With the pandemic still raging, many consumers are focusing on self-care and are looking to natural ingredients to help lift their spirits.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on several health issues including mental health. Lockdowns, being separated from friends and family, and isolating have affected us all. As we lacked the social interactions that we have been accustomed to, some admitted that the pandemic was taking a toll on their mental health.
One study examined how the pandemic affected young people. Published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers at The Ohio State University and Kenyon College conducted a study of teenage boys and young men in urban and Appalachian Ohio. The participants completed a survey examining changes to mood, anxiety, closeness to family and friends, and other ways the pandemic affected their lives.
The researchers found that nearly a third of the 571 participants reported that their mood had worsened, or their anxiety had increased between March 2020 and June 2020. “Though serious cases of COVID-19 have been rare among young people, the pandemic appears to have taken another toll on them,” said Amy Ferketich, study senior author and a professor of epidemiology at Ohio State.
While this study focused on the pandemic, Ferketich noted that the findings could “apply to any kind of really big change or change in routine for an adolescent or group of adolescents. It highlights the importance of finding ways to maintain social connection, and to help young people maintain those connections when normal social interactions are disrupted.”
Although the Ohio State study focused on young people, the issue is widespread for people of all ages and background. “Mood health exploded with the rise of the pandemic, as a hot COVID-adjacent category,” said Lindsey Toth, MS, RD, director global marketing, ingredients and dosage form solutions for New Jersey-based Lonza. “The chronic stress brought on by this global crisis led to category growth of major proportions, as people around the world sought out ways to unwind. And the numbers reflect this growth—the mood and mental health category is set to end 2021 at $1.3 billion—twice the size it was in 2016—and third in growth only behind immune health and sleep support sales.1
Lorena Carboni, scientific communication specialist and product manager SAMe and Beatrice Minin, market manager mood & cognitive for Gnosis By Lesaffre (Italy), agreed noting that “Healthy Mood has become a major priority for consumers in the post COVID-19 pandemic world. According to the Euromonitor Survey on Health and Nutrition carried out in February 2021, mental wellbeing is a major concern in today’s world and is rated the top criterion (64.1 percent) by global consumers in 2021 when it comes to the perception of health. Going through a long period of lockdown, including isolation from social interactions, the relevance of mental health and cognitive performance have become primordial.”
And while the pandemic has put a spotlight on the need to focus on self-care and our mental health, Claire Barnes, registered nutritional therapist and technical advisor for Bio-Kult (ADM Protexin), said that the category has been growing even before COVID-19. “Even before the pandemic hit, mood support supplements were a booming category with sales increasing by nearly 6 percent between 2014 and 2019.2 In early 2020, 50 percent of consumers worldwide said they were suffering from moderate to extreme stress,2 and this figure has already grown in 2021 to 57 percent across the globe.3
“Given the events of the past couple of years, it understandable that we have seen a rise in mood disorders which has correlated with mood supplements being one of the fastest growing categories in 2020 global sales,”4 Barnes continued. “In fact, recent consumer research undertaken by Euromonitor International found that ‘mental wellbeing’ came out as the top concern for consumers when asked to report what being healthy meant to them, which was closely followed by ‘having a healthy immune system,’ ‘feeling good’ and ‘getting enough sleep’.3 Experts are now suggesting that the psychological impact of the pandemic is likely to last significantly longer than the immediate immunity-related threat,4 which suggests this sector will continue to grow throughout 2022.”
Another reason for the growth of the healthy mood category is the rise of self-care. While the term became a buzz word at the beginning of the pandemic, the self-care movement has been around for a while. Generally explained as when we take care of our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health, those who make self-care a priority are looking to live a healthy lifestyle—often removing foods, products and actions that are harmful to them.
“Research suggests that 30 to 50 percent of individuals respond poorly to currently available treatments for mood disorders,”5 said Barnes. “They appear to be most effective against chronic, moderate and severe depression, but less likely to help in mild depression.6 Many consumers with low mood are therefore looking for natural and holistic ways to improve their wellbeing. Supporting their gut microbiota could have benefit for improving their mood health, as well as potentially addressing part of the cause for the development of their mood imbalance.”
Several ingredients can be utilized, often in combination, to help consumers lift their mood naturally; however, Barnes noted that the plethora of options may be a lot to take in for the average customer. “The choice of supplements for mood can be quite overwhelming for consumers, creating combination products which include probiotics with certain vitamins and minerals can help consumers by choosing one product rather than two or three different ones,” she said. “It is also likely that combining probiotics with vitamins and minerals could achieve synergistic benefits, opposed to taking them separately.”
Lonza offers Relora mood health formula, which is a proprietary blend of Magnolia officinalis bark extract and Phellodendron amurense bark extract. Toth explained that “the benefits of Relora mood health formula are supported by three peer-reviewed, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies, demonstrating Relora mood health formula’s positive effects on mood state scores and weight maintenance in stress eaters.”
Carboni and Minin noted that more recently there has been a focus on superfoods with brain power consisting of mostly fresh food with health benefits geared toward brain function and brain power. “Also, nootropics and adaptogens are buzzing lately thanks to their potential influence to impact our mental performance and state of mind. Nootropics aim to enhance mental performance and focus, while adaptogens allow the body to deal with stress,” they said.
In addition, S-adenosyl-L-methionine (commonly called “SAM-e”) is one of the established ingredients for the mood and cognitive supplementation market, especially in the U.S., according to Carboni and Minin. “It was discovered in 1952 in Italy by Giulio Cantoni. SAM-e is a naturally occurring chemical component present in all cells of the body where it is essential in more than 200 metabolic pathways.
“SAMe is an important methyl donor, an essential step in the synthesis of several neurotransmitters from amino acids in the diet. The antidepressant effects are probably related to multiple mechanisms of action including increased brain levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. The synthesis of these neurotransmitters by SAMe requires vitamin B12 and folate. Hence the importance of our other star ingredient Quatrefolic and its combination with Adonat Premium SAMe, they explained. “Many depressed individuals are deficient in B vitamins, thus individuals taking SAMe for depressed mood will benefit from taking vitamin B12 and folate (especially in the form of l-methyl-folate) concurrently.”
Probiotics can also benefit mood through the gut-brain axis. According to Barnes, probiotics have been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, as well as lower stress levels in a number of clinical trials.7 “The composition of the gut microbiota affects the communication between the gut and the brain through multiple bidirectional routes; including the immune system, the hormonal system and the nervous system,”7 she said. “The permeability of the gut wall is an important factor in interactions between the gut microbes and the rest of the body and probiotics have shown to help strengthen the tight junctions of the intestinal wall and preserve the mucosal barrier function.8 In contrast, when a ‘leaky gut’ is present, lipopolysaccharides (LPS) from gram negative bacteria can cross over the gut barrier and evoke an immune response, increasing inflammatory cytokines which can cross the blood brain barrier and affect our mood.9
“Certain strains of probiotics, often referred to as psychobiotics, may also be used to stimulate the vagus nerve and therefore help improve depressive symptoms,7 Barnes continued. “In addition, both neurotransmitters and neuromodulators are produced by the gut microbiota and certain probiotic species have shown to produce specific neurotransmitters.7 For example, lactobacillus and bifidoobacterium produce GABA (which has a calming effect in the brain), while bacillus and saccharomyces species produce noradrenaline (depletion of noradrenaline leads to reduced drive and motivation).7”
In January 2019, ADM Protexin launched Bio-Kult Migréa, which contains 14 strains of probiotics, magnesium and vitamin B6. Barnes noted that while the product was originally developed for individuals suffering with chronic or episodic migraines, however it is understood that migraines and mood disorders often present together,10 and the company is increasingly seeing consumers choosing this product to support their mood.
With more consumers focused not just on physical health, but their emotional health as well, the category continues to grow and expand.
“COVID-19 has reset consumer behavior and priorities, favoring consumption patterns that priorities the self and good mental and physical health,” Carboni and Minin concluded. “Manufacturers and brands must respond with effective, tested and proven solutions, meeting the increasing demand to boost formulations with evidence-based vitamins and specialty ingredients that synergically can offer what the body needs to stay healthy.” NIE
1 New Hope Network. (June 2021). Nutrition Business Journal Condition Specific Issue.
2 COVID-19 market trends: Stress supplement demand rising. www.nutraingredients.com/Article/2020/07/30/COVID-19-market-trends-Stress-supplement-demand-rising (accessed Sept 15, 2021).
3 Mental wellbeing ranks top of health concerns in global consumer survey. www.nutraingredients.com/Article/2021/05/05/Mental-wellbeing-ranks-top-of-health-concerns-in-global-consumer-survey (accessed Sept 15, 2021).
4 Sleep and relaxation supplements soar due to COVID-19 stress, say PharmaLinea experts. www.nutritioninsight.com/news/sleep-and-relaxation-supplements-soar-due-to-covid-19-stress-say-pharmalinea-experts.html (accessed Sept 17, 2021).
5 Doney E, Cadoret A, Dion-Albert L, Lebel M, Menard C. Inflammation-driven brain and gut barrier dysfunction in stress and mood disorders. Eur J Neurosci 2021; 00: 1–44.
6 Depression: How effective are antidepressants? 2020; published online June 18. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK361016/ (accessed Nov 17, 2021).
7 Scriven M, Dinan T, Cryan J, Wall M. Neuropsychiatric Disorders: Influence of Gut Microbe to Brain Signalling. Diseases 2018; 6: 78.
8 Krishna Rao R, Samak G. Protection and Restitution of Gut Barrier by Probiotics: Nutritional and Clinical Implications. Curr Nutr Food Sci 2013; 9: 99.
9 Dysregulation of the gut-brain-skin axis and key overlapping inflammatory and immune mechanisms of psoriasis and depression. Biomed Pharmacother 2021; 137: 111065.
10 Rammohan K, Mundayadan SM, Das S, Shaji CV. Migraine and Mood Disorders: Prevalence, Clinical Correlations and Disability. J Neurosci Rural Pract 2019; 10: 28–33.