Some fogs are evocative—billowing in a valley on a hot summer morning or a pre-Halloween night, for example. But brain fog is not a fog that inspires anyone.
Enhanced cognitive abilities is a growing desire among supplement users of all ages—it’s no longer solely an “old people’s” concern.
“Brain health is not just a concern for aging individuals, as it touches the lives of both men and women, young or old, and is among the top five health concerns of consumers aged 18 to 75,” observed Jennifer Weinhardt, BS, MS, senior R&D specialist, Bluebonnet Nutrition, Texas. While today’s active seniors are seeking to prevent the age-related loss of cognitive skills and related mental abilities, there is also a new emerging class of who, she identified, are seeking “’peak cognitive performance’ and a better ‘quality of life.’ This group consists of knowledge seekers and students, making up 40 percent of the population affected by cognitive dysfunction and loss of acuity due to stress.”
Weinhardt referenced a 2013 poll by Trending Machine, which found that Millennials (13-34 at that time) are more likely than seniors over 55 to forget what day it is, where they put their keys, bathe or shower, and bring a lunch. Further, according to the American Psychology Association, Millennials also reported the highest stress levels when compared to all other generations, according to the American Psychology Association.
SPINS data, she added, has shown a nearly $32 million market for products associated with cognitive health, and that:
• 72 percent of consumers are looking for benefits to memory
• 59 percent want to maintain healthy brain function
• 57 percent are looking to prevent memory loss
• 55 percent need help concentrating
• 48 percent are seeking increased focus
• In the year 2000, the average attention span was 12 seconds. When reassessed in 2015, the average attention span had shortened to 8.25 seconds, according to Statistic Brain Research Institute.
• The number of Americans over the age of 65 is projected to more than double in the next 40 years, increasing from 40.2 million in 2010 to 88.5 million in 2050.
Children are an increased focus of manufacturers whose products are fulfilling demand for natural solutions to increasing and sustaining focus, concentration and cognitive acuity. According to Katherine Cole, research and development manager of California-based ChildLife Essentials, cognition and focus gain importance as the child ages—reaching development milestones around the same time as peers is a main concern. For teens and young adults, challenging acuity, memory and focus are important while the brain continues to develop.
Children today face several cognitive health challenges ranging from changing schedules, school unknowns, fear and anxiety, parental job loss and information overload, noted Pamela Wirth, founder of Arizona-based Hello Health and author of Hello, Health: navigating and winning better cognitive and immune function. Other factors that commonly contribute to cognitive issues include poor nutrition and sleep, chronic inflammation, bacterial infections and viruses, and environmental toxins.
“The physicians who advise Hello Health have suggested ingredients that balance the brain gut connection to optimize cognitive and immune health. The supplements suggested include probiotics, prebiotics, vitamins B12 and D3, methylfolate, phosphatidylserine, omega-3 EFAs, frankincense, olive leaf extract and oregano,” she described. “While we understand that a balanced diet gives the necessary vitamins and minerals to the body, it is not always as easy as it sounds to provide kids with the nutrients they need. In addition to diet and genetic disorders such as MTHFR, there is growing research about the gut and its role in cognitive, mood and body health. Many malnourished kids experience hyperactivity, fatigue, autoimmune disorders, allergies, etc.”
Weinhardt added, “The brain health category applies even to children and students developing in a highly competitive academic world and whose parents are committed to supporting their mental performance and academic achievements.”
Another newer and vibrant market for cognitive support is eSports. “eSports has become a rapidly growing segment of the nootropic market,” confirmed Sébastien Bornet, vice president Global Sales & Marketing at Horphag Research. Competitive gamers who are playing for extended periods of time want supplements that support energy, decision-making and focus. In this space, he noted, “consumer interest has evolved from caffeinated energy drinks to science-backed supplements that are shown to support healthy cognition and focus without the side effects of caffeine.” In agreement is Kim Plaza, registered nutritionist, Florida-based ADM Protexin, who commented, “the gaming industry is huge and may partly explain the increase in supplement sales. By understanding the concerns of gamers, retailers can tailor their range to include this demographic.”
Gamers need cognitive function, motor skills and the visual system sharp, according to Cole. “Products containing lutein and zeaxanthin are great for gamers. Studies show not only are these ingredients great for visual health, but they also support cognitive health and function,” she commented.
Cognizin, the branded form of water-soluble citicoline in Bluebonnet’s Targeted Choice BrainPower formula, has been studied specifically for gamers, Weinhardt reported. Citicoline is a naturally occurring nutrient in the brain that helps it stay alert and focused. Cognizin helps enhance communication between neurons, maintain healthy acetylcholine levels, protect neural structures, and support healthy brain activity and energy. A recent clinical trial completed on 250 mg and 500 mg Cognizin daily for gamers demonstrated an increase in both attention span and psychomotor speed in adolescent males after 28 days of supplementation compared to placebo, and found significant increase in motor speed on the finger tap test, and improved attention on Ruff 2 and speed task test.
As 2021 waits patiently around the corner, there has been dramatic changes in lifestyles that affect mental performance.
One factor everyone of any age has in common, especially today, is stress. “Stress may be the major factor that is impacting all people across gender, age, socio-economic status and education,” explained Jerry Angelini, head of education for Host Defense Mushrooms, Washington. “Stress negatively impacts cognitive function and may increases oxidative damage in the brain. Ergothioneine is a mushroom-derived antioxidant and ergothioneine levels are correlated with cognitive function among other health areas.”
He added that another common factor among all demographics is the status of the gut-brain axis, which heavily influences mental performance.
Bornet observed that one of the most influential factors currently is the ongoing pandemic, which is engendering prolonged stress and anxiety, impacting brain health. Prolonged stress and anxiety can have a profound effect on brain function. He cited a report from Penn Medicine, which showed that pandemic-incurred anxiety has increased the prevalence of what the authors termed “brain fog” in otherwise healthy individuals.
Technology and its social effects have also had dramatic impact on cognitive abilities since the turn of this century. “Screen time and consequently blue-light exposure has increased with greater daily device usage, which affects the brain through the visual system,” said Cole. Then, there’s the impact on memory and information retrieval. “Now that we can have an answer from a search engine in less than a second, it’s interesting to think how many people are still challenging themselves to recall information before looking information up immediately”—and what the long-term impact of this may be.
According to Plaza, there are several hypotheses that suggest that the internet and social media may influence our brains and cognitive processes, such as the variety of instant information that is displayed, encouraging a behavior of attention switching and multi-tasking as opposed to sustained focus. She also pointed to the access to rapid facts, potentially replacing internal memory processes as impacting cognitive function.
“Even compared to 10 years ago, stressors associated with prolonged use of technology are significantly increased,” agreed Angelini.
As all these factors abound with no abatement in sight, adults of all ages are seeking supplements to improve memory retention, focus and cognitive support.
By Lisa Schofield