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Cognitive Health Ingredients Drive Category GrowthCognitive Health Ingredients Drive Category Growth

Kerry Watson

June 25, 2013

5 Min Read
Cognitive Health Ingredients Drive Category Growth

Americans are increasingly concerned about maintaining their cognitive health. This concern crosses age groups; however, cognitive health problems can present themselves in a variety of manifestations that tend to reflect a particular stage of life. Children and teens face conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disorders, adults struggle to stay focused at work and excel in their careers while seniors look for ways to battle cognitive decline and to stave off more serious conditions like dementia and Alzheimers disease.

The brain is a delicate and complex organ. Its the control center for important functions and processes of the body and its systems. The human brain is so multifaceted and complex, many experts believe that we may never be able to unlock its full potential.

One thing we do know is that our cognitive ability slowly declines as we age. In light of this, many people are seeking out ways to slow down this natural progression. Keeping the mind active with problem solving games and activities like doing crossword puzzles or Sudoku has been shown to help maintain cognitive function. Most people are also aware that a balanced diet, proper rest and regular exercise are essential in maintaining optimal long-term cognitive health, but the possibilities do not end there. Interest and demand continues to grow for dietary supplements that target cognitive health. In fact, this category has shown steady and increased growth and innovation during the last few years. In 2012, sales grew by 9 percent from USD$55 million to close to $60 million, according to the SPINS combined channel data. A deeper dive revealed a few key ingredient trends that are helping to drive much of the growth were seeing in this category.

B vitamins are often found in cognitive health supplements and have long been a staple in the category. In natural supermarkets, sales of B vitamins that are marketed for cognitive health grew by nearly 22 percent last year, reaching $1.2 million. Vitamin B12 is the top-selling B vitamin in the cognitive health category in both natural and conventional supermarkets. Several B vitamins, including B12, play an essential role in maintaining low concentrations of homocysteine in the blood.1 Homocysteine is an amino acid that plays a role in protein metabolism. Research has shown that elevated levels of serum homocysteine may contribute to an increased risk of cognitive impairment, so its important that low levels are maintained.2,3

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 essential fatty acid (EFA) that has been shown to improve and maintain cognitive health. The Memory Improvement with Docosahexaenoic Acid Study, or MIDAS, was the first large, randomized, placebo-controlled study demonstrating the benefits of DHA in maintaining and improving brain health in older adults. The study indicated that the use of DHA supplements over time can improve memory and learning in healthy, older adults with mild memory complaints.4 Sales of DHA supplements for cognitive health increased by more than 70 percent in conventional supermarkets, growing from $4.5 million in 2011 to $7.7 million in 2012, SPINS data showed. Evidence has shown that DHA also plays an important role in infant brain development.5 DHA supplements for prenatal support have also grown across retail channels during the past year with an increase of 12.8 percent in the conventional channel and 11.9 percent in the natural channel.

Ginkgo biloba is a prehistoric plant native to China. Its not new to the category, and it continues to be a top-selling ingredient for cognitive health. Ginkgo leaves contain a variety of active constituents that have been studied extensively, and found to produce a number of beneficial actions in the brain including improvement of microcirculation, stimulation of neurotransmitter activity and toning of blood vessel walls. Sales grew by 7.7 percent during the last year in natural retailers and by 4.3 percent in conventional retailers. Total sales across channels are close to $15 million for this ingredient.

Apoaequorin is a supplement ingredient thats been on the market for a couple years now. Its a protein found in jellyfish that causes them to glow through its action of binding to calcium ions. One of the leading products containing this ingredient is extremely popular with the mainstream market. Apoaequorin product sales are impressive with more than $4.5 million dollars and growing. This is still a relatively new ingredient and, without a history of traditional use for cognitive health, there is a need for a solid body of scientific research. This will help substantiate the benefit claims made by apoaequorin ingredient manufacturers.

Magnesium L-threonate is a mineral compound developed by scientists at MIT, one of whom is a Nobel Prize laureate. Animal studies suggest possible benefits to overall cognitive function. The studies have shown evidence that magnesium L-threonate may improve memory, recognition and learning processes in addition to aiding in sleep and relaxation, according to AIDP, which supplies Magtein brand magnesium-L-threonate. With about $80,000 in current sales, this ingredient is just beginning to show significant movement in natural supermarkets. Overtime, with continued successful research outcomes, its likely this ingredient will make its way into other outlets and markets.

PQQ (pyrroloquinoline quinone) is a novel cofactor with antioxidant and B vitamin-like activity. It is naturally present in vegetables, and its also found in the human body. Preliminary clinical trials in humans have shown promising results. In 2007, a double blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial took place in Japan. Seventy one middle-aged adults were given 20 mg of PQQ per day which resulted in improved performance on tests of higher cognitive function compared to the placebo group.6 More research is needed to fully understand the potential actions of this ingredient. Over the past two years at least seven PQQ product launches have hit the natural supermarket channel, according to the SPINS Product Library. It will be interesting to see how consumers respond to these products and to watch their performance over the next few years.

If ingredients such as these can help consumers stay sharp, future growth in the brain-health market is inevitable. As new research emerges, awareness of cognitive issues spread, and new products are launched, we can expect to see demand for dietary supplements targeting this health concern to rise and for the category to advance.

Kerry Watson is the natural products specialist at SPINS . She has been with SPINS since 2004 and currently manages the SPINS Content Development team. 

For a list of references, email [email protected].

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