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Ingredients to support cognitive performance and mood

Ingredients to support cognitive performance and mood

Natural ingredients impact cognitive health in various ways: development and performance, mood and cognitive preservation.

The nootropics industry is growing and changing, with an increasing array of products formulated for specific conditions. Elyse N. Lovett, marketing manager, Kyowa Hakko U.S.A. Inc. attributes this to growing knowledge about “the synergistic effects of ingredients and stronger health claims made when formulating with multiple ingredients.”

Aging adults are most interested in preventing memory loss and cognitive decline. However, Lovett has seen a shift with “focus, attention and concentration becoming more attractive as aging Boomers become more active.”

Development and Performance

Maintaining focus can be challenging in a fast-paced society with multiple ways to reach people and many digital devices vying for one’s attention. Choline, Bacopa monnieri, inositol-stabilized arginine silicate and medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) help cognitive performance.

Choline helps synthesize cell membranes and neurotransmitters including acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is necessary for various aspects of brain and nervous system functioning, including memory and mood.1,2 Most people consume less than the adequate intake (AI) for choline,3 and though the body makes this nutrient, it isn’t made in sufficient quantities.4 Good or excellent sources of choline include beef, poultry, soybeans and eggs. 5 Though long considered for its potential to attenuate degenerative and vascular cognitive decline, citicoline (CDP-choline) is an ingredient making waves in younger populations, as well. According to Lovett, Kyowa Hakko as a proprietary form of citicoline “clinically studied to support mental energy, focus, and attention in adolescents and adults.”

The herb Bacopa monniera is gaining attention for its potential cognitive benefits. Bacopa monniera inhibits the release of inflammatory cytokines in the brain and repairs damaged neurons.6,7 Meta analyses showed Bacopa monnieri can improve memory free recall8 and reaction time. 9

Nitric oxide (NO) production declines with age. This short-lived gas opens blood vessels for greater blood flow, oxygen and nutrient delivery to tissues. According to James Komorowski, chief science officer, Nutrition 21, an inositol-stabilized arginine silicate (Nitrosigine, from Nutrition 21) increased NO production more than other NO-stimulating compounds such as arginine. In a double-blind, crossover study in healthy males, 1,500 mg/d of Nitrosigine for two weeks led to faster cognitive processing speed, focus and mental acuity after exhaustive exercise compared to placebo. 10

For those on the high-fat ketogenic diet, MCTs may be attractive. MCTs are absorbed directly into the blood and quickly metabolized, providing a rapid source of energy to the body. Clinical studies showed MCTs increase ketone body production, a source of energy for the brain, more rapidly than other fats such as coconut oil.11,12


According to Kara Landau, founder of Uplift Food – Good Mood Food, “mood-supportive nutrients are often shown to either be those associated with reducing internal inflammation or those that stimulate mood-calming hormone release.” Growing awareness of the link between gut and brain health has led to increased interest in supporting gut health in hopes of impacting the brain.

The long-chain omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are praised for mood support. As components of brain cell membranes, fatty acids influence brain functioning. Diets low in omega-3 fatty acids result in disturbed neural functioning.13 Evidence supports the use of high-dose omega-3 fatty acids to treat impulsivity, aggression and borderline personality disorders.14

The amino acid L-theanine produces a dose-dependent relaxed yet alert state. In studies, L-theanine combined with caffeine led to improved attention span, mood and speed of reaction in memory tests.15,16 Combining the two ingredients seems to have greater benefits than consuming each individually.17

Probiotics are making waves in cognitive health products. By modifying the gut microbiota, the brain may benefit. A study in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) patients with co-existing major depressive disorder found supplementation with Bacillus coagulans MTCC5856 (as LactoSpore®, from Sabinsa) for 90 days led to improved symptoms of depression compared to those given placebo.18

Cognitive Preservation

Many older adults are interested in maintaining cognitive functioning.19 Conceptual reasoning, memory, processing speed, language, visuospatial and executive function abilities all decline gradually with age.

Age-related immune system dysregulation and subsequent chronic low-grade inflammation are both linked to neurogenerative diseases.20 The anti-inflammatory effects of Bacopa monnieri may explain its beneficial effects on the aging brain. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in the elderly found this herb improved memory recall, depression scores and anxiety during a 12-week trial.

Magnesium is essential for brain and nervous system function; 22 however, “most magnesium compounds do not effectively cross the blood-brain barrier and therefore they are ineffective for brain health,” Ford stated. AIDP’s proprietary magnesium L-threonate formulation raised brain magnesium levels23 and increased brain synaptic density during the period of supplementation.24 Supplementation with magnesium L-threonate for 12 weeks resulted in significant improvements in memory, stress and anxiety in middle-aged and older adults.25

A study in older adults found a proprietary spearmint extract (as NeumentixTM Phenolic Complex K110-42, from Kemin) taken in doses of 900 mg/d per day for 90 days improved mood, alertness and wakefulness compared to placebo.26 “NeumentixTM is a water-extracted, naturally sourced nootropic that is derived from a patented line of spearmint bred for high polyphenols, specifically rosmarinic acid, which has demonstrated brain benefits,” said Kim Colletti, global cognition product manager, Kemin Human Nutrition and Health.

Awareness of products to support brain health is increasing among consumers of all ages. From college students and busy entrepreneurs to the aging Boomer, foods, beverages and supplements that improve immediate or long-term cognitive outcomes with few side effects are a growing segment within the natural products market.

Marie Spano, M.S., R.D., CSCS, is a nutrition communications expert whose work has appeared in popular press magazines, e-zines and nutrition-industry trade publications. She has been an expert guest on NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates on the East Coast. For more information, visit


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  10. Kalman D et al. “Randomized Prospective Double-Blind Studies to Evaluate the Cognitive Effects of Inositol-Stabilized Arginine Silicate in Healthy Physically Active Adults.” Nutrients 2016;8(11).
  11. Vandenberghe C et al. “Tricaprylin Alone Increases Plasma Ketone Response More Than Coconut Oil or Other Medium-Chain Triglycerides: An Acute Crossover Study in Healthy Adults.” Curr Dev Nutr 2017;1(4).
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  22. Volpe SL. “Magnesium in disease prevention and overall health.” Adv Nutr 2013 1;4(3):378S-383S.
  23. Sun Q et al. “Regulation of structural and functional synapse density by L-threonate through modulation of intraneuronal magnesium concentration.” Neuropharmacology 2016;108:426-439.
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