Modern mood boosters are built on better studies, higher efficacy, and more effective formulations than past products.
Mood supplements are seeing a surge of research and development activity as suppliers and brands work to provide better validated and more effective products. While a number of legacy ingredients still hold a strong market position, newer ingredients are giving formulators more options for contemporary blends. Meanwhile, improvements in quality control and production processes are leading to better standardization, more efficient extraction techniques, and synergistic formulations involving multiple mechanisms of action. Here are some of the ways brands are modernizing mood supplements.
Mood Supplements: A Category of Its Own
While several natural ingredients have mood-boosting properties, these ingredients have traditionally been sold as sleep-health supplements. Recently, though, mood and sleep have started to diverge as separate categories.
Scott Dicker, senior market insights analyst for SPINS (Chicago) and a member of Nutritional Outlook’s Editorial Advisory Board, says consumers are now looking for supplements that provide stress relief and relaxation without the grogginess of sleep-health ingredients.
“This differentiation has continued to expand with formulas that focus on overall calming without the need for sleep,” Dicker says. “Researchers are also starting to further differentiate between mood-support ingredients and cognitive health ingredients, while maintaining the idea that both can help each other.”
Dicker points to the growth of functional drinks with mood-specific claims as further evidence that mood support is becoming established as its own vertical. SPINS data show that sales of mood-boosting wellness shots are growing by over 500% year-over-year. Furthermore, the ingredients seeing the most growth are non-sleep-inducing.
“Ashwagandha remains one of the top trending ingredients in this category, with 94% growth and $91 million in total revenue. Other trending ingredients include GABA, chamomile, theanine, and kava,” Dicker reports.
Mood R&D Gets Smarter
As modern mood supplements continue their upward trajectory, suppliers and brands are increasingly using a more robust scientific approach to extracting ingredients and formulating products.
David Foreman, RPh, founder of Herbal Pharmacist Media (Palm Harbor, FL) and a member of Nutritional Outlook’s Editorial Advisory Board, says the research on mood supplements is increasingly using a more clinical approach in assessing research outcomes. “The research being completed on these supplements is now targeting the Profile of Mood States (POMS) and Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS),” Foreman says. “Looking for markers like cortisol, impact on blood pressure, or blood sugar can show an impact leading to positive mood changes as well,” he adds.
Mood ingredient suppliers are making advances in extraction and standardization technology to extract more of the active compound from the raw ingredients, Foreman says. On the formulator side, brands are creating better-rounded supplements by blending multiple ingredients with different mechanisms of action.
Emerging Products Leverage Gut-Brain Axis
Continuing research on mood-boosting ingredients has illuminated the link between gut health and mood, opening up roles for probiotics and phospholipids to play in the mood space.
Peyton Rudy, global marketing manager, Active Living, Nutiani (Auckland, New Zealand), says mood-support ingredients are now advanced enough to work amidst natural variations in hormone levels during different points of life. Furthermore, she explains, the natural age-associated decline in brain phospholipids has opened up the opportunity for more accurate and effective dosing of phospholipid ingredients.
“Functional foods and beverages to enhance mood are early in their existence, but they’re increasing,” Rudy explains. “There’s been a proliferation of low- or no-calorie mood beverages containing nootropics and botanicals, and there’s plenty of room left for more nutrient density. Broad-spectrum phospholipids are well placed for snacks such as bars and yogurts.”
Nutiani, a B2B wellbeing-solutions brand owned by Fonterra (Auckland, New Zealand), recently launched the second phase of its Project Happy initiative in partnership with Sun Genomics (San Diego, CA). Project Happy is a six-week randomized clinical trial to validate the findings of a previous consumer research pilot study.
The pilot study examined the effects of Nutiani’s proprietary LactoB HN001 probiotic strain on 52 customers of Sun Genomics’ B2C brand Floré. All subjects were screened for mental disorders, and subjects with mental illnesses were excluded. All 52 subjects consumed a probiotic formulation including LactoB HN001 every day. The subjects completed the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire at baseline and after 30 and 60 days. After 60 days, the group reported an average increase in their rating of psychological wellbeing.
Delivery Formats Diversify
While taking a pill is relatively fast and convenient, experts say the ability to be flexible with delivery systems is an important prerequisite to succeed in the mood space. Maggie McNamara, marketing director for Gencor (Irvine, CA), says companies are now finding ways to make their ingredients more effective in liquid solutions and gummies to appeal to a broader consumer demographic.
“Innovative delivery technologies are increasing the effectiveness of ingredients,” McNamara says. “New technologies are also improving the efficacy and speed of action of these ingredients. For example, Gencor’s branded HydroCurc is clinically proven to have the most bioavailable curcumin per single dose in the market as a result of its unique delivery technology…Lipisperse.”
Lipisperse, a cold-water-dispersion technology, enables solid and powdered lipophilic ingredients with traditionally poor bioavailability and poor solubility to be easily dispersed in cold water. Gencor has also created another branded delivery system, AquaCelle, a customizable self–micro-emulsifying delivery system that optimizes the bioavailability of oily lipophilic ingredients like resveratrol. As delivery technologies advance, they will enable further experimentation with new delivery formats for mood ingredients.
Consumers Look for Multipronged Solutions
While some industry trends are transitory, experts say the growth of mood-support ingredients is expected to continue. Kristen Marshall, digital marketing manager for Verdure Sciences (Noblesville, IN), says the mood-support niche will maintain its momentum. She notes that consumer demand is mirroring larger conversations around mental wellbeing and balanced lifestyles.
“Consumers want to more specifically target their needs, and they want multiple tangible benefits from a single offering,” Marshall says. “Upticks in multiprong support have spurred innovation as consumers recognize the direct links between multiple areas of health. For instance, mental and physical fatigue may lead to impaired immune health.”
One rising star in the mood support market is starting to show its power. Bacopa monnieri extract, an herbal ingredient sourced from the water hyssop plant, is demonstrating a variety of mental wellbeing effects in clinical trials.
One 2021 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial1 on Verdure’s branded Bacognize examined the effects of Bacopa monnieri on mental wellness in 89 healthy adults with self-reported poor sleep. Verdure Sciences funded this trial and provided the Bacognize capsules.
Subjects completed the Bergen Insomnia Scale and the DASS-21 depression and anxiety scale at baseline and on study conclusion. The subjects also had their salivary cortisol measured every morning and evening, and their dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S) measured once daily. The study authors note that DHEA-S is a biomarker for stress, trauma, and PTSD. Subjects were randomly assigned to receive either two 150-mg Bacognize capsules per day, or a matching placebo, for 27 days.
After 27 days, the Bacognize group exhibited a 14% improvement in emotional wellbeing, while the placebo group saw only a 6% improvement. On the sleep measure, the study authors say the placebo effect proved to be unusually strong. The study authors determined that while Bacognize did not perform better than placebo on measures of sleep patterns, the supplement did outperform the placebo in the emotional component of the 36-Item Short Form Health Survey questionnaire (SF-36). The study authors recommend that further investigation into Bacopa monnieri’s anti-anxiety effect is warranted.
Marshall says the mood supplements category is moving away from finished products that have an effect on mood; rather, companies are positioning their products based on the mechanisms of action that are associated with a mood-related end result.
Still Room to Run
Mood supplements have captured consumer and supplier attention in recent years, and modern ingredients are becoming more advanced. As more consumers look for natural health solutions for mood concerns, this space will attract further research and development. Personalized solutions and multiprong mood supplements will define mood supplements going forward as the category comes into its own.