Special Report: The Link Between Nutrition and Cognitive Health

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06 Feb 2017 --- The link between the types of foods we eat and our cognitive performance is becoming ever stronger. Increasing evidence suggests that good nutrition is essential for optimal brain performance, as well as overall mental health, and that many mental health conditions could be directly influenced by a poor diet. Today, NutritionInsight looks into the role food and nutrition can play in preventing cognitive decline, as well as enhancing the brain performance of consumers on all walks of life.

Nutrition & Cognitive Health: The Studies

Several studies have looked into the relationship between nutrition and brain performance, with most finding a definitive link between the two. Previous studies also have even linked a higher BMI, the index of body fat based on height and weight, to lower cognitive functioning.

An example of such includes a recent study from researchers at the University of Arizona, who found that a BMI could negatively impact the cognitive functioning in older adults due to the extra inflammation in the body.

Studies looking into how fatty western diets affect cognitive behavior have seen similar trends. An additional recent study looked at children who eat excessive amounts of fatty foods, and found that as well as being at risk of obesity, they could also develop cognitive and psychiatric problems when they are older. The researchers claimed that the high fat diet could lead to a dip in several forms of cognitive functions, such as behavioral flexibility and memory.

The types of oils and fats eaten by consumers have even been linked to cognitive health. A recent report has shown how eating vegetable oils could lead to fatigue, migraines and dementia.

And on the flipside, further studies have shown how a ‘healthy diet’ can have a beneficial impact on mental capabilities.

The widely praised “Mediterranean diet” has been associated with cognitive health, and a recent study conducted by the Alzheimer’s Association suggesting that consuming the diet may be the key to maintaining good brain health into old age.

So with good nutrition a proven key to maintaining cognitive health, the nutrition industry has been left with a golden opportunity to develop and innovate new products aimed to enhance the brains of consumers.


Supplementing for Brain Health

2016 was a strong year for the supplement sector, with cognitive supplements products, in particular, continuing to perform strongly in the overall market.

And 2017 looks set to keep the trend growing. Several nutrition companies have already made long strides to ensure they’re hot on heels of the cognitive nutrition trend.

Nutrition 21 is an example of such a company, and with their new product Nitrosigine, (bonded arginine silicate) they have ambitions to link the thriving fitness industry with the cognitive health trend.  

Speaking with NutritionInsight, James Komorowski, Vice President, Scientific & Regulatory Affairs at Nutrition 21, explained the importance of nutrition and the brain, and who the Nitrosigine audience is.

“Good nutrition is key to proper brain health and function,” Komorowski begins.

“The brain uses a lot of energy to continuously function at a very high energy level and therefore needs continuous access to key nutrients. This is important not only for today, but also important in years to come.”

“Nutrition 21 is focusing on brain health and cognitive performance because these areas affect so many different categories of consumer interest, from learning, to mood, to sports performance.”

He continues, “When we discovered that Nitrosigine had a significant effect on cognitive function, we quickly found out how these positive effects can also be applied to many other areas of both mental and physical performance.”

James Kahn, Executive Director of Sales at Nutrition 21, added, “Nitrosigine is targeting consumers interested in cognitive health, including students, athletes, and older populations, by providing a non-stimulant, jitter-free ingredient, which provides a significant improvement in processing speed and executive function.”


Plant Supplements for Cognitive Health

Much of the cognitive supplement industry is based around plant products, providing a huge opportunity for the companies already invested in the area.

And the trend between plant products and cognitive health is a growing one. In 2016, 4.5% more botanical and herbal supplements claiming to promote cognitive health were launched than in 2015.

Frutarom Health BU is an example of a company planning to strengthen its focus on its phytopharmaceutical business in 2017, with mental health, (such as stress, mood, fatigue, restlessness, cognition) being a key target area for them.

Speaking with NutritionInsight, Maider Gutierrez, Marketing Manager of Frutarom Health BU, said, “Mental health is a key therapeutic area within the herbal medicinal market with ingredients such lemon balm and passion flower targeting mental stress and sleep.”

“Therefore our interest is to cover this area as part of efforts to strength our position in this market.”

“Furthermore, we see an increasing demand for natural solutions to enhance cognitive performance. It is becoming extremely important to maintain an optimum cognitive function, especially in stressful situations, which have become a normal part of our society.”

“More and more people perceive increasing levels of stress, which, on the long run, could lead to health issues.”

“Traditional plants can be a safe and natural solution to support an optimum cognitive function and their popularity will grow as the demand for natural products do.”


Natural Foods & Cognitive Benefits

Along with the supplement sector, natural food suppliers have also started to hone in on the cognitive benefits of their products.

Dariela Roffe-Rackind, Director for Europe for the Almond Board of California and Richard Waycott, President & CEO, recently spoke to NutritionInsight about how cognitive benefits is something else the almond can offer consumers.

Commenting on a study that has been submitted for publication, Roffe-Rackind said, “Researchers have looked at cognitive health and brain function, so looking at when people are eating almonds, what happens to their sensory function and what is going on in their brains.”

She continues, “There are a lot of beliefs into almonds and mental acuity, memory and brain function.”

“There are a lot of traditions, especially in India, where mothers give their children almonds every morning before they go to school to help them function and to help with memory.”

Waycott continues, adding, “This tradition goes back thousands of years, and it’s a very strong belief in India that almonds help cognitive function. So we plan to look into that further.”

However, Waycott notes that scientifically, it is a hard area to work with.

“It’s difficult because of all the confounding influences on the brain which a lot of people don’t really understand,” he said.


The Demand For Brain Health Products

The market for brain health products is a certainly an exciting one, appealing to many different demographics for a number of different reasons.

On one hand, the world’s aging population means that there has been, and will continue to be, an increase in mental health issues such as Alzheimer’s and other memory issues.

Nutrition designed to actively prevent and treat such conditions not only positively impacts consumers already in old age, but also the older generations of the future, thus future proofing and reducing the pressure on the medical providers worldwide.

On the other hand, the products also appeal to the ever-busy consumers of today, the younger demographic who are more stressed, anxious and overwhelmed than ever before. With mental health becoming less of a stigma worldwide, there is an opportunity, and a need, to provide such consumers with a product that can improve their mental wellbeing.

The Future of the Nutrition and Cognitive Health Market

Sara Perez Ojalvo, Scientific Affairs Manager at Nutrition 21 is confident that all signs point towards a promising future for the cognitive and mental health sector.

“Nutrition and mental health is an exciting growing field that will very likely be expanding with new research and links in the years to come,” she says.

Perez Ojalvo adds, “Brain health, cognitive function, and even mood are being found to be very much linked to nutrition and a healthy lifestyle with particular nutrients being especially influential in this field.”

Komorowski agrees, and adds that the food industry should continue to conduct and publish research in this area.

“The more research we do, the more we learn about the impact of various common nutrients on brain health as well as discover the benefits of new nutrients.”

by Hannah Gardiner

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