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Vitafoods Europe 2023

Ingredient opportunities in cognitive and emotional health [Interview]

Article-Ingredient opportunities in cognitive and emotional health [Interview]

Vitafoods Europe Speaker Interview with Jennifer Cooper, LPS Health Science
Increased consumer interest in brain health - together with scientific innovation – is creating demand for a variety of products in the cognitive and emotional health category. At Vitafoods 2023, Jennifer Cooper, chief scientific officer at LPS Health Science, will discuss the opportunities this presents for ingredient suppliers, product developers and brand holders.

While the brain health category might once have centred simply on addressing and preventing cognitive decline in old age, this is no longer the case. The sector has expanded to meet the demands of a wide range of consumers, from professionals looking to achieve better performance to students looking to boost learning and memory.

Ten years ago, the market for mental acuity was mostly focused on the avoidance of disease or offsetting the fears associated with age related memory decline,” notes Cooper. “Today the market has swung to optimal brain performance. People of all ages are searching for ways to enhance their cognitive performance in a way that goes way beyond memory and includes, mental acuity, focus and learning, creativity, and executive functioning, mind body connection, stress management and resilience.

New approaches to ageing are also feeding into the category, with many consumers no longer willing to accept the traditional paradigm of growing old. “A big part of this not just about preventing dementia or Alzheimer’s,” explains Cooper. “It’s about enhanced mental performance that supports an active and rewording lifestyle and preserves quality of life and independence long into the “golden years.

Multi-tiered category with natural solutions

This evolution in consumer demand will likely have a profound effect on the sector. “There are still few supplement categories more expensive than the brain health category,” she says. “In the future, I think we’ll see greater sub-segmentation, more advantageous raw material pricing, accelerating innovation, and new science on old ingredients that will help to create a wave of affordable and accessible products designed to meet more nuanced consumer needs.

While this is an exciting time for research on the brain, scientific claims can seem esoteric and confounding to the consumer. More entry-level products would enable consumers to dip their toe in a category that is science-driven and have a positive experience that could lead to trading up to more advanced and multi-functional products.

We are seeing new ingredients enter the market, but we are also seeing existing ingredients being repurposed as we learn more about them,” says Cooper. “Lemon balm is a good example.

Indeed, consumers are also increasingly turning to natural options to support their emotional health, while viewing pharmaceuticals as a last resort. The pandemic increased people’s awareness of the importance of mental health.

This self-awareness also means that people are able to identify mental health issues earlier, and intervene quickly with supplements when they are likely to have most effect.

Ongoing research opens new possibilities

Ongoing research into brain health will continue to increase our understanding of long term mental and cognitive wellbeing. Science has shown for example that neuronogenesis – the process by which new neurons are formed in the brain – is something that can be encouraged.

This is really shifting how we think about brain health,” says Cooper. “Lutein is an old and friendly ingredient that has been around for a long time. We’ve now found that lutein at higher doses can encourage neuronogenesis formation. New ingredients that have the potential to reshape and strengthen neuroconnections are forthcoming.

These discoveries are leading some scientists to reject ageing as a natural process and treat the hallmarks of ageing as conditions that can be mitigated through lifestyle, supplementation, and pharmaceutical intervention.

New discoveries in epigenetics - the study of how behaviour and environment affect our genes – is linked to both personalised nutrition and brain health. Products not only need to be functional, but also understandable and uniquely targeted to consumers interested in entering this science-driven category. Another important element, says Cooper, is underlining the fact that supplements must be part of a holistic approach to healthcare that includes exercise and good nutrition.

In the immediate future, Cooper believes that there will likely be a proliferation of products that target short term benefits. “If you’re feeling sluggish in the afternoon, increasingly stressed, unable to focus or your mood is slipping, you don’t want weeks to wait to feel better,” she notes.

I think speed-of-action and experiential claims are likely to continue to grow. Since the market is still immature and the science is evolving, there are still plenty of ways to differentiate new product entries. Emerging science is leading to lots of new discoveries and correspondingly to additional varied and nuanced claims. This is just the beginning for a category with a bright future and incredible possibilities for growth.

Jennifer Cooper has spent over 25 years in consumer healthcare, including supplement, food, and over-the-counter drug companies. Her presentation at Vitafoods 2023 is entitled ‘Emerging science, new ingredients, enhanced claims and more innovative product development for cognitive and emotional health’.