Ingredients to support cognitive performance and mood

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

Marie Spano

December 11, 2018

8 Min Read
Ingredients to support cognitive performance and mood

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


  1. Institute of Medicine. “Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes: Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline.” Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1998.

  2. Zeisel SH. “Nutritional importance of choline for brain development.” J Am Coll Nutr. 2004;23(6 Suppl):621S-626S.

  3. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. “Nutrient Intakes from Food and Beverages: Mean Amounts Consumed per Individual, by Gender and Age, What We Eat in America,” NHANES 2013-2014. 2016.

  4. Zeisel SH. “Choline. In: Ross AC, Caballero B, Cousins RJ, Tucker KL, Ziegler TR, eds. Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease. “11th ed. Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2014:416-26.

  5. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. “USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28.” Nutrient Data Laboratory Home Page, 2015.

  6. Nemetchek M et al. “The Ayurvedic plant Bacopa Monnieri inhibits inflammatory pathways in the brain.” J Enthnopharmocol 2017;197:92 – 100.

  7. Mathur D et al. “The molecular links of re-emerging therapy: a review of evidence of brahmi (Bacopa monniera).” Frontiers Pharm 2016;7(44):1-15.

  8. Pase M et al. “The cognitive-enhancing effects of Bacopa monnieri: a systematic review of randomized, controlled human clinical trials.” J Altern Complement Med 2012;18(7):647-52.

  9. Kongkeaw C et al. “Meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials on cognitive effects of Bacopa monnieri extract.” J Ethnopharmacol 2014;151(1):528-35.

  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).

  12. Courchesne-Loyer A et al. “Inverse relationship between brain glucose and ketone metabolism in adults during short-term moderate dietary ketosis: A dual tracer quantitative positron emission tomography study.” J Cerebral Blood Flow Metab 2016:1-9.

  13. Sinclair A et al. “Omega 3 fatty acids and the brain: review of studies in depression.” Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 2007; 16 Suppl 1():391-7.

  14. Bozzatello P et al. “Supplementation with Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Psychiatric Disorders: A Review of Literature Data.” J Clin Med 2016;5(8).

  15. Owen G et al. “The combined effects of L-theanine and caffeine on cognitive performance and mood.” Nutr Neurosci 2008;11(4):193-8.

  16. Haskell C et al. “The effects of L-theanine, caffeine and their combination on cognition and mood.” Biol Psychol 2008;77(2):113-22. 

  17. Dodd F et al. “A double-blind, placebo-controlled study evaluating the effects of caffeine and L-theanine both alone and in combination on cerebral blood flow, cognition and mood.” 2015;232(14):2563-2576.

  18. Majeed M et al. “Bacillus coagulans MTCC 5856 for the management of major depression with irritable bowel syndrome: a randomised, doubleblind, placebo controlled, multi-centre, pilot clinical study.” Food Nutr Research 2018;62:1-15.

  19. Laditka S et al. “Attitudes about aging well among a diverse group of older Americans: implications for promoting cognitive health.” Gerontologist 2009;49 Suppl 1:S30-9.

  20. Franceschi C et al. “Inflammaging and anti-inflammaging: a systemic perspective on aging and longevity emerged from studies in humans. Mech Ageing Dev 2007; 128(1):92-105.

  21. Calabrese C et al. “Effects of a standardized Bacopa monnieri extract on cognitive performance, anxiety, and depression in the elderly: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.” Altern Complement Med 2008;14(6):707-13.

  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.

  24. Slutsky I et al. “Enhancement of Learning and Memory by Elevating Brain Magnesium.” Neuron 2010;65(2):165-177.

  25. Liu G et al. “Efficacy and Safety of MMFS-01, a Synapse Density Enhancer, for Treating Cognitive Impairment in Older Adults: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial.” J Alzheimer’s Dis. 2016;49:971-990.

  26. Herrlinger K et al. “Spearmint Extract Improves Working Memory in Men and Women with Age-Associated Memory Impairment.” J Altern Complement Med 2018;24(1):37-47.

About the Author(s)

Marie Spano

Marie Spano, MS, RD, CSCS, CSSD, is a sports dietitian, food industry consultant and freelance writer who covers everything from functional ingredients to the latest research on dietary fats. Marie has appeared on CNN, Fox, ABC, NBC and other network affiliates throughout the nation, and is currently working on a nutrition textbook.


Subscribe and receive the latest insights on the health and nutrition industry.
Join 37,000+ members. Yes, it's completely free.

You May Also Like