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Cognitive Health Cognitive Health

The cognitive health sector may feature many staples of old, but research and development are continuing to move the category forward.

The National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging (NIA) describes cognitive health as “the ability to clearly think, learn and remember.”

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, the NIA notes that cognitive health is merely a component of the whole pie known as brain health. The other pieces include:

• Motor function: how well you make and control movements
• Emotional function: how well you interpret and respond to emotions
• Sensory function: how well you feel and respond to sensations of touch, including pressure, pain and temperature

There are various courses of action one can follow to help maintain his or her cognitive health, such as taking care of your physical health, eating healthy foods and being physically active, among others. In conjunction with these, ingredient suppliers are doing their part to provide consumers with another option for combatting this ever-changing segment.

Shedding Light on Ingredients

Due in part to marketing, the cognitive health segment has drawn attention to ingredients that may not have garnered much notice earlier.

“Marketing has brought to light previously rather unknown ingredients in the cognitive space such as apoaequorin, green oat extract and blueberry anthocyanins,” said Dr. Itay Shafat, technical product manager, cognitive health/sports nutrition, New Jersey-based IFF Health. “More recently as an example, Schiff launched its first new brand in a long while, Neuriva, bringing into focus (no pun intended) coffee fruit extract and phosphatidylserine with television commercials and more important, well-established science. On the other hand, good ingredients with significant scientific background, like Ginkgo biloba, lost ground due to product adulteration leading to mistrust by consumers. Brands are also looking for new and relevant science, not just leveraging old studies.”

One often associates cognitive health with sleep and memory, but there are other underlying factors that need to be taken into account, especially when considering a young audience.

“Sleep and memory are the largest category drivers, but growth is slower in the U.S. due to a more mature market,” said Inger Larsen, vice president of sales and business development, North America, U.K.-based Sibelius Natural Products, which offers a branded, dried sage extract, Sibelius: Sage. “As the demand for nootropics has grown among younger demographics, the need for solutions that address stress, focus and attention have become the fastest category drivers. Products that provide a natural source of both physical and mental energy are key. To become a top contender, these products also need to provide effects that are both immediately felt and long lasting. Caffeine has met that need for a long time now and is the largest ingredient in this category, but it is losing steam as students and professionals are seeking less stimulatory side-effects from their supplements.

“In this regard,” Larsen continued, “some of the top trending ingredients for cognitive health now are omega-3, phosphatidylserine, lutein, ashwagandha and Salvia officinalis. This is not only because they meet the current consumer needs for cognitive supplements, but also because they have all been backed up with solid science, thus having proven beneficial effects on cognitive health.”

According to the company’s senior product manager, Loukiana Chatzinasiou, Sibelius: Sage is now in a milled format and is compatible with tablets, softgels, RTD (ready-to-drink) beverages/powders, gel packs, gummies and dairy products.

Though its popularity in the natural products segment is strong, some believe that the use of fish oil when it comes to cognition is shifting toward a drop, transitioning to plant-based alternatives instead.

“Fish oil remains popular for a number of applications, but I do think we’ve seen a decline in use for cognitive health,” said Cai Berg, founder and CEO of Berg Nutrition, a specialty nutraceutical distributor representing select European manufacturers in the U.S. market. “Instead, we see a shift from fish oil to plant-based DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). Legacy herbals, such as ginkgo and ashwagandha seem to be on the decline as well. Foundational nutrients with strong science, like phosphatidylserine and citicoline, are leading the way in today’s most innovative and effective products.”

It is important to also note that both clean label and product transparency continue to be a standard expectation among consumers. Mitsubishi Gas Chemical (MGC) offers BioPQQ, a natural source of the compound, pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ).

“As the clean label trend rises in popularity, consumers are becoming more aware of the ingredients within their products and supplements overall,” said Shoji Matsukawa, vice president of MGC America in New York. “All-natural products, such as BioPQQ, which is manufactured through a proprietary fermentation method, has been a target for consumers. Non-natural products, in general, have lost popularity, as consumers become more skeptical toward unclear branding and ingredients they have trouble identifying. Consumers want supplements they can trust with clear indications of what ingredients are included and how they are made.”

Another nutrient that’s been on consumers’ radar is L-carnitine. “L-carnitine has been trending because of its potential impact on cognitive maintenance,” said Lisa Riedell, senior director of marketing, Louisiana-based Alfasigma USA, Inc., which produces MitoCarn. “It is naturally produced in the human body by the liver and kidneys and involved in fatty acid metabolism across mitochondrial membranes. It breaks down parts of the acids and contributes to the formation of ATP. Without adequate L-carnitine, oxidation and its residual waste can inflict unwanted damage on mitochondria. As we get older, the damage can accumulate and result in potentially harmful effects, including those most often associated with cognitive decline.

“While L-carnitine is found in the diet, particularly in meat and dairy, it can also be consumed in the form of a dietary supplement. ALC solutions, such as MitoCarn, can help effectively penetrate the blood/brain barrier to deliver nutrients directly to the brain. The molecules can increase healthy blood flow and may help support wide-ranging functions that contribute to healthy cognition.”*

Market Status

When it comes to cognitive health, the market continues to be on an upward trend, due to the various types of consumers that it includes.

“The cognitive health segment is expanding and varies, from consumers seeking a short-term benefit for an exam or game, to pregnant women thinking of their child’s lifelong cognitive performance to aging people who want to be able to stay sharp,” explained Tom Druke, marketing director, human nutrition & health, Balchem (New York).

From college students to Baby Boomers, customers are deciding to take charge and be proactive in tackling there cognitive-related issues, as opposed to simply reacting.

“Consumers have evolved toward being more proactive in addressing healthy aging concerns, specifically related to cognitive health,” Riedell said. “According to Zion Research,1 cognitive concerns in particular have expanded value from $1,324 million in 2017 to a projected $5,959 million in 2024, and a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 15 percent between 2018 and 2024. For aging consumers, maintaining cognitive acuity, including memory and performance, is critical. What’s significant is the increasing interest from consumers of all ages related to optimal brain function. Improvement in concentration, memory, attention, and mood are among top priorities for ages across the spectrum. Given the broad interest, it’s clear that cognitive health will continue to increase in importance with regard to healthy aging.”

In fact, people’s interest in this betterment is directly proportional to the use of both herbal and natural products.

“ … The rising awareness and concern among individuals over brain health problems, including memory enhancement, focus, alertness and attention along with the rising adoption of herbal and natural products, are driving the growth of this market,”2 Larsen said. “Cognitive health ingredients can be broadly divided into three categories, according to their beneficial effects. These would include ‘core products,’ as part of a nutritional diet such as vitamins and minerals and DHA and omega-3; ‘natural supplements’ for added daily support such as ginseng, ginkgo, rhodiola, ashwagandha and sage (Salvia officinalis); and ‘specialty nootropics’ for enhanced activity performance for sports, mood and sleep, such as huperzine A, rhodiola, Salvia officinalis, mangifera and saffron.

“All are part of a healthy diet that supports living and feeling your best in mental and physical performance,” Larsen added. “The emphasis on cognitive performance spans multiple consumer needs, from performing well on tasks requiring executive function (memory, focus and attention), mood (anxiolytic), to sleep (REM and deep sleep). The key to the successful launch of a new ingredient is safety (branded ingredients), clinical trials to demonstrate efficacy (especially for specialty novel nootropics) and then the time it takes to benefit from an ingredient. Consumers are impatient and want the effect to be as immediate as possible. However, the interest over branded ingredients backed up with scientific evidence for safety and efficacy is rapidly growing. Among these, sage (Salvia officinalis) has demonstrated outstanding cognitive enhancing effects, thus representing an excellent solution for the cognitive health market.”


Florida-based HP Ingredients believes in exploring the relationship between stress, focus/cognition, mood and memory, which is what Annie Eng, CEO of the herbal extract manufacturer, described as “an underserved area that is rich for development opportunities.”

“Our IQ200 kesum (Polygonum minus) is known as ‘smart weed’ and is commonly consumed in South East Asian cuisine,” she said. “IQ200 is a patented P. minus extract standardized to quercetin-3 glucuronide ≥0.45 percent and total phenolic content ≥100 mg GAE/g dE. These actives are clinically proven to improve cognitive function and stimulate immune health. IQ200 is protected by U.S. Patent 20150320821 A1 for cognition.

Eng pointed to a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, where 35 healthy middle-aged women were given either 250 mg of IQ200 or placebo twice daily for six weeks. Subjects were assessed for neuropsychological test, psychosocial status, and anthropometric at baseline, week 3 and week 6. Biomarkers were also determined at baseline and week 6. IQ200 showed significant improvement on digit span test and social functioning domain of SF36 among subjects with mood disturbance. Among subjects with normal mood, IQ200 significantly improved short-term memory, Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence (WASI) for IQ verbal and Full Scale IQ of WASI.

Further, NeuroActin, an extract of Andrographis paniculata, was granted a patent in the E.U. based on research demonstrating its positive impact on brain structure and function. The patent application titled “Treatment of Alzheimer’s and Cognitive Impairment with Andrographolides,” goes into detail on studies showing that NeuroActin protects parts of the brain’s structure from a specific pathway of age-related deterioration that would affect memory and cognition, according to Eng.

One of MGC’s top priorities is safety and efficacy for consumers, demonstrated by the various studies that the company has participated in.

“The safety and efficacy of our product is paramount for MGC,” Matsukawa said. “We have invested in countless studies over the years focusing on different aspects of cognitive function using BioPQQ, a natural source of the compound, pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ), which is manufactured through a proprietary fermentation process in Japan. This all-natural supplement ingredient has been fully characterized and widely tested in animals and humans to support its efficacy and safety. Studies suggest taking BioPQQ for 24 weeks may reverse the decline in cognitive function, increase memory recall and improve other higher brain functions like spatial awareness.

“MGC has also researched how BioPQQ impacts mitochondria and the important role it plays in the body,” Matsukawa explained. “Mitochondria, most commonly referred to as the powerhouse of the cell, loses its quality and efficiency as we age. Once that happens, people can become susceptible to neurodegenerative diseases. But, with the increase in healthy mitochondria, BioPQQ can help stall these symptoms and even inhibit memory loss through the preservation of synapses and neuronal function, according to studies. MGC has done extensive research on how BioPQQ can help boost and enhance mitochondria through activating a crucial and natural process within the body called mitochondrial biogenesis. Mitochondrial biogenesis is the increase and division of mitochondria within the cells. Through recent studies, it has been shown that BioPQQ produces mitochondria and raises the NAD+/NADH ratio more so than other mitochondria-enhancing supplement ingredients such as resveratrol and nicotinamide mono nucleotide (NMN).”

Balchem, who offers VitaCholine, a branded form of choline, has been following the research of Dr. Marie Caudill, who Cornell University notes has published more than 150 papers, reviews and chapters in the areas of folate and choline.

“Dr. Marie Caudill of Cornell has conducted some of the most fascinating and compelling research on choline in recent years,” Druke said. “Dr. Caudill conducted an interventional study3 among both pregnant and non-pregnant women utilizing a standard diet and a diet with supplemental choline, specifically VitaCholine provided by Balchem Corporation. She found that increased choline intake lowers levels of cortisol, the stress hormone,4 which may lead to improved long-term health outcomes for both the mother and the child. Dr. Caudill also found that increased choline availability during pregnancy enhances the availability of DHA, which is known to play a vital role in cognitive development and function.”5

Druke noted, “Dr. Caudill continues to follow the children from her original study group and additional results have been very encouraging. Cognitive testing showed that infants of mothers receiving higher levels of choline processed information more quickly and had improved visual memory than infants born of the standard choline pregnancies. As the children age, Dr. Caudill will continue to track their progress, but thus far testing suggests that choline may have a positive impact on academic performance.”

The cognitive health segment is an appealing category to several age groups, but Boomers remain high on the radar of ingredient manufacturers and suppliers.

“As the Baby Boomer generation moves closer to age 65, cognitive impairment concerns are expected to increase,” Riedell predicted. “According to the United States Census, Boomers make up about 73 million of the U.S. population alone. Their interest in cognitive health concerns will surely garner the interest of manufacturers and ingredient suppliers.”

She added, “the aging process is quite complex in relation to cognitive function. It can, however, be simplified as the following. As nerve growth factors in the brain decline, so do Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALC) and acetylcholine levels. As a result, mitochondria tend to lose their efficiency. This loss of efficiency contributes to common complaints related to aging, including loss of memory, learning, recall and cognition. Given the significance of ALC in supporting mitochondrial efficiency in the brain, ingredients such as MitoCarn, will be examined a little closer for their opportunity to positively impact cognitive health.”

However, as Shafat suggested, numerous ingredients beneficial for the brain are not necessarily new to the market.

“Cognitive ingredients are not new,” said Shafat. “Ginkgo biloba has been in use for millennia in China, Bacopa monnieri is a mainstay in ayurvedic medicine and plants such as green oats have European monographs supporting their use for mental support. Many of these ancient plants have been studied by modern means in the last few decades, adding modern evidence to folklore. Non-botanical ingredients, for example DHA, choline and phosphatidylserine, were shown to have specific roles within the brain, leading to years of research to what benefits their consumption as a dietary ingredient might bring to those consuming them.”

And as more people are continuing to become aware of natural solutions to help the brain, the research is improving—it is becoming more in-depth.

“The increasing awareness and demand for natural brain boosters drives the evolution of cognitive ingredient research,” Larsen said. “Companies invest in healthy volunteer trials to evaluate the safety of their ingredients, as well as their efficacy on mental health. … Clinical trials are more complex involving subjective questionnaires, objective physiological measurements, and even key biological markers (from blood or non-invasive bodily fluids) associated with mental performance and stress, such as oxytocin and cortisol.”

Looking ahead, the technology that is at our disposal opens up the door for new findings.

“In a broad sense,” Berg concluded, “I would say that the research, or the approach to research in this field, hasn’t changed all that much, but the tools and technologies available today allow researchers to produce better, more authoritative science. The use of advanced imaging, for instance, allow us to see into the complexity of brain health and function better than ever before, and emerging data on the human genome can lead us in new directions of discovery.” NIE

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.


1 www.zionmarketresearch.com/news/nootropics-market

2 Grand View Research (2019). Brain Health Supplements Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report By Product, by Application and Segment Forecasts, 2019-2025. [Online] [Accessed March, 2020] [www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/brain-health-supplements-market]

3 FASEB J. 2013 Mar;27(3):1245-53. doi: 10.1096/fj.12-221648. Epub 2012 Nov 29.

4 https://doi.org/10.1096/fj.12-207894

5 The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 97, Issue 4, April 2013, Pages 718–727, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.112.050211

For More Information:

Alfasigma USA, Inc., https://www.mitocarn.com/
Balchem Corporation, https://vitacholine.com/
Berg Nutrition, http://bergnutrition.com/
HP Ingredients, https://hpingredients.com/
IFF Health, www.iff-health.com
Mitsubishi Gas Chemical America, https://www.biopqq.com/
Sibelius Natural Products, https://www.sibeliusnaturalproducts.com/

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