May 29, 2006

5 Min Read
Formulating Products to Support Cognitive Function

Formulating Products to Support Cognitive Function
by Judi Quilici-Timmcke, M.S.

Consumers are looking for products that help them focus, concentrate,increase their mental energy and have a competitive edge. Many dietarysupplements have the potential to meet the customers request, since there arenumerous brain-supporting nutrients that have demonstrated significant benefitsin animal and human studies. To be competitive in the marketplace, somecompanies formulate with brain support ingredients using high dosages and/orthey add additional brain-supporting ingredients to make their products moreunique. It sounds like a good idea, but adding more doesnt always make aformula better. In fact, it could make the product more of a hazard than abenefit.

Formulating dietary supplements takes much time and investigation into thescientific literature evaluating ingredient effectiveness, safety and mechanismsof action. Companies have a responsibility to the consumer to undertake thisprocess to ensure everything possible has been done to make the product safe. Unfortunately, a common practice is to rush the product development processto take the product to market quickly.

Although products may be investigated and formulated properly, manysupplements available have not been studied in combination to demonstratesafety, especially when used for extensive periods of time. One aspect ofinvestigating ingredients is to look at mechanisms of action and understand eachingredients potential effect. If ingredients combined together have the sameaction in the body, there may be a cumulative effect.

Cognitive function includes memory, focus and creativity. Many nutritionalingredients support the brain and these cognitive functions, and have doubleblind, placebo-controlled studies to support their functional benefits. Suchingredients include the B vitamins, Huperzine A, vinpocetine andacetyl-L-carnitine. They are promoted for mental clarity, memory, focus,concentration, alertness and improving mood. Some of these ingredients havedemonstrated that they can inhibit acetylcholinesterase, which is an enzyme thatpromotes the increase of acetylcholine levels.

Acetylcholine is an important brain neurotransmitter that transportsinformation across the synaptic cleft, the space found between two nerve cells.Acetylcholine has been shown to play a role in learning, memory, recall andthought processes. It also has been shown to be depleted in individuals who haveAlzheimers disease. At the same time, elevated acetylcholine in the brain hasbeen associated with depression, insomnia, headaches, irritability,restlessness, anxiousness, and shoulder, neck and jaw muscle pain and tension. Therefore, formulating with too many ingredients that have the ability toincrease acetylcholine levels in the brain could have a cumulative, and possiblydetrimental, effect.

Examining the Ingredients

The class of B vitamins offers several important nutrients.Thiamin isinvolved in nerve conduction and transmission. It has been demonstrated thatwhen animals are in a thiamin-deficient state, acetylcholine turnover andutilization is reduced in regions of the brain. Pantothenic acid is necessary in the manufacturing of acetylcholine.  And the combination of B6, B12 and folic acid helps reduce serum homocysteinelevels; elevated levels of this amino acid in the blood have been associatedwith reduced cognitive function.

Huperzine A is a Lycopodium alkaloid extracted from the club moss Huperziaserrata, which is found in China, and is used in Traditional ChineseMedicine (TCM). Studies have shown it has the ability to increase acetylcholineby inhibiting acetylcholinesterase. Huperzine A is able to pass through the blood-brain barrier, and has greatpotential to promote alertness, cognitive function, focus and memory. Mostclinical studies on this extract have involved Alzheimers patients; however,in one adolescent study, researchers found Huperzine A improved their memory andlearning when consuming 100 mcg, twice per day for four weeks. It is importantto note, though, that neither Huperzine A nor the other ingredients addressed inthis article should be recommended for children, since they have not beenstudied for long periods of time to demonstrate that they are safe.

Vinpocetine is another botanical option in the brain health area. It is aderivative of an alkaloid called vincamine from the plant Vinca minor L.It has been shown to facilitate cerebral blood flow, improve the production ofATP (adenosine triphosphate) in brain cells, and improve the utilization ofoxygen and glucose. Various studies suggest in addition to inhibitingacetylcholine release, vinpocetine supports a calcium-channel blocking activity,has antioxidant properties and may have a voltage-gated sodium channel blockingeffect. Studies demonstrate safety of doses at around 20 mg/d.

Acetyl-L-carnitine is an acetylated form of L-carnitine that isabsorbable and can pass through the blood-brain barrier. Acetyl-Lcarnitine isbelieved to be a metabolic cofactor in the manufacture of acetylcholine. It hasbeen shown to have beneficial effects on clinical and central nervous systemneurochemical measurements in potential Alzheimers patients and diabeticpatients. Its positive effects in Alzheimers patients may be due to itsability to support physiological cellular functioning within the mitochondria aswell as effecting acetylcholine.

In formulating with any of the ingredients that have an effect onacetylcholine, manufacturers should take care to add a warning that the productsshould not be used by individuals taking certain prescription medications. Theseingredients may enhance prescription cholinergic medication oracetylcholinesterase inhibitorsincluding Donepezil (Aricept), Rivasatigmine(Exelon), Galantamine (Reminyl) or Tacrine (Cognex).They may reduce theeffectiveness of anticholinergic drugs such as atropine, akineton, Cogentin andArtane.

There are other important nutrients that have different mechanisms, such asantioxidant support for the brain. Ingredients such as vitamin C and vitaminE have been shown to help protect the brain to maintain memory and reducemental decline with aging. Providing these antioxidant vitamins to elderly patients consistently overtime appears to protect them from dementia and cognitive dysfunction, andresearchers suggest these nutrients be taken by the elderly long term to improvecognitive function and protect the brain from oxidative stress.

Obviously, there are many ingredients available to provide a wellformulatedbrain support product. While consumers are looking for dietary supplements tohelp them concentrate, focus and increase their mental energy, companies have aresponsibility to evaluate all ingredients and their mechanisms of action todetermine if there could be synergistic or cumulative effects.

Judi Quilici-Timmcke is the president of Q-Tech Services Inc., providingconsulting and product formulation services for companies in the dietarysupplement industry. She was previously vice president of research anddevelopment for Weider Nutritions specialty market, and the head of productdevelopment for Rexall Showcase International. Quilici-Timmcke holds a mastersdegree in dietetics and exercise physiology.

Bibliography, or e-mail[email protected].

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