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Next for the cognitive health market

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The cognitive health category has expanded to offer solutions targeting various needstates, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic where lockdown restrictions have surfaced various mental health concerns.

The cognitive health market has evolved from one that lacked products with evidence-based ingredients into what is now considered an overwhelmingly large category that targets a multitude of different needstates—stress, mood, anxiety, sleep, memory, focus. This has led to the expansion of the category and new opportunities for brands to innovate products targeting various needstates. 

This market is also seeing growth due to the increase in consumer awareness of extending ‘healthspan’ and not just ‘lifespan.’ Individuals in their mid-20s are now taking action to increase longevity and tackle proactive prevention, rather than treating a disease when it's too late.

As the world faces major struggles through this time of pandemic and the high prevalence of stress- and anxiety-provoking events, the demand for products that provide relief in these areas will be popular. In addition, the increase in stressful lifestyles due to societal and work pressures, as well as the overabundance of food that may lead to obesity, can add on to the stress. Thus, ingredients that help support the hunger-stress axis and manage will see market growth in the coming years. Furthermore, with sleep being a huge factor in increasing quality of life, ingredients that can provide relaxation and support sleep will also see growth.

Established and emerging ingredients

Curcumin will always be a popular ingredient in this segment with its various cognitive benefits linking mood and memory. Although these effects don't provide an acute response in the way caffeine does, consumers are aware of the long-term benefits that this Ayurvedic botanical provides. Numerous clinically-backed research has purported curcumin to have pleiotropic effects, including anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and anti-cancer actions. By tackling the underlying issues of inflammation and oxidative stress, curcumin may be able to alleviate cognitive decline. The central nervous system also contains polyunsaturated fatty acids, which can be vulnerable to oxidative stress and inflammation. By reducing these two factors, curcumin may also be vital to maintaining cognitive function and managing neruo-inflammation. However, a major challenge with curcumin is its ability to rapidly get metabolised and excreted in the body, as well as its absorption. Companies are now innovating curcumin by using delivery technologies to help keep its integrity and bypass the watery gastrointestinal tract. 

There are numerous ingredients in the cognitive health market that are becoming popular, particularly those that have been scientifically validated to reduce stress, anxiety and enhance quality of sleep. Two ingredients that have received a lot of attention in recent months are Palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) and Caralluma fimbriata.

PEA is an endogenous fatty acid amide that is produced in the body in response to pain, inflammation and stress. It is also dubbed as a ‘CBD alternative,’ as it is part of the endocannabinoid family and has similar mechanism of action to CBD. The reason for the increase in interest over this ingredient is due to the regulatory hurdles that CBD faces in the US and EU, thus PEA provides a safer and clinically-studied (in healthy human populations) ingredient that reduces pain, and supports relaxation and sleep. 

Moreover, Caralluma fimbriata is a succulent plant that was traditionally eaten by tribes to ward off hunger and suppress appetite. Over the years, Gencor has conducted various clinically studies on their branded extract of Caralluma fimbriata named Slimaluma® to demonstrate nootropic effects. Studies found a unique mechanism behind Slimaluma® that involved the activation of the HPA-axis and facilitating learning, supporting memory and reducing anxiety. The active constituents, namely the pregnane glycosides, are also what activates the serotonin receptors, leading to greater feelings of satiety and reduced anxiety.

Validation through studies

With quality and safetly being so centrally positioned, ingredients must be scientifically validated in order for brand owners to offer claims on their labels relating to the end-benefit of the product. It's essential to partner with trustworthy suppliers that have done their due diligence in conducing gold-standard clinical studies on a healthy human population. Many suppliers still provide ingredients that have scientific evidence, however these are sometimes done on cell lines and/or animal models, therefore brands should be conscious of the scientific evidence that the specific branded ingredient use provides.

Clinical research is essential when it comes to substantiating the effects of cognitive health ingredients, as many ingredients in this segment still validate their claims based on in-vivo and/or in-vitro studies. The cognitive health market also still needs to establish gold-standard measures and markers that indicate a particular cognitive health outcome, such as those enhancing memory, mood or reaction-times. 

Although these studies may take a longer time to complete compared to other segments, it is essential for brands to utilise such evidence and use them in a proper manner when developing and marketing finished products.

Future outlook

The cognitive health segment will continue to grow as demand for stress- and anxiety-relieving ingredients increases. Firstly, compared to previous years with cognitive health products being positioned to an acute physiological outcome, such as caffeine for energy, ingredients that have a chronic benefit are seeing market growth. Consumers are starting to understand the importance of having a long-term approach to health and well-being, thus provides opportunities for brands to innovate their product lines with ingredients that offer such benefits.   

Secondly, ingredients that can enhance gaming performance is an emerging category, driven by the popularity in e-gaming. Such needstates would include—but not limited to—reaction time, memory, energy and focus. The protective element for brain health is also an area that is yet to be tapped into.

Furthermore, rather than using terms such as ‘nootropic’ or ‘BDNF’, brands should be mindful of using complex terminology and rather use words resonates with consumers. One way they can do this is by conveying the feeling one gets from a product rather than talking about the ‘nootropic-effects’.  

To explore more opportunities within the cognitive health market, download the Vitafoods Insights report.

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