Mood Ingredients


Suppliers are researching a wide array of ingredients for mood and relaxation.

Abundant statistics affirm consumer interest in products and ingredients that may relieve stress while boosting relaxation and mood.

Barbara A. Davis, PhD, RD, director of medical and scientific affairs for P.L. Thomas (Morristown, NJ) cites a HealthFocus International study showing that 53% of shoppers in 2010 were “extremely” or “very” concerned about mental energy and focus, up from 39% in 2000. The same 2010 study shows that nearly one in four shoppers actually choose foods to improve mental performance.

Jennifer Gu, PhD, vice president of research and development for AIDP Inc. (City of Industry, CA) draws on third-party data suggesting that 18% of the U.S. adult population is afflicted with some kind of anxiety disorder (Archives of General Psychiatry), and that the U.S. sleep market has an estimated value of $2 billion (Nature Reviews Drug Discovery).

Stress is rampant, says Mathieu Dondain, director of communication and marketing manager for Nexira (Somerville, NJ). He points to “Stress in America: Missing the Health Care Connection,” a 2012 online survey conducted by Harris Interactive, in which researchers found that the United States health system often neglects psychological and behavioral factors that are essential to managing stress and chronic diseases.

According to Dondain, the survey, which was released by the American Psychological Association, showed that the younger someone is, the more difficult it is for that person to deal with stress. Adults aged 18 to 33 averaged a stress level of 5.4 on a 10-point scale, exceeding the national average of 4.9. Overall, respondents said the major causes of their stress include: money (69%), work (65%), the economy (61%), family responsibilities (57%), relationships (56%), family health problems (52%) and personal health concerns (51%).

More than four out of 10 participants said their efforts to cope leave them lying awake at night, and more than three out of 10 said they overeat or indulge in unhealthy foods, while almost three out of 10 skip meals.

Sedentary behaviors such as listening to music, reading, and watching television for more than two hours a day provide retreats for between one-third and almost one-half of those surveyed. Thirteen percent said they drink alcohol to manage their stress.

On the positive side, 52% said they exercise more when feeling stressed-an improvement from 47% just one year earlier.

Opportunity Knocks


The implication for ingredient suppliers is clear: this is a market sector ripe for safe and effective products that can make a difference.

At AIDP, the leading ingredient promoted for relaxation is Magtein (magnesium L-threonate), a patented and trademarked macro mineral that is described by the company as “high-bioavailability magnesium.” Gu says an October 2011 article in The Journal of Neuroscience revealed that scientists at Tsinghua University in Beijing, the University of Texas, and the University of Toronto were able to enhance control of fear and anxiety  with Magtein by increasing the extracellular magnesium concentration in the brain.

“The level of magnesium in the brain is very different from the level of magnesium in the blood,” says Gu. “The reason for this is the blood-brain barrier.” Gu explains that Magtein, unlike many other magnesium products, can penetrate this semi-permeable membrane by increasing synaptic density, meaning it boosts the number of synapses in the brain. Gu says that synaptic density has been associated with increased cognition and memory.

“We found that increasing brain magnesium with Magtein enhances not only the learning and memory ability, but also top-down inhibition of fear memory of rats,” explains Guosong Liu, MD, PhD, one of the study’s principal scientists. “When the cognitive ability is enhanced, fear responses, such as anxiety-like and PTSD-like behaviors, are controlled.” 

The next step, says Gu, is an ongoing human study, which is designed to verify the previous animal studies and confirm anecdotal information reported by hundreds of consumers currently using Magtein. “These include, but are not limited to, sleep quality and mood improvement, two areas difficult to assess in the animal model,” says Gu.


Zembrin from P.L. Thomas is a standardized, characterized, and patented extract of Sceletium tortuosum, a succulent herb. Davis says that the botanical ingredient is based on more than 300 years of documented indigenous use in South Africa.

The extract is experiential, she says. “You can actually ‘feel’ its benefits of enhanced mood, focus, cognitive function, and stress relief.”

According to Davis, there are two potentially synergistic mechanisms of action for Zembrin: one involves phosphodiesterase-4 (PDE4) and the other relates to serotonin (5-HT) re-uptake inhibition. Citing a 2011 study led by Alan L. Harvey, professor at Glasgow’s Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, Davis says the dual mechanism “explains why Zembrin can have a stress-reduction effect at low doses that could not be attributed to 5-HT uptake inhibition alone.”

Nexira offers its own range of botanical extracts that are traditionally known for calming, relaxing, and mood-enhancing properties. These include lemon balm, valerian, Rhodiola rosea, hops, passionflower, Griffonia simplicifolia extract, and more.

But there also is one more option, says Dondain. Serenzo, formulated with acacia gum and a selection of citrus extract, is Nexira’s latest anti-stress ingredient.

Dondain cites a company-run clinical study on 40 volunteers ages 18 to 60 years. Self-described as “feeling chronically stressed” at baseline, the participants experienced significant changes after 12 weeks of supplementation. Dondain says that Serenzo demonstrated “exceptional clinical results,” including a “significant reduction by 53% of the global severity index (GSI).” All items on the Symptom Checklist-90-R psychological test-including anxiety, depression, obsessiveness, and somatization-were likewise reduced. Participants experienced a 50% reduction on the Hamilton Anxiety Index (HAM-A), too. Their scores were also lower for “worries, tension, and demands” and higher for “joy,” when measured on the PSQ 20 perceived stress questionnaire.

Asked about the mechanism of action for Serenzo, Dondain demurs, saying, “Mechanisms of action in mood and relaxation applications are difficult to clearly understand and prove, because many factors, both psychological and physiological, are involved.”

However, Dondain says, “The essential oil of sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) is traditionally used for the treatment of anxiety symptoms, and recent scientific studies have confirmed its benefits.” On the basis of citrus aromatherapy, he says, “Nexira decided to go further with Serenzo by developing an original combination of a selection of citrus extracts and acacia gum.”

Cactus Botanics Ltd. (Alhambra, CA) boasts a long list of mood/relaxation ingredients, ranging from ashwagandha to valerian, with powerhouses like kava kava, GABA (gamma amino butyric acid), SAM-e, and St. John’s wort in between.

With so many entries, and recognizing that “even chocolate can relieve a person’s mood,” Carol Cheow, the company’s general manager, is hard-pressed to name any one product as the leader. For example, she says that 5-HTP, associated with the firm’s Griffonia simplicifolia powder extract, “can raise content of serotonin in the brain, improve depression and sleep quality, promote the formation of melatonin, and lower the stress hormones so as to suppress appetite.”

Cheow adds that peony is one of the most effective herbs in this category. Its constituent paeoniflorin may play roles as an analgesic, sedative, and anticonvulsive. Paeoniflorin may also dilate coronary arteries, inhibit the parasympathetic nervous system, and relax the smooth muscle cells and sphincters.

Like others, Cheow confesses to frustration in attempting to research mental health products. It’s difficult to get accurate feedback from animals, since they can’t express mood the same way people do, she points out. “So,” she says, “we have to seek help from a few thousand years of human history.”

Milk Protein

Mitch Skop, senior director of new product development for Pharmachem Laboratories (Kearny, NJ) cites five separate studies conducted over the years on 90 healthy subjects, which confirm the anti-stress efficacy of his company’s Lactium milk-derived ingredient.

Skop describes Lactium as a patented and GRAS hydrolysate of milk proteins with new dietary ingredient (NDI) status. The ingredient contains a bioactive peptide with relaxing properties that regulate stress naturally.

In one important in vivo study, Lactium reduced levels of cortisol, a hormone released when an individual is stressed. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in the European Journal of Nutrition, responses to mental and physical stress were observed in 42 male subjects. According to Skop, “Results showed that systolic and diastolic blood pressure were significantly reduced in subjects receiving Lactium.” Cortisol levels also decreased significantly in the Lactium group.

While these studies are not new-some, in fact, date back almost 10 years-Pharmachem argues that they are still valid and germane to a U.S. population, in which depression affects approximately one in 10 people, and where more than 80% of those with symptoms of clinical depression are not receiving any specific treatment for it.

“Perhaps most alarming or critical,” says Skop, “is that the U.S. states with the higher rates of depression also have correlated high rates of obesity, heart disease, stroke, and sleep disorders.”


Ethical Naturals Inc. (San Anselmo, CA) says that its ALphaWave L-theanine ingredient is identical to the same calming amino acid found in green tea.

According to company president Cal Bewicke, research on human volunteers has shown that L-theanine creates a sense of relaxation via at least two different mechanisms. First, L-theanine directly stimulates the production of alpha brain waves, creating a state of deep relaxation and mental alertness similar to what is achieved through meditation. Second, L-theanine is involved in the formation of GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter that influences the levels of two other neurotransmitters: dopamine and serotonin. These also produce relaxing effects.

Bewicke acknowledges that research generally cited for L-theanine is not new, but four or five years old. Nevertheless, he emphasizes, “This product has only been gaining prominence in our industry over the last year or two. This is the valid research we use to support structure/function claims.” The Ethical Naturals executive suggests that the research findings continue to have relevance, since it is almost certain that many industry members aren’t aware of these studies. He also says that in the past the industry had “a much quicker turnaround,” with one or two studies leading to “sensational” new product launches. Today, he says, the cycle is much longer, taking years to accumulate research, conduct product development, create marketing campaigns and finally, maybe, achieve consumer acceptance and popularity.

Bark Extract

Relora, a product from Next Pharmaceuticals (Salinas, CA), is a supplement made of specific actives from patented Magnolia officinalis bark extract and a proprietary Phellodendron amurense bark extract.

Vice president Deanne Dolnick says that besides reducing stress and improving sleep, Relora has the potential to curb stress-induced eating. Noting that Relora helps quiet the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis without causing drowsiness, Dolnick cites a study released in May in which 56 subjects supplemented with Relora or a placebo, twice a day for four weeks. All subjects submitted three daily saliva samples for cortisol testing (morning, midday, and evening) and completed a baseline Profile of Mood States questionnaire (POMS) on the first and last day of the study.

Dolnick says the researchers found that daily use of Relora reduced cortisol exposure and perceived stress while improving a variety of mood parameters-most significantly, anger (reduced by 42%) and fatigue (reduced by 31%).

“These are exciting results that suggest Relora may be an effective natural approach to managing the detrimental effects of chronic stress without the tranquilizing side effects of pharmaceutical agents,” said study team leader Shawn Talbott, PhD.


Jamie Spell, managing director of Nutraceuticals International Group (Paramus, NJ), says her company’s Saffr’Activ saffron ingredient is a hydro-ethanolic extract of red saffron stigmas from the saffron flower, titrated to a 2% safronal content.

Spell says that numerous clinical investigations support the efficacy of saffron in alleviating feelings of anxiety, stress, and light depression. To support these statements, she cites clinical trials carried out in 2005 and 2006. In one of these, intensity of stress measured on the Hamilton Depression Score scale decreased from an average value of 23 at the beginning of the experiment, to approximately 10 at the end.

Spell notes that the study demonstrated saffron extract has effects comparable to two active pharmaceutical anti-depressant molecules, imipramine and fluoxetine, the latter being the active principle of Prozac, which acts by inhibiting serotonin recapture.

Herbs are the way to go for Ecuadorian Rainforest, LLC (Bellevue, NJ). Steve Siegel, vice president, says three of the firm’s leading relaxation ingredients are chamomile, lemon balm, and valerian.

According to Siegel, chamomile is believed to have anxiolytic properties, lemon balm contains terpenes, and valerian’s makeup includes GABA.

Asked to consider admirable work being done not just by Ecuadorian Rainforest, but by other companies too, Siegel cites a study published this past February in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. The study showed the positive effects that baker’s yeast can have on mood. In the study, 77 moderately to highly stressed women were given either 250 mg daily doses of Wellmune WGP or a placebo (the main ingredient of Wellmune WGP is baker’s yeast beta glucan). Aftert three months, the researchers noticed a 29% improvement in the supplement group’s mood, compared to 16% improvement in the placebo group. “This is important because we see it as just the beginning for deeper research of this ingredient,” says Siegel. “Future research into the mood-altering ability of baker’s yeast may make it a very popular natural ingredient.”


NutraGenesis (Brattleboro, VT) is the exclusive marketer of Sensoril, a patented, high-concentration, full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha. Bruce Abedon, PhD, the company’s director of scientific affairs, says that Sensoril helped reduce stress and anxiety by 69.9% in one human clinical trial, while also enhancing mood by lowering cortisol levels.

Abedon adds that a new Sensoril study will be conducted by a U.S.-based contract research organization. It should be completed by the first quarter of 2014.

“This study will be an extremely comprehensive clinical trial evaluating both subjective components of stress-such as anxiety, irritability, energy level, mental cognition, and sleep-as well as objective criteria, such as levels of cortisol, DHEA, C-reactive protein, and metabolic wellness,” says Abedon.

NutraGenesis also markets WellBody 365, a patent-pending blend of Sensoril and MaitakeGold 404, a maitake mushroom extract that helps support healthy immune function.

Meanwhile, Icon Group, a sister company of NutraGenesis, markets LepticCore and Synetrim, two ingredients designed to lift the mood of people who become irritable or negative while attempting to lose weight. The mode of action for both of these ingredients is serotonin increase.

Contemplating the future of natural ingredients as helpful adjuncts in promoting relaxation and boosting mood, Abedon predicts that as more people continue to experience all types of stress caused by modern living and the recent economic downturn, the need for mood and relaxation products will continue to grow.

Abedon believes that ingredients that are clinically tested and possess substantiated structure/function claims will increase in demand as marketers seek to develop next-generation products to help stressed people improve the quality of their lives.

Making a Federal Case

It’s official: the federal government wants to know what’s going on in your brain. Well, not actually your brain, but brains in general.

Before you panic and start seeing images of George Orwell’s Big Brother, consider that there may be a far more benign motive behind the launch of Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, an initiative that was announced in April by President Barack Obama.

Under the acronym BRAIN, the program will focus on creating a dynamic picture of brain function. This picture will show how circuits involving large numbers of neurons interact with each other over time and space, and it will ultimately advance understanding of brain diseases like epilepsy, schizophrenia, autism, and Alzheimer’s disease.

“While ambitious, this goal has never been more within our reach,” says Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, director of the National Institutes of Health.

On its website, BRAIN explains that the NIH intends to allocate $40 million in fiscal 2014. The agency will work closely with other government offices, such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the National Science Foundation. Foundations like the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Allen Institute for Brain Science, The Kavli Foundation, and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have also expressed interest, as have various private industries.

How this effort may tie in with dietary supplements used to increase relaxation and improve mood-the subject of the accompanying story-has yet to be determined. But any phenomenon that helps unravel the mysteries held by the brain’s nearly 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion connections can only be seen as a positive step.

Calm Down: Eat Meat, Seafood, and Pumpkin Seeds

Grass-fed red meat, seafood, and pumpkin seeds may be the tools that Americans eventually use to relieve symptoms of stress.

Trudy Scott, a “food mood expert” and certified nutritionist, as well as author of The Antianxiety Food Solution (New Harbinger, June 2011), says, “Grass-fed red meat is a protein source, and the protein you eat directly affects levels of amino acids in your blood and brain, which in turn impact levels of neurotransmitters that play a role in mood and anxiety.”

Seafood, she says, is a great source of amino acids, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, iodine, iron, calcium, selenium, and vitamins B12, A, and D, many of which are beneficial for mood disorders. Oysters have particularly high levels of zinc, and mussels, clams, and crabs have good levels as well.

And pumpkin seeds, which Scott says are higher in protein than many other seeds, are “a good source of tryptophan, zinc, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, and B vitamins.” Pumpkin seeds may also help control blood sugar, she adds, suggesting that this is how they may be able to reduce anxiety and increase relaxation.

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