The most important nutrient for the brain is fat, and not just because the brain is made of fat but because of what the fat does. In particular, brain-cell membranes control the entrance and exit of material to and from each cell. Increasing the permeability of cell membranes speeds neuronal transmission.
Brain-cell membranes also become rigid with age. Thus, nutrients that can maintain membrane fluidity show particular promise in maintaining healthy cognitive function.
Phosphatidylserine (PS) has a fluidising effect on brain-cell membranes, speeding signal transmission among neurons. Research has demonstrated that PS can improve learning, memory, concentration and attention in older people with evidence of memory impairment.
Fish oils are also quite useful, and bridging the gap between phospholipids and fish oils is krill, which is rapidly entering the market as a sort of 'fish oil-plus' ingredient because it contains EPA and DHA as well as PS and phosphatidylcholine (PC).
Citicoline, a form of the B vitamin choline, is used by the brain to repair brain-cell membranes and also helps restore membrane phospholipids.
"Many brain-health ingredients have a single function," says Karen E Todd, marketing director for Kyowa Hakko USA, which markets Cognizin brand citicoline. "Cognizin is a multi-functioning ingredient. It has an effect with memory, mitochondrial function, phospholipids synthesis, catecholamine synthesis and interaction with GABA receptors — effects like this can't be provided by choline."
Botanicals are classic brain boosters, starting with ginkgo and ginseng. St John's wort is useful for mild to moderate depression. Valerian and kava are stress reducers.
Of note to product developers looking to introduce functional brain-health products is a study presented at the US-based Alzheimer's Association's first conference on the prevention of dementia (in the summer of 2005). A research team presented findings from 1,800 elderly people who were dementia-free at the start of the nine-year study. Those who drank fruit or vegetable juices at least three times per week had a 75 per cent reduced risk of the disease, compared with those who drank these juices less than once a week.
"The market for those with age-related mental decline is growing every day," says Todd. "Baby boomers are certainly the largest market at this time, but brain health begins to decline as early as your 20s, and one begins to notice it in their late 30s or early 40s."
There is often a blurry line between 'mood' and outright 'depression.' This fuzziness of terms and understanding might be enough of a roadblock to keep the trendy catchword 'mood food' from growing out of its niche. A clear distinction is the temporal, stress-induced nature of the former, and the deeper tenure of the latter. Savvy marketers who can help develop products and position them outside of the clinical realm and into the wellness category likely stand a greater chance of success.
Three ingredients in particular are bona-fide players in the mood food realm. Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), an amino acid produced by the brain, produces a relaxation effect by influencing the levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. L-theanine is involved in forming GABA, and is also largely responsible for the taste of green tea. It has anti-stress effects by blocking glutamate receptors in the brain, reducing stress responses. Lactium is a milk protein hydrolysate that promotes relaxation with no sedative effect — it makes babies calm after they have nursed.
SelenoExcell High Selenium Yeast: A natural-food form of organically bound selenium. Standardized with the National Cancer Institute and supported by a Clinical Trial Agreement with the Cancer Prevention Division of NCI. Selected as the sole intervention agent in a series of cancer-prevention (colon, lung and prostate) and health-related trials.
+1 559 229 7850
Fresno, California, USA
BioVinca: A memory enhancer that increases blood flow and glucose metabolism in human brains. A single dose increases the energy available to neurons, causing a marked improvement in brain activity and a decrease in critical reaction time.
+1 949 622 9030
Irvine, California, USA
Denomega Nutritional Oils
Omega-360: 100 per cent pure omega-3s for your complete health. Not made from concentrates, not artificially or chemically modified. Contains the complete blend of omega-3s with a high content of evenly balanced EPA and DHA.
+47 6939 5204
Gamle Fredrikstad, Norway
Embria Health Sciences
eXselen: A highly bioavailable organic selenium yeast. Backed by more than 15 years of research. Guarantees consistently high levels of selenomethionine, the preferred form of selenium, known for its rapid and efficient absorption by the human body. Meets GMPs, and laboratory tested for purity, potency and consistency.
+1 877 362 7421
Ankeny, Iowa, USA
EPAX 1050TG Omega-3 Concentrate: A marine-derived, highly concentrated omega-3 fatty acids formula with 430mg/g DHA and 60mg/g EPA. Provides nutritional support for age-related memory decline, with studies demonstrating a documented effect on Alzheimer's and dementia patients.
+47 7013 5960
Foihea Export & Import Enterprises
Kava Products & Ingredients
+612 9826 9801
Neuravena Wild Green Oat: A new bioactivity green-oat extract for mental health and cognitive function, tested in both human and animal studies.
+1 952 920 7700
North Bergen, New Jersey, USA
GAT Food Essentials
Denomega GAT 100: A liquid functional-foods ingredient containing omega-3s from fish oil. Can be used in a broad range of food and beverage applications without affecting taste, smell or shelf life of the food or beverage product.
+43 2624 53922
Guangxi Changzhou Natural Pharmaceutical
Gotu Kola P.E.: Lightless to white dry powder. Active ingredients include asiaticoside, madecassoside, asiatic acid and madecassic acid.
+86 771 4516085
+1 715 675 2325
American Ginseng: American ginseng is a good overall body tonic. It offers a cooling, calming affect on the body, gives energy, helps build the immune system, and can help with the circulatory system.
Cognizin Citicoline: A natural water-soluble compound that enhances communication between neurons in the brain to support visual function and protect neural structures from free-radical damage. New research from Harvard shows citicoline increases energy (ATP) levels in the brain, increasing the ability to focus, concentrate, and be generally more productive.
Setria Glutathione: The morning antioxidant. A powerful tripeptide, composed of glutamic acid, cystein, and glycine, that promotes vital detoxification. Glutathione levels should be replenished every morning when levels are at their lowest and oxidative risk is high.
+1 212 319 5353
New York, New York, USA
Marinol: Fish-oil and powder concentrates with the highest concentrated marine-based omega-3s for the functional-foods industry. Highly shelf stable. Offers the benefits of omega-3s in a great-tasting food product.
+1 815 730 5244
Channahon, Illinois, USA
Lion's Mane: Hericium erinaceum, containing hericenones, an active compound that research indicates may stimulate the production of nerve-growth factor. This may prove beneficial for healthy cognitive function.
+1 800 747 7418
East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA
Neptune Technologies & Bioressources
Neptune Krill Oil: From the leader in EPA/DHA functionalized marine phospholipids clinically validated for safety and effectiveness in chronic health conditions. Composed of phospholipids, superior carriers of EPA and DHA that provide higher bioavailability than common triglycerides in fish oils. Clinically proven as effective for cardiovascular disease, chronic inflammation and cognitive function.
+1 450 687 2262
Laval, Québec, Canada
OmegaPure: A refined oil, rich in EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids, formulated for use in a variety of functional foods and beverages. Non-GMO and kosher certified.
+1 713 623 0060
Houston, Texas, USA
Omegavie Tuna Oil 25 DHA QS: A marine oil containing high concentrations of DHA. Marine sources of omega-3s have been shown to have a positive effect on brain performance and overall mental health.
+33 298 548 420
+1 508 842 9292
Worcester, Massachusetts, USA
Bacomind: A clinically proven cognitive-function enhancer. Intensive lab, animal and human research has shown effect for 5-HT6 receptor binding and DPPH scavenging.
+1 201 556 1800
Hackensack, New Jersey, USA