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By: Mark Strobel

Dietary supplements is a booming business that accounts for a growing share of global consumer health retail value sales each year. As the health literacy of the general public improves, they increasingly turn to dietary supplements to improve or maintain their health, and growing healthcare costs and incidence of chronic illnesses lead consumers to these products as a preventive measure. Dietary supplements are progressively more targeted with specific formulations by need state, and the growing concern of cognitive well-being has driven the retail sales of memory health supplements. In 2013, memory health supplements outpaced the category as a whole to reach US$1.5 billion worldwide.

Global Retail Value Sales Year-On-Year Growth of Dietary Supplements and Memory Health Supplements 2008-2013

Source: Euromonitor International

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Understanding Brain Function

The overall understanding of the way the body works has made huge strides in recent history and people are more aware than ever of the benefits of certain behaviours and nutrients on their health. However, the brain continues to be the final frontier of our corporal knowledge and much is still unknown about the way it functions. There is a marked urgency to better comprehend the brain as conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, autism, depression and more become growing global concerns. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 35.6 million people currently live with dementia, a number that will likely double by 2030 and more than triple by 2050 (Dementia: A public priority, 2012). Also, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a news report in March 2014 stating that the rate of autism spectrum disorder in the US has increased 30% to 1 in every 68 children in just the last two years. As a result, an increasing amount of research and scientific studies have focused on cognition.

Though much is still unclear, the wide ranging studies have already improved our understanding of mental conditions. One of the most significant recent advances was the creation of a map of the developing human brain while in the womb by the Allen Institute for Brain Science. This map provides insight on when and where different genes are active in the fetal brain which will help shed light on the origins of certain brain disorders. Exploration of the impact of certain behaviours and nutrients is also a key area of study. Researchers from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute found a link between exercise and cardiovascular fitness with memory later in life (The Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study, April 2014). The age old energy booster caffeine has long been recognized for its memory boosting properties, as well as coffee’s potential to stave off dementia. Scientists recently discovered that the reason may be associated with tau protein deposits in the hippocampus and that these findings may lead to a new class of drugs for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease (Neurology of Aging, Beneficial effects of caffeine in a transgenic model of Alzheimer’s Disease-like Tau pathology, March 2014). Most recently, green tea, already associated with an array of health benefits, has been shown to boost connectivity between the brain’s parietal and frontal cortex and thus enhance working memory (Psychopharmacology, Green tea extract enhances parieto-frontal connectivity during working memory processing, March 2014).

A Growing Demand for Memory Enhancers

As our understanding of brain function grows along with the incidence of mental disorders, products positioned to improve cognition and memory are receiving more attention. The growing demand is primarily driven by two demographics, the old and the young. Just as the rest of the body’s tissues age and the performance of muscles as well as the density of bones start to decline, the brain also succumbs to the adverse effects of ageing. Since the global population aged 65 and above is expected to grow by 20% over 2013-2018, reaching over 719 million, the demand for supplements that slow down mental deterioration will continue to rise. The youthful demographic is the other focus for brain health and memory enhancers as a growing number of parents are determined to maximize their children’s potential. While the majority of parents provide their children with brain boosting nutrients through fortified dairy products, which reached global retail sales of US$445 million in 2013, there is a growing market for paediatric memory health supplements.

According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), there are a variety of ingredients that are approved to make benefit claims regarding brain and memory health.

EFSA Approved Health Claims Under Article 13.1 Regarding Brain and Memory Health

IngredientsApproved Claim
BiotinNormal psychological function
CalciumNormal neurotransmission
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)Normal cognitive function
IodineNormal cognitive function
IronNormal cognitive function
MagnesiumNormal psychological function
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)Normal psychological function
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)Normal psychological function
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)Normal mental performance
Vitamin B6Normal psychological function
Vitamin B9 (Folic acid)Normal psychological function
Vitamin B12Normal psychological function
Vitamin CNormal psychological function
ZincNormal cognitive function

Source: European Food Safety Authority

 

Of these ingredients, omega 3-6-9, which includes docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), is most clearly associated with memory health. While the primary use of fish oils and omega fatty acids has traditionally been for its cardiovascular benefits, the American Heart Association recommends that those with documented cardiovascular disease consume one gram of EPA+DHA per day, an extensive number of studies since the turn of the century have touted these supplements for their beneficial neurocognitive effects. One of the most recent studies states that “participants’ brains worked ‘less hard’ and achieved a better cognitive performance than prior to [omega 3] supplementation” (Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental, Omega-3 supplementation improves cognition and modifies brain activation in young adults, March 2014). This highly sought after additional benefit of omega 3-6-9 has made it the fastest growing dietary supplement worldwide with a CAGR of 11% over 2008-2013.

Sales of Ginkgo biloba, on the other hand, have been essentially flat since 2008. This supplement is a traditional Chinese medicine and potentially the oldest ingredient known for its cognitive benefits. However, lack of recent press, diminished focus and little product innovation have tempered consumer confidence in its ability to improve memory and sharpen thinking.

Global Retail Value Sales and Growth by VDS Type 2008-2013

Source: Euromonitor International

Sustained Demand to Drive Future Sales

The demand for memory health positioned supplements is only expected to accelerate as the focus on and understanding of mental well-being catches up to the physical. The growing elderly population and increasingly health conscious parents will continue to develop the customer base. Alleradd bottle.pngAs a way to appeal to the young adult population, manufacturers are developing supplements that not only provide cognitive maintenance benefits, but also provide the immediate, tangible results of energy and enhanced focus. The combination dietary supplement Alleradd, for example, has a formulation with a variety of vitamins, minerals and herbal ingredients, like green tea extract, as well as caffeine.

Though there is a continued controversy over the necessity of the VDS category as a whole, and several studies question the efficacy of memory health supplements, the extremely important nature of cognitive well-being and the “just-in-case” attitude of many consumers are expected to continue to drive future sales of memory health supplements.

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