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The supportive role supplements can play for sleep and mental health

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Ingredients such as melatonin, magnesium, valerian, ashwagandha and lemon balm are helping consumers support rest and well-being.

For many Americans, the pandemic has been a wake-up call to take better care of their health and wellness. The spike in supplement market sales, empty retail shelves, and CRN’s COVID-19 consumer survey data indicate a subset of supplement users has increased its supplement intake throughout the health crisis.

It is no secret that more dietary supplement users are seeking these products to support immune health and help maintain overall health and wellness. While more users may be prioritizing supplements for these reasons, other concerns remain top of mind, such as sleep and mental health. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule and managing stress levels are challenging in a normal time, but even more difficult throughout a pandemic. Research continues to indicate the supportive role supplements can play in these categories, including ingredients such as melatonin, magnesium, valerian, ashwagandha and lemon balm.

Results of the 2020 CRN Consumer Survey revealed 14% of supplement users reported taking supplements for sleep health and 13% for mental health (e.g., stress, anxiety, depression). Both of these categories are more popular among younger adults, with 18% of users ages 18 to 34 taking supplements for sleep support and 20% in this same age cohort taking products for mental health.

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In light of the concerns regarding sleep and mental health throughout the pandemic—and the growing body of research in these categories—this year’s survey also looked at what ingredients users were specifically taking in these groups.

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Melatonin is the most popular ingredient taken for sleep and mental health, according to 2020 survey data. The popularity of the ingredient is not surprising, as research demonstrates that melatonin can help support sleep1 and manage jet lag.2 Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain. The production and release of melatonin increase in darkness to prepare the body for sleep, and are suppressed by light.

Common doses of melatonin found on the market range from 0.3 to 10 mg. Research shows variability in blood concentrations after dosing, particularly in older individuals.3 Additionally, endogenous melatonin production declines with age, so effective melatonin doses may vary from individual to individual.

The second most popular ingredient users reported taking for both sleep and mental health is magnesium. This essential mineral is identified as an underconsumed nutrient by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee in its 2020 Scientific Report. Doses vary, but the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for magnesium in adults ranges from 310 to 420 mg. Magnesium may support sleep by regulating melatonin levels.4 Evidence also suggests a beneficial effect of magnesium on sleep quality,5 as well as stress and anxiety6 through its actions on gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors.

Following magnesium, 19% of users taking supplements for sleep support reported taking valerian (Valeriana officinalis). According to the World Health Organization (WHO) monograph, this botanical ingredient has a long history of using the roots for supporting sleep through its sedative properties and managing restlessness. Research supports the use of valerian root for reducing the time it takes to fall asleep and in improving sleep quality.7 The most common doses are 400 to 900 mg, but vary depending on the preparation and type of extract.  

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis L.) are additional botanical dietary ingredients with a long history of supporting stress management, per Health Canada’s monograph and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) monograph, respectively. These adaptogens help the body’s ability to deal with, or “adapt” to stress, via different mechanisms. Research shows ashwagandha can help to lower levels of cortisol,8 a hormone produced in response to stress, whereas the anxiolytic effects of lemon balm may be due to interactions with GABA receptors.9 Common doses of ashwagandha root extract range from 300 to 600 mg per day. Lemon balm leaf extracts are available in a broad range of doses, from 300 to 1,500 mg per day.

The emerging science around all of these ingredients—melatonin, magnesium, valerian, ashwagandha and lemon balm—continues to influence the popularity of not only these products, but also the sleep and mental health supplement categories overall.

As more Americans remain focused on taking supplements to support their immune function or overall health and wellness throughout the pandemic, maintaining sleep and managing stress is likely to remain a concern for many consumers moving forward. The growing body of scientific research and popularity of the sleep and mental health categories, particularly among younger users, signal that these areas have the potential to grow in coming years. 

Andrea Wong, Ph.D., is senior vice president, scientific and regulatory affairs, of the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), a leading trade association for the dietary supplement and functional food industry.

References

1 Ferracioli-Oda E, Qwasmi A, Bloch MH. “Meta-analysis: melatonin for the treatment of primary sleep disorders.” PLoS One. 2013;8(5):e63773.

2 Herxheimer A, Petrie KJ. “Melatonin for the prevention and treatment of jet lag.” Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2002;(2):CD001520.

3 Zhdanova IV et al. “Endogenous melatonin levels and the fate of exogenous melatonin: age effects.” J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 1998;53(4):B293-298.

4 Durlach J et al. “Biorhythms and possible central regulation of magnesium status, phototherapy, darkness therapy and chronopathological forms of magnesium depletion.” Magnes Res. 2002;15(1-2):49-66.

5 Abbasi B et al. “The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial.” J Res Med Sci. 2012;17(12):1161-1169.

6 Boyle NB, Lawton C, Dye L. “The Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Subjective Anxiety and Stress—A Systematic Review.” Nutrients. 2017;9(5):429.

7 Morazzoni P, Bombardelli E. “Valeriana officinalis: traditional use and recent evaluation of activity.” Fitoterapia. 1995;66:99-112.

8 Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J, Anishetty S. “A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults.” Indian J Psychol Med. 2012;34(3):255-262.

9 Scholey A et al. “Anti-stress effects of lemon balm-containing foods.” Nutrients. 2014;6(11):4805-4821.

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