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Beyond The Brain And Beyond Boomers

Supplement manufacturers are appealing to more shoppers with cognitive health products appropriate for any age or concern. The newest cognitive supplements speak to more than just brain health, but take into account immunity, anti-aging and more.

According to a 2007 national poll by the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, women are more afraid of developing Alzheimer’s disease than they are of a cancer diagnosis, even though the latter causes nearly 10 times more deaths per year than the former. And while research indicates that cancer is a sizeable threat, it turns out that in terms of mortality rates, Alzheimer’s is a growing beast.

The Alzheimer’s Association’s 2010 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures Report indicates that mortality from the disease is on the rise to the tune of 46.1 percent, while deaths from other mortal conditions are declining: stroke (down

18. 2 percent), HIV (down 16.3 percent), prostate cancer (down 8.7 percent), heart disease (down 11.1 percent) and breast cancer (down 2.6 percent) are all less of a threat than they were in the past—and maybe this is what is contributing to poll results; indicating that people fear mental decay over physical decay. Make no mistake about it: though cancer and heart disease remain heavy hitters, Alzheimer’s disease accounts for $172 billion in annual costs and is the seventh leading cause of death for the approximately 5.3 million people who are currently suffering from it.

As chemotherapy and cancer foundations splash across headlines, the public perception might be that putting cancer in remission is more possible than ever before; meanwhile, movies like The Notebook create a public perception that Alzheimer’s is an unstoppable force that cannot be controlled once set in motion. In some ways, each of these perceptions holds some truth: the medical community is more equipped to fight cancer than ever before, and there still exists no cure for Alzheimer’s. In light of this, natural products shoppers are starting to purchase supplements For brain health at an earlier age, in an attempt to avoid the fate of generations before them.

“I believe this is a category that is growing exponentially, mostly due to the awareness of the fact that people are living longer and there are diseases associated with that,” explained Dr. Holly Lucille, spokesperson for VivaPrime USA (New York, NY). “The awareness of age related memory issues and disease has started to increase and I see people every day in my practice starting to incorporate preventative measures.”

Moving Targets

According to Sunil Kohli, COO of Health Plus Inc. (Chino, CA), the target audience for brain health supplements has changed rather dramatically in recent years. “About a decade or so ago, cognitive/memory/brain support was basically the province of the AARP/over 65 crowd,” he said. “No longer.” 

Now, in addition to the “over 65 crowd,” university students are Aggressively seeking out supplements that can help them improve concentration and mental acuity without uncomfortable side effects, said Kohli. 

These shoppers, in addition to those in their 20s, 30s and 40s, grew up in a much friendlier and abundant natural products environment, he said, and shop with the goal of improving cognitive performance, rather than preventing age-related degeneration or Alzheimer’s disease.

“The demand for supplements with ingredients that support cognitive health is expected to experience a lot of growth, according to trend trackers,” agreed Lester Burks, CMO of Life Line Foods, LLC (Pikeville, TN). “The increase of symptoms of cognitive deficiencies in younger age groups expands this market beyond aging Baby Boomers looking to prolong mental acuity. 

People will look for cognitive health supplements to improve moods and provide brain support, rather than just seeking to prevent neurodegeneration.” Further, as Burks explained, the market has widened to include professionals seeking to combat stress and mental fatigue, and youths and the elderly seeking mood improvement.

All of this is in addition to the 71 percent of the general population concerned about memory loss, he said.

Indeed, families affected by autism are seeking out cognitive health supplements, said Mindy Whitacre, national sales manager at LifeSeasons (Copper Canyon, TX).

“The target consumer is still the Baby Boomer population, but honestly, all ages are searching for improved brain health,” she said, citing students who want improved memory, busy professionals and the elderly. 

“Families that have been affected by Alzheimer’s disease recognize that preventative measures can slow early onset of these Issues, and they begin searching for nutrients that can help themselves or a loved one.” 

Kazie Uyama, doctor of naturopathy and owner and president of C’est Si Bon Company (Torrance, CA), is finding that many parents are giving infants and children the company’s Chlorenerg® dietary chlorella supplement as a source of protein and green vegetable foods as “brain foods.” 

Still, the tried-and-true Boomer population is not excluded from the brain health category’s target audience. 

Cassie France-Kelly, director of corporate communications at Martek Biosciences Corporation (Columbia, MD) , explained that the company’s life’sDHA™ is featured in products for pregnant and breast feeding women for infant and mother health, for children, adults and Boomers, and even for animals and pets. 

“Where in the past there was a lot of interest in products to support infant brain development during pregnancy and infancy, recent research has encouraged more interest from the Boomer population who are looking for products to support memory and brain health as they age,” she said. 

“For example, the Memory Improvement with Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) Study, or MIDAS, is the first large, randomized and placebo-controlled study demonstrating the benefits of algal DHA in maintaining and improving brain health in older adults.” 

According to France-Kelly, healthy people with memory complaints who took 900mg algal DHA capsules for six months had almost double the reduction in errors on a test measuring learning and memory performance versus those who took a placebo—“a benefit roughly equivalent to having the learning and memory skills of someone three years younger,” she said. 

“Following the publication of this study in Alzheimer’s and Dementia, the journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, a number of products were introduced to the market to meet this need.”

Taking Brain Health to Heart

Anew study appearing in Circulation suggests that cardiac index—the measure of how well the heart is pumping blood to the brain and the rest of the body—may be an indicator of a person’s risk for developing dementia in the future.

Researchers found that, even in people without heart disease, cardiac index is linked to brain size, a known risk factor for dementia. The study examined data from 1,504 patients in the Framingham Offspring Cohort, an arm of the larger Framingham Heart Study. Researchers compiled neuropsychological tests, brain and cardiac MRI, and lab reports.

“The primary finding is that cardiac index is associated with brain volume.

Participants with low cardiac index and low normal values had smaller brains, equivalent to about two years of brain aging compared to those with high cardiac index,” said study author Angela Jefferson, associate professor of neurology at the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at the Boston University School of Medicine. Though the link between heart disease and dementia has been examined, this study takes into account subjects without heart disease as well.

According to Richard Lipton, an attending neurologist at Montefiore Medical Center and professor of neurology at the Einstein College of Medicine in New York, these results may not translate into a public health recommendation.

“I think sometimes we give drugs that reduce high blood pressure, that also reduce cardiac index,” he said, “and maybe people will begin to think twice about that.” Still, more research needs to be done, said Jefferson. 

“It helps give us a better understanding of what potentially could lead to dementia in older people, and the role that cardiac dysfunction, or weak hearts, play in brain function or dysfunction,” cautioned William Borden, assistant professor of medicine in public health at the Perelman Heart Institute at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. 

“[The study] is important, certainly suggestive, but is observational data and can’t prove anything yet.” “It’s premature to say you can take this medication or engage in this particular activity to improve your cardiac output to protect brain health,” Jefferson said, noting that it is still fair to encourage people to engage in healthy living choices. 

“Eat well, exercise regularly and take medications prescribed by your doctor if you have cardiovascular risk factors.”

In elderly populations,” he added. “It is important to get these ingredients in combination because one study found that dietary supplementation with DHA and phosphatidylserine, along with other nutrients may improve cognitive performance and may ‘delay the progression of age-related cognitive decline.’” Neuro Nectar also includes niacin and vitamins B-1, B-2 and B-12.

“Combination products are much more popular than individual nutrients,” agreed Whitacre. “This is due to a variety of reasons: the body responds to synergistic blends, people don’t want to take a handful of pills and it is more cost effective and economical for the consumer.” LifeSeasons has two products in the brain health category: Clari-T for cognitive support and Daily Omega Complex. “Clari-T is a synergistic blend of nutrients in therapeutic doses that supports cognitive function and memory,” explained Whitacre. “The nutrients included in Clari- T are phosphtidyl serine, ginkgo bilobahuperzine A, vinpocotine, and bacopa.” The Daily Omega Complex incorporates EPAX fish oils, Antarctic krill oil and sea buckthorn fruit oil, combining omega-3 essential fatty acids, phospholipids and omega-7.

Other products on the market work double duty to appeal to younger shoppers.

Enzymedica’s (Port Charlotte, FL) MemoryCell offers cognitive support in addition to anti-aging benefits through a blend of botanicals and enzymes to create an antioxidant effect for cells— including but not limited to those in the brain.

Sell Well Tips

With the multitude of blends on the market, merchandising can be a challenge— especially for products like MemoryCell that work double or triple duty, and appeal to many people for different reasons.

“There’s always a difficulty of marketing a combination product. Where does it go? What does it do? The feeling of not getting exactly what you want. Or confusion as to the benefits of the product,” said David Barton, Enzymedica’s national educator.

The company has tried to simplify this process by narrowing down the target of the products’ potential to what may influence and affect the most shoppers. “The term MemoryCell speaks for itself, yet the product can affect so many other vital issues in the body, including anti-aging, immune system support or as a potent antioxidant.” With other supplements, the challenges are a bit more enjoyable. “This can be a fun category to merchandise,” said Kohli, who suggested using a onea- day brainteaser to draw shoppers into the category. “Post the brainteaser of the day,” he suggested. “The curious will then have to ask the store representative about the answer, which may lead to potential sales.” Kohli also recommended highlighting Brain Health Week in November, which is also Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. “Support the National Memory Walk by starting your own team or sponsoring one,” he said. “This is a profound opportunity to draw more new customers into your store. And remember: brain health supplements are more than just support against Alzheimer’s.” Mark Underwood, president of Quincy Bioscience (Madison, WI), recommended that especially when it comes to brain health, access to educational materials is key.

Specifically, he suggested offering shoppers a reference library where they can check out books. “Consumers will come back to return the book, and give storeowners a chance to recommend a product,” he said. “Also, retailers can take advantage of the many co-op advertising opportunities available. In many instances, we have supported a retailer by paying for radio commercials or radio interviews, print advertising, TV or newsletter sponsorships, and bag stuffing campaigns.” Indeed, education is key, even when awareness is high.

“Consumers are more educated than ever before, but keep in mind people who are coming in looking for answers to help a loved one are looking for information as well as supplements,” encouraged Whitacre. “Be the go-to source for your customers.”

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