Novel Ingredients in Brain Health Aiming to Target the 36 Million Cases of Dementia Globally

Brain health and memory continues to be a hot topic in nutraceuticals. With investment in research and novel ingredients, such as rice bran extract, now being seen, brain heath and memory has the potential to gain a more important positioning within nutraceuticals overall. A key target market, the ageing population is on the rise at present. According to Euromonitor Internationals’ Countries & Consumers data, the global over 65-year-old population is set to reach 1.1 billion by 2030. There is currently no cure for dementia, and the World Health Organization estimated that 35.6 million people were suffering from it in 2012, with this number set to double by 2030. These statistics are fuelling the investment in research to prevent and/or halt the onset of dementia.

Rice Bran Extract is Shown to Have Brain Health Benefits

Ingredients associated with improving brain health, including omega fatty acids, B vitamins, magnesium and carnitine, amongst many others, have already gained attention amongst consumers and product developers alike. Asia Pacific, for example, is increasingly seeing the latter two ingredients used in drink products targeting brain health. However, there are also some more novel ingredients gaining greater traction.

One ingredient with growing potential in the area of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) management is rice bran extract, which is high in vitamin E, B vitamins and omega-6 fatty acids. A recent study presented at Vitafoods Europe 2014, from the Nutritional Neuroscience centre in Germany, showed a link between rice bran extract and AD.

According to the study, the ageing brain suffers enhanced oxidative stress as the activity of the mitochondria – often called the power houses of a cell – slow down. Mitochondrial dysfunction is apparently very common in brain ageing and AD. However, the rice bran extract used in the study, called Rice N Care – which is available in a powder, liquid and supplement format – was shown to enhance mitochondrial function in a cellular model of Alzheimer’s. This could open up opportunities to fortify breakfast cereals, snack bars and even dairy products, for example, with rice bran extract. What is more, its health benefits do not only lie with brain health.

Rice Bran Oil is Already Widely Used in Health and Beauty in Asia Pacific

Rice bran oil is widely available globally, and it is often used in cooking in Japan, India and other Asian countries to treat diabetes and cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol, amongst many other ailments. It is also used in beauty as it is believed to protect the skin against UV rays, as well as to have moisturising properties. Hence, using Asia Pacific as a launch market for rice bran extract products targeted at brain health represents a clear opportunity. Consumers will already be familiar with the ingredient, and the region not only has the largest sales of brain health and memory-positioned food and drink, but it was also home to 320.2 million over 65-year-olds in 2013.

Vitamin E and Lesser Known Piracetam also Linked to Brain Functioning

Rice bran extract is not the only ingredient gaining attention in brain health, and it has the potential to be combined with other novel and even well-known functional ingredients pertaining to brain health. Vitamin E, for example, is gaining attention in the brain health positioning. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) indicated that vitamin E (alpha tocopherol) might improve the functionality of those with mild to moderate AD at a dose of 2,000 IU per day. Whilst this is a very high dose, even in comparison to that found in supplements, it nevertheless adds to the list of ingredients shown to benefit those suffering from the disease.

The benefits of brain health do not, of course, just have to lie with the ageing. Boosting performance and cognition is also important to many consumers working ever longer hours. Other ingredients pertaining to brain health, which have potential, include piracetam; despite being discovered over 50 years ago, it is only just beginning to be used in food and drink products. It is designed to help enhance the brain’s metabolism and boost information processing, attention, learning and memory. Both of these ingredients have been used in the new functional drink truBrain from Think Drinks, which has been formulated in the US to enhance focus and concentration.

Tangible Efficacy Key to Success

With evermore research into brain health, and an increasing number of nutraceutical ingredients linked to the positioning, the market for food and drinks which target AD as well as cognitive function will continue to evolve and attract new product development. Yet, this interest is not yet leading to strong growth in sales of food and drinks positioned for brain health, and the market is still being driven by supplements. Brain health and memory-positioned food and drink is only set to post a constant value CAGR of 0.4% over 2013-2018 at 2013 prices, and, at present, this is led by products positioned for the cognitive development of children.

Nevertheless, the brain health positioning does hold some potential. However, until the notion of tangible efficacy is addressed by manufacturers and seen by consumers, supplements of ingredients such as those mentioned above will always win over food and drink in the consumer’s mind. One way to address this would be to focus on formulation and use complimentary ingredients within the brain health positioning.