Cognitive health is top of mind

Cognitive health is top of mind.jpg
Nootropics, adaptogens and polyphenols are among the ingredients supporting today’s brain health formulations.

The current world population of 7.7 billion is expected to reach 8.5 billion in 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050 and 10.9 billion in 2100, according to the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs. These projections are increasingly discussed for their possible impact on the environment, food security and beyond.

However, equally significant but not as extensively discussed is the decrease in compound annual growth rate (CAGR), indicating an increase in the aging population. Between 2015 and 2050, the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years will nearly double from 12% to 22%, per the World Health Organization (WHO). This growth is going to be primarily driven by developed countries—those that have more discretionary income. The size of this demographic, coupled with its spending power, will greatly impact spending on health and transform the respective markets, creating a range of new opportunities. The food, beverage, and dietary supplement industries, especially those in developed markets, can take part in these new opportunities by addressing the future concerns of the aging population today.

One such concern is cognitive health. Cognitive health encompasses a multitude of facets, including the prevention of normal cognitive aging and the gradual decline in awareness, information handling, memory and reasoning. Cognitive aging affects everyone—it is not a disease or a disorder, it is a natural process of life. Not only is there a growing aging population, but that aging population is living longer, working longer and staying active longer, both mentally and physically. Due to this increase in life expectancy and productivity, prevention of normal cognitive aging has never been more top of mind.

An AARP survey on brain health revealed 98% of U.S. adults age 40 and older noted it is important to maintain or improve brain health, which has prompted many individuals to take action to do so. Common approaches are physical exercise, participation in cognitive-stimulating activities (e.g., crossword puzzles, reading), and eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Another approach that can still be advanced is the consumption of food, beverages and dietary supplements specifically formulated for brain health. This segment within the food, beverage, and dietary supplement industries has been underdeveloped and overshadowed by more popular segments, such as energy and sports nutrition. However, more brands are starting to focus on meeting these needs with targeted botanical and nutritional ingredients.

Popular botanicals for cognitive health include tea, blueberries and ginkgo. Tea drinking has been found to have a positive contribution to brain structure, suggesting a protective effect on age-related decline in brain organization.(1) It also has been shown to have beneficial effects on cognitive function of elderly persons, which could be due to catechins, L-theanine and other compounds in tea leaves.(2)

In blueberries, flavonoids such as anthocyanins and flavanols may hold the key to potential benefits. Both berries and well-characterized polyphenols such as flavanols, anthocyanins and resveratrol can have beneficial effects on the brain, and more broadly, have been shown to display important biological properties.(3) For instance, a study showed moderate-term blueberry supplementation improved memory function in older adults with early memory decline.(4)

Ginkgo biloba, an herb used in China since the 15th century, was traditionally used for a wide variety of reasons, which the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) noted included “benefiting the brain.” The organization added, recent studies on the extracts have explored the botanical’s potential effect on circulation to the brain in the elderly, as well as memory function in early stages of age-related problems.

In addition to these popular botanicals gaining more prevalence in cognitive health products, new ingredients are also popping up. Two types of ingredients especially trending—and not just in the cognitive health segment—are nootropics and adaptogens. Nootropics are substances that enhance cognition and memory, as well as facilitate learning. Nootropics vary in range, from synthetic to natural ingredients and active compounds to whole food powders. Some of the more common active compounds found in brain health products are B vitamins, L-theanine and omega-3s. As for whole food powders, ginseng has been historically used for improving memory, and Bacopa, for increasing concentration and enhancing cognitive function.

Unlike nootropics, adaptogens—traditional tonics or rejuvenators known to aid the body in adapting to both mental and physical stress—do not have a direct effect on cognitive function, but may do so indirectly. Adaptogens are different than nootropics in that they are all plant-based. A few making their way into cognitive health products are Withania somnifera (ashwagandha), Rhodiola and Schisandra.

As the aging population continues to increase, so does the demand for products catered to their specific needs. One such need is cognitive health improvement—for which the current food, beverage and supplement industries can do more. Of U.S. adults age 40 and older, AARP data showed more than three-fourths of those surveyed would be encouraged to take vitamins or supplements upon learning they may be good for brain health. This indicates the market for cognitive health products may still be in its infancy because consumers lack options, not because they are unwilling. Plus, these statistics only account for the “40 and older” age demographic in the U.S.; the potential for cognitive health supplements as well as food and beverage multiplies when applied to all ages worldwide.

Rikka Cornelia is the product manager for Martin Bauer. She has a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of California, Irvine.


1 Li J et al. “Habitual tea drinking modulates brain efficiency: evidence from brain connectivity evaluation.” Aging. 2019;11(11):3876-3890.

2 Song J et al. “Tea and cognitive health in late life: Current evidence and future directions.” J Nutr Health Aging. 2012;16:31-34.

3 Bensalem J et al. “Protective effects of berry polyphenols against age-related cognitive impairment.” Nutr Aging. 2015;3(2-4):89-106.

4 Krikorian R et al. “Blueberry supplementation improves memory in older adults.” J Agric Food Chem. 2010;58(7):3996-4000.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.