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Natural Foods Merchandiser

Is cognitive health the next big category for supplements?

Cognitive health supplement sales are poised to skyrocket in 2013. Retailer tips to stay ahead of sales trends and key ingredients to look for.

Brain health—from memory to focus to mood—is one of the most promising growth categories in nutrition, according toNBJ. The category is so ripe for expansion that NBJ dedicated the cover story for its October 2012 Condition-Specific Supplements issue to making a case for the brain space.

“The category is beginning to skyrocket,” Daniel Amen, MD, a psychiatrist and author of Use Your Brain to Change Your Age (Crown Archetype, 2012) and other books about brain health, told NBJ. “Eleven thousand people turn 60 everyday and there is a ton of news out there about Alzheimer’s disease, but no treatment that really works.”

The Alzheimer’s Association reports that 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, which is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. By 2050, the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s is expected to hit 16 million and cost the country $1.1 trillion. A recent Harvard University survey found that adults fear Alzheimer’s more than heart disease, stroke or diabetes—only cancer is feared more. The anxiety is justified: Deaths from Alzheimer’s jumped 66 percent between 2005 and 2008 while deaths from other major diseases decreased.

Mood and sleep are other important elements of the brain health category. More than 11 percent of Americans over age 12 take antidepressant medications, and almost 20 percent of U.S. consumers suffer serious anxiety-spectrum disorders.

Sales trends

In 2011, U.S. consumer sales of supplements targeted to cognition, mood and sleep grew 6 percent to $1.4 billion, NBJ reports. The category remains small, accounting for less than 5 percent of the entire supplement market.

Sales in the brain health category are expected to grow significantly, however, especially given the many new brain health products that are hitting the market now. In fact, the research firm Mintel reports that 58 new foods, drinks or supplements making a “functional-brain and nervous system” claim between April and September 2012. Since 2009, nearly 600 such products have been launched.

Key cognitive health ingredients

Well-established research underlies the brain function supportive effects of folic acid combined with vitamin B12, magnesium (including Magtein), omega-3s DHA and EPA and other healthy fats, citicoline (including Cognizin) and acetylcholine enhancers—such as DMAE, vinpocetine and phosphatidylserine.

Retailer tips

In 2012, the recommendations of Mehmet Oz, MD, on The Dr. Oz Show fueled significant consumer interest in specific weight loss ingredients, such as green coffee bean extract, 7-Keto, African mango and raspberry ketones. Given the growing need for natural solutions to support cognitive health, mood and sleep, Dr. Oz has been stepping up his focus on brain health as well. In May, for example, his show featured a five-step Alzheimer’s prevention plan, which included this supplement advice: “If you’re only going to take one supplement, DHA is the one you need.”

Such recommendations can have a huge impact on supplement retailers. That’s why it’s important to keep on top of what Oz and other influential practitioners are recommending, as well as pay attention to what your customers are requesting. As Country Vitamins’ Sardell advises: “I tell my staff, ‘if you hear about it once, keep it in mind. If you hear it twice, write it down and put it in our file. If you hear it three times, then we really know that it’s time to get it on the shelf.’”

3 cognitive health product picks

Natural Vitality Kids Natural Calm Multi: Designed as a calm-focus multivitamin to address the attention issues prevalent among school-age children, this tasty liquid features magnesium to support brain function and calm mood, plus DHA, EPA, DMAE and organic fruits and vegetables. It’s gluten free, GMO free, organic and naturally sweetened with stevia and agave.

Jarrow’s Neuro Optimizer: Proven nutrients (citicoline, PS, acetyl-L-carnitine and alpha-lipoic acid) star in this formula that supports neurotransmitter function, stress response and overall brain health.

Doctor’s Best–Best Brain Magnesium: Magnesium supports proper brain synapse function; the magnesium l-threonate form (Magtein) may perform better in the brain, according to preclinical studies.

Want more info about the market for condition-specific products?

Nutrition Business Journal’s October 2012 issue offers a deep dive into the condition-specific supplements market. Learn more or order a copy of the issue at NBJ also coauthored with New Hope Natural Media’s Engredea team the Ingredient Market Forecast 2012-13, which explores the trends, conditions and science driving the ingredient market. Learn more or buy the report at

The Engredea, NBJ and NFM teams contributed to this report.

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