Consumers Look To Food For Brain Health

April 5, 2008
Consumer quest for preserving brain health is propelling awareness of ingredients to maintain or improve cognitive function.

Consumers increasingly are hungry for foods and beverages that promise to boost cognitive abilities. Better known as “smart foods,” “cognitive boosters” and “brain enhancers,” but technically referred to as “nootropics,” they increase the brain’s supply of neurochemicals by either enhancing oxygen supply to the brain or by stimulating nerve growth.

This emerging trend in the functional food sector offers immense opportunities for strong niche brands founded on good science and will undoubtedly bloom as high-paced lifestyles and stress continue to drive demand.

Concentrate … on the web

Find out more about ingredients that help you concentrate, focus and think better. The search term “memory” will get you 81 well-focused hits on “Cognition” will bring you 62 more.

Ingredients at the forefront of brain research are advancing food and beverage applications to nourish the brain and stimulate, enhance, extend or relax mental functions. New findings indicate that decline in cognitive function and memory loss, once thought to be irreversible and the bane of aging, aren’t necessarily inevitable or irreversible and may be prevented by health-promoting nutrition. The food industry is accelerating development of products to help boost brainpower, slow the aging of the brain and stave off dementia.
Nerve cells rely on neurotransmitters to convey information between them. An inadequate amount of any neurotransmitter can cause a breakdown in the transmission process and result in loss of mental and neural abilities. With aging, certain neurotransmitters decline along with diminishing cognitive abilities, including learning, memory and the ability to focus and execute functions such as planning, thinking, decision-making and problem solving.
A number of factors contribute to the risk of neurodegeneration and cognitive decline. Aging is the primary reason. Given the predominance of baby boomers, it is no surprise securing proper cognitive function has become important for consumers today.

Cause and effect
Coffee, tea or mate?

Caffeine continues to be the top choice to boost alertness and cognitive abilities. Propel Fitness Water, Chicago, launched Propel Invigorating Water in strawberry, citrus and berry flavors for consumers seeking caffeinated, low-calorie beverages. Each 20-oz. bottle contains the same amount of caffeine as a cup of tea (50mg), but also vitamins B6, niacin and pantothenic acid to help boost energy. But the fast-acting stimulant caffeine also is associated with rapid energy crashes and jitteriness.
Beverages from Boulder, Colo.-based Pixie Mate use the South American herb yerba maté to provide sustained energy boost without the jitteriness associated with caffeine.

The environment contributes to chronic stress and cognitive decline. Genetic makeup and lifestyle, including diet and activity, also play important roles. Deficiencies in nutrients essential to brain function and vitality influence cognitive decline. But lifestyle and diet reform can substantially slow the rate of decline. Another issue is the number of neural conditions plaguing society today. The National Institute of Aging (NIA) estimates 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the most common form of neurodegenerative dementia. The disease generally commences after age 60; older people are at greater risk. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a syndrome characterized by inability to focus, restlessness and frequent mood swings, affects 3.5 million children in the U.S. ADHD is becoming a leading cause of school failure, under-achievement and behavioral difficulties. The third most common neurodegenerative disorder is Parkinson’s disease (PD) which, according to the NIA, affects more than 1 million people in the U.S. older than 50. Inflammation is believed the likely cause of neurodegenerative conditions and loss of mental ability. Inflammation of blood vessels to the brain leads to plaque and hardened arteries (atherosclerosis) and a sequential shutdown of brain functions. Today’s obesity epidemic means more people are facing conditions like atherosclerosis at younger ages, with onset as early as 10 years of age. Mounting evidence shows certain foods and nutrients can prevent inflammation and help delay the onset of brain health issues.

From pharm to table
Caffeine, the classic energy ingredient, is being re-evaluated as an enhancer of memory and focus.”

Savvy companies are creating products that straddle the beverage and dietary supplement zones and beckon target audiences effectively with key messages about brain health such as alertness and concentration. A number of foods and nutrients have emerged as critical for brain foods. The functionality of the ingredients plays a key role to their placement within the category. Pharmaceutical companies have been developing targeted solutions to brain and neural issues for decades. More recently, the research community has begun to pay attention to foods and supplements as a viable   and possibly safer   solution. A number of clinical trials are under way to explore the merits of phytonutrients and botanicals in delaying or even preventing these debilitating conditions. Antioxidants can protect brain cells from the damage caused by free radicals – breakdown products from foods, tobacco, radiation and exposures to chemicals. Clinical studies show CoQ10 is an antioxidant that slows neurodegeneration and helps maintain healthy mitochondria. Until recently, its insolubility in water limited its application in beverages. Zymes LLC, Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., resolved the issue with its patented water-soluble HQO, employing nanotechnology to readily solubilize significant quantities of CoQ10 in water and lend it greater bioavailability. CoQ10 is beneficial for many: CoQ10 levels decrease during aging and markedly in individuals with AD and PD.

Ingredients for concentration and cognition are making greater inroads from beverage applications to food formulations – especially for snacks aimed at children.

Rehab Recovery Supplement, launched by Rehab Beverage LLC, Englewood, N.J., a subsidiary of recent Coca Cola acquisition Fuze Beverages LLC, offers CoQ10 along with 300 percent of daily vitamin B6 in a berry-flavored formula to help consumers refresh and revive. Recovery and rehabilitation are key essentials for consumers seeking to revive while shedding the effects of stress. Blue California, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., markets a micro-encapsulated, water-soluble form of CoQ10 proven to be five times more bioavailable than standard CoQ10. DSM Nutritional Products, Parsippany, N.J., uses Actilease beadlet technology for its All-Q, a branded CoQ10 with improved stability and bioavailability. As a medical student, Vinicio Montes created Nerd Energy drink … and now San Antonio, Texas-based Nerd LLC. The beverage has focus- and memory-enhancing ingredients such as dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE), vinpocetine and huperizine along with taurine, caffeine, glucuronolactone, B vitamins and guarana for a boost in energy. DMAE, a naturally occurring amino alcohol, is a precursor to choline and acetylcholine – chemicals responsible for nerve transmissions and cognitive function. DMAE is known to increase the body’s production of acetylcholine, a deficiency of which is associated with memory loss. Vinpocetine (ethyl-apovincaminate), a derivative of vincamine and an extract of the periwinkle plant, is believed to help increase cerebral blood flow and improve memory. Its markedly bitter taste is masked with citrus flavors. Huperzine A, an alkaloid found in fir moss (Huperzia serrata), slows the breakdown of neurotransmitter acetylcholine to aid memory and focus retention. Huperzine is being investigated as a possible treatment for neurodegenerative diseases, particularly Alzheimer’s.

Purely critical

Ingredient purity is critical when formulating nutritional products for the brain, since some of these ingredients are formulated to increase blood flow to the brain. Product developers must ensure that not only cognitive function ingredients but all other components alongside are pharmaceutically pure lest the brain get exposed to unfriendly or antagonistic impurities.

Beverages make up the largest part of the brain-function category of products, with “boutique” beverages targeting tech-oriented twenty-somethings at the forefront.

Health-driven boutique beverage formulators such as Scott Ohlgren believe non-caffeinated cognitive-enhancing beverages are a better path. Ohlgren’s Brain Toniq incorporates a number of botanicals, including rhodiola and eleuthero root extracts, to help improve mental clarity under extreme stress and fatigue. Brain Toniq also uses wild-grown blue-green algal extract for antidepression and boosting cognition, alpha-glyceryl phosphoryl choline (A-GPC), the primary building block for acetylcholine, and DMAE. A-glyceryl phosphoryl choline, available in Europe as a pharmaceutical prescription until recently, is only now available here in the U.S. Research shows omega-3 oils may help lower risk of dementia and AD. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 essential fatty acid, prevents neuron-suffocating plaque, found in high levels in AD patients, according to Greg Cole, professor of medicine and neurology at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine and associate director of the UCLA Alzheimer Disease Research Center. Studies on canola oil, flaxseed oil and walnut oil have demonstrated these oils can reduce risk of dementia by 60 percent in comparison to people who do not regularly consume such oils, especially if they do not carry the APoE4, a gene associated with AD and carried by the majority of humans. Beverages are an ideal vehicle for delivering omega-3s. Greater than 60 percent consumer awareness of the mental benefits of DHA has prompted Canadian dairy companies to offer omega-3-enhanced dairy beverages. Ottawa-based Neilson Dairy feeds its cows with added fishmeal to create milk with intrinsic omega-3 DHA. Neilson Dairy Oh! beverages deliver 20mg of DHA omega-3 per 250ml serving (the 1 and 2 percent versions contain half as much). Ottawa-based Dairy Fresh Farms removes and replaces saturated fats in milk with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats derived from canola oil, a rich source of short-chain omega-3 alphalinolenic acid (ALA), converted by the body into DHA and EPA. Dairy Fresh milk yields 400mg of ALA per one-cup serving.

Omega-3s, known primarily to help stave off problems such as cancer and cardiovascular disease, have been shown in recent studies to help enhance cognitive function too.

“Despite some 8,000 human clinical trials with omega-3s, the FDA currently allows only qualified health claims for heart health benefits,” bemoans Joyce Baird, head of sales for Chicago-based Nu-Mega Corp. But companies realize the appeal of omega-3 in a range of products. Nu-Mega’s omega-3 is showing up in such mainstream products as Heinz Omega-3 Spaghetti. Product developers appreciate Nu-Mega’s HiDHA tuna oil for its refined and deodorized omega-3, usable in a range of food and beverage applications without affecting the taste, texture   and most importantly, the aroma   of the finished product. Citicoline (cytidine diphosphate choline), naturally present in every cell of the body, has been demonstrated to be effective in AD, PD and stroke recuperation. Kyowa Hakko USA, New York, markets Cognizin, a branded citicoline shown to have multiple benefits for the brain, including improved performance and memory. “The popularity of instant energy or alertness associated with caffeine is beginning to grow the demand for compounds such as Cognizin that do not have the negative side effects of caffeine: racing heart rate, jitters, upset stomach and insomnia,” says Karen Todd, marketing director. Cognizin Citicoline is a highly stable, nonreactive compound. It is not sensitive to light, heat-stable and can be used in a variety of products across a broad pH range without affecting taste.

Cutting-edge ingredients

Phospholipids are natural constituents of the brain and play an important role in mental performance. Phosphatidylserine (PS) is particularly noted for improving cognitive function and comes with two significant health claims allowed by the FDA: “Phosphatidylserine may reduce the risk of cognitive dysfunction in the elderly” and “Phosphatidylserine may reduce the risk of dementia in the elderly.” No specific intake quantities are specified. “There is currently no RDI for PS,” says David Rutenberg, CEO of Haifa, Israel-based Lipogen Ltd. Lipogen makes a microencapsulated form of PS. According to Rutenberg, PS dosages as low as 75mg per day could offer health benefits. Enzymotec Ltd., Migdal HaEmeq, Israel, combines phosphatidylserine (PS) with DHA for its Sharp-PS Gold – an ingredient for application in brain foods. Country Life Vitamins, Hauppauge, N.Y., uses Sharp-PS conjugate in its Sharp Thought, a cognitive supplement marketed to the natural foods industry as an ingredient to improve memory, learning and concentration. Sharp-PS is extracted from soy. “The PS-DHA conjugate will play an increasing role in brain foods with emerging knowledge from clinical trials that DHA and EPA are more effective and bioavailable when bound to phospholipids,” says Elzaphan Hotam, vice president of business development for Enzymotec. "Ayurvedic herbs have been used in India to enhance memory for more than 3,000 years,” says Debasis Bagchi, senior vice president of research for InterHealth Nutraceuticals Inc., Benicia, Calif. “One such herb is Bacopa monniera, containing bacosides A and B, compounds demonstrated to enhance memory by augmenting kinase, the protein involved in the regeneration of neurons. Synaptic activity is restored, leading to enhanced brain and memory function.” InterHealth's Bacopa Extract is an all-natural, standardized plant extract and can be added to products to help promote brain function, mental clarity, memory and concentration and to reduce stress-related anxiety. Foods or beverages that improve memory have been an alluring goal for many product developers. Recent advances in understanding the brain chemicals that store memory led to the development of a number of cognitive enhancers. While it’s still too early to tell how effectively or permanently nutraceuticals reverse age-related cognitive decline, it’s clear many food and phytonutrients are proving valuable in delaying and even preventing such problems. Consumers are responding readily and favorably to tasty and convenient products marketed as good for their brains as well as their bodies.

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