Staying Mindful

May 21, 2009



Imagine that you are afraid of heights, shakily stepping onto a bridge 200 feet above water. The walk is long-975 feet to be exact, across the longest wire-suspended bridge in Japan. Pause there. How stressed would you be? This was the experiment that Ezaki Glico Co., a Japanese confectionary company headquartered in Osaka, ran to test the effectiveness of its Mental Balance Chocolate GABA. Ezaki Glico is the same company that manufactures the beloved Pocky snack food sticks. Before marketing its product, the company conducted a field study to find out whether GABA's claim to improve mental function was worth its mettle.

Ezaki Glico asked a group of 12 study participants, all with a fear of heights, to traverse the length of the Tanise suspension bridge in Totsukawa, Japan. Before the journey, half of the group ate chocolate containing different levels of GABA. "The people in the group who ate GABA-enriched chocolate had lower stress levels than those who didn't consume GABA," says Yusuke Sauchi of Pharma Foods International Co. (Tokyo), the company that provides Ezaki Glico with its brand of GABA (called Pharma GABA).

The results were determined according to saliva tests given to participants at various intervals along the bridge. Levels of chromogranin A and immunoglobulin A in the subjects' saliva were used as stress level indicators.

In Japan, the most popular applications of Pharma GABA include its use in coffee, with Japanese GABA ads claiming to counteract the negative effects of caffeine. Other popular applications include chocolate, sports beverages, water, energy beverages, and candy.

Pharma GABA may also soon enter the North American market. Jones Soda (Seattle) is now cobranding Pharma GABA in a new beverage called Jones GABA. Noriko Iwakie, executive managing director of Pharma Foods, said, "Jones Soda is the perfect partner."

According to Michael T. Murray, PhD, a consultant to Jones Soda, "Pharma GABA is poised to become a major dietary supplement and food ingredient in North America because it produces such noticeable effects."

Jones GABA is now available across the United States in four flavors: Fuji Apple, Lemon Honey, Nectarine, and Grapefruit. Single-serve 12-fl-oz cans contain 150 mg of Pharma GABA.

"Jones GABA is a revolutionary beverage," says Joth Ricci, chief operating officer of Jones Soda. "It has a rare distinction in the functional beverage marketplace. Its benefits can be felt within five minutes and have been shown to last for hours. Jones GABA helps people feel more relaxed and focused, allowing them to perform at their peak."

Another cognitive health ingredient that allows people to perform at their peak is lion's mane mushroom, deriving its name from its long cascading tendrils. Maitake Products Inc. (East Rutherford, NJ) is one of the first distributors of lion's mane mushroom.

According to the company, Japanese legend has it that those who consumed lion's mane mushroom would possess "nerves of steel and the memory of a lion."

The company says that recent studies confirm lion's mane mushroom's ability to stimulate synthesis of brain nerve growth factor (NGF), which may help inhibit brain dysfunction associated with Alzheimer's disease and other possible neurological diseases related to aging.

CHILLING OUT WITH GABA

By Ram Chaudhari, PhD

GABA, OTHERWISE KNOWN as gamma amino butyric acid, has been popular in food and beverage fortification in Japan for quite some time. Known as the brain's calming agent, it is only now starting to catch on with food and beverage manufacturers in the United States and elsewhere. The market is wide open for cognitive enhancement products supporting such areas as improved mental focus, acuity, and memory. GABA, a nonessential amino acid, is not found in significant amounts in foods, and almost all of the body's source of GABA is synthesized.

Most lives today are quite different from what they were 20 years ago. On the go, 24/7; never slowing down. In a busy world, our brains have become overworked and undernourished. A hectic and rigid schedule subjects the body to too much pressure and stress. When the body becomes preoccupied with an overabundance of work and other undertakings, the brain is the first organ to suffer because it rapidly depletes its store of energy. As a result, it's become relatively common for people with chronic stress, anxiety, or anxiety disorders to turn to prescription medications to help them "chill out" and increase mental focus and clarity.

As consumers continue to educate themselves on the long-term advantages of taking their health and wellness into their own hands, many are becoming aware of the potential risks of extended use of prescription medications. Thus, they are increasingly turning to supplements and fortified foods and beverages to support their well-being.

How Does GABA Work?
Overstimulation of the brain needs to be balanced with inhibition. Too much overstimulation can lead to restlessness, agitation, and insomnia-all of which can greatly diminish our mental acuity. GABA is able to induce relaxation, analgesia, and sleep because it serves as a neurotransmitter that suppresses nerve cell activity in areas of the brain that are associated with anxiety.

GABA also controls the brain's theta waves and increases endorphins. Endorphins, sometimes referred to as producing a "runner's high," which some people describe as a state of euphoria, are any of a group of opiate proteins with pain-relieving properties that are found naturally in the brain.

As endorphins are released, one begins to feel a sense of calm, which is sometimes referred to as the "endorphin effect." This action in the brain enables an individual to feel more balanced, both physically and mentally. The brain is revitalized, paving the way for enhanced cognitive function, including better mental acuity, focus, and memory.

Stress and anxiety are part and parcel of life, but too much of either can impede the immune system and negatively affect many other health conditions, including heart and digestive health, blood sugar levels, weight management, fatigue, and, of course, cognitive function. Interestingly, however, while GABA can help to support the strength of the immune system through its actions in the brain, it is also thought to be one of the essential components needed by the pituitary gland to produce human growth hormone (HGH).

According to studies, HGH has been shown to slow the aging process, remove abdominal fat, build lean muscle mass, reduce wrinkles, and improve stamina while exercising. Using HGH supplements does come with side effects, however, including minor joint pain and some fluid retention.

Although no general recommendation is made for GABA supplementation or fortification, most research has pointed to an ideal dose of 200 mg per day, and up to 10 g daily. There are several applications that manufacturers may want to consider, as well as a roster of other nutrients that can contribute to enhancing the end-product's effect. These include antioxidants, carotenoids, iron, choline, ginkgo biloba, ginseng root, B vitamins, melatonin, L-tryptophan, L-theanine, and omega-3 fatty acids, to name a few.

GABA can also be incorporated into a premix that can help to differentiate a manufacturer's product from the competition.

Ram Chaudhari, PhD, FACN, CNS, is senior executive vice president of Fortitech Inc. (Schenectady, NY).

Amyloban 3399 is Maitake's patent-pending extract of two specific isolated substances found in lion's mane mushroom. The first is amyloban, which supports the survival of brain nerve cells in cases of brain dysfunction due to age and disease. The second extract is hericenones, which stimulates the synthesis of NGF. Both products are molded together to form Amyloban 3399. The end-product contains no sugar or artificial colors.

OVOS Natural Health Inc. (Laval, QC, Canada) will be launching a new product in the United States called Vivimind, which is based on the naturally occurring ingredient, homotaurine. Homotaurine binds to A-beta proteins and reduces the deposition and toxic effects of these proteins in the brain, the company says. "In a study performed in Canada and the United States using brain scans, Vivimind was shown to significantly reduce the loss of brain volume in the hippocampus," says Gary Schmid, CEO of OVOS.

According to company research, Vivimind was shown to preserve 68% more brain volume versus a placebo such as a sugar pill. "As we age, certain brain regions start to shrink. This shrinkage reflects loss of brain cells. The main brain region in which brain cell loss occurs is the hippocampus, a region responsible for learning and memory. That's why it's critical to maintain it," says Schmid.

Why does the loss of brain cells in the hippocampal region occur? Scientists believe that the buildup of certain toxic proteins called beta-amyloid, or A-beta, is detrimental to the brain.

When these toxic proteins reach excessive levels, they cause neurons within the brain to malfunction and die. When this happens, signaling problems occur in the brain that ultimately affect memory and learning abilities.

Although currently only available in Canada, Vivimind will make its trek south into the states within the next year, Schmid says.