. “An estimated 16 million Americans have [mild cognitive impairment] (MCI) and 5.1 million Americans aged 65 years or older may currently have Alzheimer’s disease, the most well-known form of cognitive impairment,” she says. “This number may rise to 13.2 million by 2050. As a result, baby boomers are seeking solutions to help fight mild cognitive decline.”
Along with Alzheimer’s, another cognitive issue is gaining attention: anxiety and stress. “Nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults experienced a cognitive health issue, according to the 2018 Segmentation of the Market for Cognitive Health Supplements report,” Ferren says. “Over half (55 percent) of consumers feel stressed throughout the day, 45 percent worried, and 22 percent angry — the highest level in the past 10 years, according to Gallup’s 2019 Global Emotions Report.”
Steve Fink, vice president of marketing for PLT Health Solutions, notes this is among factors that motivated the Morristown, N.J.-based ingredient supplier to help reach underserved consumers when it comes to cognitive health.
“At PLT Health Solutions, recently we have been focusing on what we consider to be an underserved demographic — the 18-54 age range,” he says. “Within this group, we see intense interest in issues such as ‘peak performance,’ ‘well-being’ and ‘quality of life.’ The market opportunity with this group is massive. Peak performers, including knowledge workers and students, make up 40 percent of the U.S. population and are growing.
“Stress affects 75 million people in this group and the effect of stress on other aspects of cognitive function is significant,” Fink continues. “Similarly, the impact of cognitive performance on other aspects of life is becoming better understood by this demographic — as evidenced by the introduction of ingredients to improve mental performance in exercise via sports nutrition products and as a means of easier weight management.”
Although the need for cognitive health support spans all age demographics, research shows that consumers are seeking solutions from natural sources.
“There has been a greater focus on holistic support to help improve cognitive health issues such as mild cognitive impairment,” Blue California’s Ferren says. “For example, regular physical exercise has known benefits to help prevent or slow cognitive decline. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is another heart-healthy choice that also may help protect cognitive health. Intellectual stimulation may prevent cognitive decline. Studies have shown that computer use, playing games, reading books and other intellectual activities may help preserve function and prevent cognitive decline. Social engagement may make life more satisfying, help preserve mental function and slow mental decline.”
This holistic approach also is benefiting the supplements industry.
“Holistic wellness trends have shaped every part of the supplement market,” FutureCeuticals’ Wheeler says. “Lines have been blurred between categories as consumers have shifted their focus to achieving overall health.
“For example, the sports nutrition and cognitive health categories have melded together as consumers recognize that improving cognitive performance is equally important as improving physical performance,” he continues. “Rising interest in supplements that help consumers relax and optimize their mental performance shapes new product development into a daily regimen focused on multiple areas of mental health solutions.”
Wheeler adds that clean-label trends have helped advance the evolution of the cognitive health market. “The trends favor whole foods and natural ingredients over unfamiliar and ‘unnatural’ sounding alternatives,” he explains. “As consumers continue to find whole food-inspired remedies and alternative medicines, expect to see more ancient herbal and botanical remedies hit the market.
“Consumer interest in botanical ingredients and ancient herbal remedies has prompted more product launches containing rediscovered botanicals,” Wheeler continues. “The product benefits range from stress relief to improved mood, focus and overall cognitive support.”
To support consumer interest in botanicals and the like, FutureCeuticals offers NeuroFactor, a botanical derived from whole coffee fruit that has been clinically shown to increase levels of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a key neuroprotein known to be vital for learning, memory and higher thinking, Wheeler adds.
PLT Health’s Fink also highlights the influence that natural trends have had on the market, pinpointing the use of origin stories when it comes to marketing to consumers.
“People want to know that an ingredient is natural, traceable, sustainable and is produced via Fair Trade,” Fink says. “For example, all raw plant material used in the production of Zembrin Sceletium tortuosum, cultivated from a proprietary selection of non-GMO Sceletium sp. Sceletium sp., is a protected species and wild harvesting is not sustainable for commercial products. Zembrin is produced only from cultivated plant material to avoid depleting threatened wild plant stocks, and to ensure consistent product quality.”
Zembrin is PLT Health’s studied extract Sceletium tortuosum that has been found to support calmness, enhance mood and improve cognitive function, Fink explains. When it comes to cognitive health, the company also offers Zynamite, a Mangifera indica extract that promotes mental energy and improves peak power output and mean power output in fatigued and exhausted subjects, he adds.
To support fortification with cognitive-enhancing ingredients, ingredient suppliers are investing in the research to showcase the benefits that can be realized by consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers and ultimately, consumers.
“There has been an increase in beverage-makers offering functional foods to help support cognitive health, especially related to stress,” Ferren says. “Blue California co-sponsored a clinical study with a beverage company to validate the efficacy of L-Tea Active L-Theanine in its beverage on mood responses to a cognitive stressor.
“Using a double-blind, placebo-controlled, balanced crossover design, the primary outcome measure, subjective stress response to a cognitive stressor, was found to be significantly reduced one hour after administration of the active nutrient drink containing 200 mg of L-Theanine when compared to placebo,” she continues. “Analysis of salivary cortisol, the primary hormone product of the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal axis (HPA axis) secreted in response to a stressor, revealed significantly decreased salivary cortisol response to the stressor three hours post-dose.”
In 2019, New York-based Kyowa Hakko USA also released research completed at Tohoku University in Japan supporting cognitive improvement when its ingredient Cognizin citicoline was consumed in combination with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Researchers administered a variety of tests on mice that suffered cognitive impairment to determine how citicoline and DHA impact brain activity following cerebral ischemia, the company says.
“DHA is a well-known ingredient that fights free radicals and is an important part of healthy brain development. Clinical studies show Cognizin provides vital nutrients that supports brain function by helping brain communication, maintaining healthy neurons and protecting them from free radicals,” said Danielle Citrolo, registered pharmacist and scientific and regulatory affairs director for Kyowa Hakko USA, in a May 2019 statement. “The study showed that combining the two helped prevent further loss of brain cells and improved cognitive functions often damaged following celebral ishcemia. Pairing Cognizin and DHA bridges good with good or the combo looks like it could have potential synergy and further research would be interesting.”
As more research is dedicated to ingredients’ impact on the brain, suppliers suspect this will open up more opportunities for the cognitive health market. “Research demonstrates that altering the types of bacteria in the gut may make it possible to improve brain function,” FutureCeuticals’ Wheeler says. “More research is needed to determine how prebiotics and probiotics, or ‘psychobiotics,’ may work with the brain-gut axis, but that is an innovative area that will be hot in the coming year.” BI