Mind over Matter: Boosting Brain Health


As the body of peer-reviewed research on cognitive-function ingredients continues to grow, omega-3 is just the tip of the iceberg for natural alternatives to prescription drugs, say industry experts.


When the only survivor of January’s West Virginia Sago Mine disaster suffered from brain damage during his early days of recovery, one of the first things his neurosurgeon turned to was omega-3 fatty acids. Backed by sound scientific research, Julian Bailes, MD, had no qualms about giving miner Randal McCloy 18 g a day of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the two most important omega-3 fatty acids. Today, Bailes credits the nutrients with playing a big role in McCloy’s recovery by helping to decrease brain inflammation and repair the brain.

As the body of peer-reviewed research on cognitive-function ingredients continues to grow, omega-3 is just the tip of the iceberg for natural alternatives to prescription drugs, say industry experts. Ingredients such as Ginkgo biloba, tocotrienols, phosphatidylserine (PS), and others are jumping on the bandwagon of cognitive-health supplements and functional foods.

“Just as we have many products on grocery shelves that promote good heart, bone, and cholesterol health, it can only be a matter of time before we see increasing demand for nutrition that strategically promotes brain health-from parents who want to get their children off to the best start in school, as well as from an aging population looking to prevent or slow senile dementia,” says Ram Chaudhari, senior executive vice president and chief scientific officer of Fortitech (Schenectady, NY). “Continuing study of the effects of nutrients on brain function will foster greater perspective on their implementation throughout the various life stages.”

From 2000 on, in fact, new supplement products targeting cognitive health have blossomed, according to Mintel’s (Chicago) Global New Products Database. From a starting point of five new U.S. products launched in 1996, the cognitive-health market jumped to 48 product introductions in 2003, settling to 26 rollouts in 2005. And with projections that one-third of Americans will be older than 50 by 2010, the emphasis on combating age-related cognitive disorders is likely to expand.

“Mounting statistics regarding disease states such as Alzheimer’s and dementia are creating a concern among the baby boomer generation, who continue to retain their youthful energy and productiveness,” says Karen E. Todd, senior marketing manager for Kyowa Hakko USA (New York City). Kyowa Hakko markets Cognizin citicoline, which has been shown to have a neuroprotective effect, increase brain cell phospholipid synthesis, provide neural protection, and act as a membrane stabilizer. “The most widely recognized brain health supplements are B vitamins, ginkgo, omega-3 fatty acids, and citicoline,” says Todd.


Omega-3 fatty acids are the front-runners among cognitive-health ingredients, with the omega-3 market forecast to increase at an average 8% rate through 2010, according to Frost & Sullivan (San Antonio, TX).

Omega-3 is turning up in everything from specialized supplements to the new Odwalla (Half Moon Bay, CA) Soymilk, the first soymilk in the United States containing DHA. All three Odwalla varieties-Plain, Vanilla Being, and Choc-ahh-lot-are fortified with DHA from Martek Biosciences Corp. (Columbia, MD) to offer 20% of the 160 mg daily value for DHA. Martek DHA is derived from algae, the only plant source of DHA.

“DHA is a major deficiency in the American diet because dietary sources are primarily limited to fish,” says neurologist and author David Perlmutter, MD. “Yet it is a lifetime nutrient that plays a crucial role in brain development in infants and ongoing brain and eye function in children and adults.”

A new line of DHA-fortified foods from Kellogg’s (Battle Creek, MI) is also expected to be launched sometime this year, based on a license agreement the food giant signed with Martek last year.

Also pumping up vegetarian DHA prospects is a new patented process that boosts DHA yields from microalgae, licensed in April to Advanced BioNutrition (Columbia, MD). The company reportedly will first develop the resulting oil for animal nutrition products, but may consider a sublicense that could expand usage to human nutrition.

Suppliers of omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish oil are also broadening their horizons, tinkering with the ratios of DHA and EPA to better target specific consumers and applications. EPAX AS (Lysaker, Norway) announced in March that it is expanding from the traditional DHA:EPA ratio of 18:12 to higher concentrations, with products that include EPAX 1050 TG (60 mg/g EPA and 430 mg/g DHA) up to EPAX 6015 TG (530 mg/g EPA and 100 mg/g DHA).

New and Noteworthy



The most high-profile new ingredient rollouts for cognitive-health benefits include the following:

• Creative Compounds (Scott City, MO) recently launched two new derivatives of the well-established gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) with a long history of clinical use overseas. Both Pikatropin Pikamilon and Phenyltropin Phenybut are capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier, says Corey McNeely, national sales manager, and have been shown to possess high cerebrovascular activity.

• Fortitech (Schenectady, NY) plans to sample new fortified chocolate clusters for brain health at the IFT Food Expo this year, packed with 16 different nutrients including a complete antioxidant profile, calcium, and iron for improved cognitive function.

• Frutarom (Haifa, Israel) is targeting cognitive health applications with new EFLA955 Wild Green Oat Neuravena Special Extract, prepared from a wild accession of Avena sativa and manufactured from the plant’s aerial parts. Green-oat preparations have been used for mental health benefits since medieval times, according to the company.

• Quincy Bioscience (Madison, WI) is planning a 2007 market launch for new Prevagen, a supplement made from the jellyfish protein aequorin that has shown promise in antiaging activity on brain cells. Prevagen acts as a calcium-binding protein to replace proteins lost through aging.


Meanwhile, Ocean Nutrition Canada (Dartmouth, NS, Canada) has introduced a new version of its MEG-3 food ingredient with a DHA:EPA ratio of 5:1 designed to improve nutrition for infants and mothers. Natural human breast milk contains a DHA:EPA ratio of 4:1, indicative of a need for this balance of DHA:EPA in infant nutrition.

“Mothers in particular understand the importance of DHA since they are aware that DHA is in infant formula,” says Ian Lucas, executive vice president of global marketing for Ocean Nutrition. “This creates a great marketing opportunity for food companies, because there is a real nutritional problem and high awareness of the health benefits with the major group of people responsible for purchasing food products.”


Tocotrienol (TCT), an alternate to the more common tocopherol (TCP) variety of vitamin E, is making news for its reported ability to protect against stroke and related brain damage.

TCT occurs naturally in palm oil and is a common part of the diet in Southeast Asia, where people tend to suffer fewer neurological disorders than Westerners. Researchers at Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus recently announced results of a study assessing the efficacy of TCT in minimizing stroke-related brain damage, reported in the October 2005 issue of the American Heart Association’s Stroke journal.

“We have discovered the molecular checkpoint where TCT works to protect neurons from toxic insults,” says Chandan Sen, PhD, professor and deputy director of the Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute at OSU. “Tocotrienol has helped us uncover novel mechanisms of stroke-related neurodegeneration,” he adds, referring to research focusing on ischemic stroke, caused when a clot in a vessel stops blood flow to the brain.The study suggests that “the TCT form of natural vitamin E can be part of a regular diet to keep the brain enriched and more prepared to defend itself, particularly for people at a high risk for stroke,” says Sen. The OSU researchers also separately observed that the neuroprotective abilities of TCT were more effective than those of TCP.

Tocotrienol’s Neuroprotective Findings



Research from Ohio State University (OSU; Columbus, OH) suggests that tocotrienol, the TCT form of vitamin E, might be important in the body’s defenses against stroke-related neurological damage. TCT may also be promising against ataxia, a disease that affects muscle coordination, speech, reflexes, and sensory function.

OSU researchers performed two studies. In the first, rats given moderate oral doses of TCT for 13 weeks before stroke was induced experienced a significant difference in stroke injury compared with hypertensive rats not fed with TCT.

In the second, orally taken TCT was found to be carried to vital organs by a mechanism independent of the currently known pathways involving tocopherol transfer protein (TTP). Oral TCT was efficiently transported to organs of mice deficient in TTP gene. In humans, TTP gene defects cause ataxia.

“One of the most striking features of these findings is that this neuroprotective property is seen in a nutrient known to be safe for human consumption,” says Chandan Sen, PHD, professor and vice chair of the department of surgery and deputy director of the Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute at OSU.

“Based on our findings that oral TCT may be transported to vital organs in the absence of TTP, it is important to test whether TCT benefits people suffering from defects in the TTP gene,” says Sen.

The first study appeared in the October 2005 edition of Stroke, and the second was published in the November 15 issue of Free Radical Biology & Medicine.

Carotech Inc. (Edison, NJ) provided Tocomin tocotrienol for both studies.


With demand for TCT already on the rise, Carotech (Perak, Malaysia) announced in March that it will build a new $40 million plant in Malaysia to quadruple its production to 350 metric tons of palm oil a day. The new plant, expected to be on line by June 2007, will increase production of Carotech’s Tocomin natural full-spectrum palm tocotrienol complex, which provides all of the four forms of TCT in significant levels.

“Tocotrienol content in the standard diet is trace at best,” says W. H. Leong, vice president of Carotech Inc. (Edison, NJ), the company’s North American subsidiary. “The only way to have optimal levels of the protective tocotrienols in the brain is through supplementation. Since tocotrienols are potently protective against injuries from stroke, Tocomin could very well provide us with a safe dietary means to reduce the devastating effects of stroke.”


PS is a naturally occurring phospholipid essential to brain cell structure, well researched for more than 20 years and backed up by two FDA qualified health claims related to cognitive function in the elderly.

“In our ongoing six years, the market has grown every year and will continue to, because we all want to be productive into our later decades of life,” says Scott Hagerman, president of Chemi Nutra (White Bear Lake, MN), which markets soybean-derived phospholipid compounds in the United States under the SerinAid label.

In fact, Chemi Nutra just rolled out an addition to its SerinAid line: powdered, free-flowing SerinAid70P with 70% PS. The newcomer “joins our other SerinAid PS ingredient products that range from 20 to 80% in PS concentration, and offers greater latitude in formulating specialty nutritional supplements with unique health benefits, targeted to specific consumer needs,” says Hagerman.

Chemi Nutra also markets alpha-glyceryl phosphoryl choline (A-GPC), which significantly boosts acetylcholine, the primary neurotransmitter involved in memory, recall and thought. “It’s been sold in Europe and Asia for 10 to 12 years as an Alzheimer’s drug and works very effectively,” says Hagerman.

PS is also being combined with Bacopa monnieri, an herb used in traditional Indian medicine (see description below). Bonkers International’s (San Ramon, CA) Brain Boost organic black tea mixes Chemi Nutra’s SerinAid with bacopa extract to offer the benefits of both functional ingredients.

In addition, PS can be paired with DHA for a potent cognitive-health formula, as Life Extension (Hollywood, FL) has done in its reformulated Cognitex product using SharpPS gold PS-DHA conjugate from Enzymotec (Migdal Ha’Emeq, Israel). SharpPS gold is an exclusive phosphatidylserine-omega-3 conjugated compound enriched with LC-PUFA (long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids) for use in dietary supplements.


Quickly making waves in cognitive health is bacopa, derived from a plant that has been used in traditional Indian medicine as a brain tonic for more than 3000 years. Recent research suggests that its effects on cognitive function are associated with chronic administration, and that the bacosides A and B.5 are responsible for those effects.

Geni Herbs (Noblesville, IN) launched BaCognize bacopa extract a year and a half ago in a variety of solid and liquid forms. “The plant has quite a few bioactive compounds, so you really need the correct cultivar as well as a good extraction method to get the most efficacious compounds,” says Blake Ebersole, marketing coordinator.

Two unique compounds derived from BaCognize have shown an ability to support kinase activity during neuronal upkeep and synthesis, which can also help support synaptic ability. According to the company, these compounds are likely responsible for BaCognize’s ability to competitively bind serotonin receptors 5HT1a and 5HT2a.

In fact, “research in 2005 found that BaCognize was the first bacopa extract to affect serotonin receptors,” says Ebersole. Earlier research had focused on the ability of specific compounds native to the bacopa plant to regulate the neurotransmitters gammaaminobutyric acid (GABA) and acetylcholine.


Scientists are toasting both black and green teas as a growing body of research suggests that their components may offer cognitive health benefits. A new study by researchers at Douglas Hospital Research Centre (DHRC) in Quebec, published in a recent issue of the European Journal of Neuroscience, reports that regular consumption of either tea may reduce the risk of age-related degenerative brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.

“Our findings showed that administration of both black and green tea extracts and catechins strongly blocked death of neurons,” says Remi Quiron, scientific director of the DHRC. “This is the first study to show this beneficial effect of both black and green tea.”

Also supporting the potential role of green tea in preventing and treating Alzheimer’s disease is a study by University of South Florida researchers, published last fall in the Journal of Neuroscience. The scientists used extracts of epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), an antioxidant polyphenol found in green tea that has also been studied for anticancer effects. Mice that received daily EGCG injections had lower buildups of beta-amyloid, a protein that can lead to nerve damage and memory loss like that of Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers also reported that supplements may be the best way to achieve this result, since other substances present in green tea may hinder the EGCG from providing a beneficial effect.

Finally, a study published in the April 2006 issue of the Journal of Nutrition suggests that green tea catechins may help boost learning ability related to reference and working memory. Japanese researchers studied the effects of green tea extracts on the cognitive learning ability of rats, using a concentration of catechins classified as 63% EGCG, 11% epicatechin, 6% epigallocatechin, and 6% epicatechin gallate.

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