This article is from The Natural Products Insider and was written by Steve French
Contrary to popular belief, losing one’s brain capacity and mental faculties are not necessarily inevitable consequences of aging. In fact, emerging science is just beginning to scratch the surface regarding the effects of aging on brain function and discovering a multitude of interrelated factors that determine whether “brain fitness” will remain healthy or will start to decline as a person ages. Uncovering how and why the brain ages is the first step in finding ways to prevent its decline, thereby allowing an aging population to enter their latter years with their cognitive functioning intact.
According to the U.S. census, the number of people aged 65 and older will grow from 13 percent of the current population to 20 percent by 2050. Furthermore, the Alzheimer’s Association projects the number of consumers suffering from Alzheimer's could more than triple in the coming decades.
While these numbers are staggering, aging does not invariably promote cognitive decline, and not all cognitive decline is symptomatic of a more serious condition such as Alzheimer’s. However, consumers are not taking any chances and are highly concerned about their brain health. In fact, while approximately one-third of all American adults 40 years and older report their brain health was “very” important to them 20 years ago, the importance of brain health has grown significantly, with almost six in 10 reporting it is very important today. That said, today less than one-quarter of consumers are “very” satisfied with their brain health. In addition, two out of five consumers older than 40 feel their memory has become worse over the past 10 years.
Therefore, while the importance of brain health has shown significant growth, consumer satisfaction with brain health is very low, perceived memory loss is increasing and the proportion of the aging population is accelerating, creating the “perfect storm.” This, in turn, drives opportunities for industries in health and wellness and healthy aging to assist consumers in navigating these turbulent waters.
Combined with the uncertainty of a future health care system and continued economic challenges, consumers are starting to look for better solutions to stay healthy. Consumers are even making a connection between healthy living and their cognitive functioning with almost one-quarter of consumers older than 40 stating they are maintaining a healthy lifestyle in order to improve their mental faculties.
Food as the new “medicine” is a strong sign of consumers’ growing need to take more responsibility for their health, and a contrary indication of a widely held belief that functional foods are reaching a plateau as a future market opportunity, when, in fact, functionality may be poised as a key driver across many existing and emerging markets, including the brain health market. In actuality, about three-quarters of older consumers wish there was some type of food ingredient or nutritional supplement that they could use to keep their memory and brain function healthy.
Various nutrients from antioxidants to long-chain omega-3s to caffeine have been linked to better brain function and memory; however, lack of consumer association of these nutrients with brain health may be suppressing higher use among consumers looking to subsidize their diet with brain-healthy foods and ingredients. While a majority of older consumers report they are trying to get more omega-3s in their diet, the main benefit associated with omega-3s is heart health, and “improved brain functioning” only a secondary benefit. Even further, only about one-quarter of older consumers associate antioxidants with cognitive health.
Another issue that may be suppressing higher use of brain-boosting foods is that the food and nutrient sources such as the cocoa bean, acai, blueberries, Ginkgo biloba and resveratrol are not easily added to foods or are part of today’s diet, at least not in efficacious quantities. Therefore, there are tremendous growth opportunities for fortified and functional food products positioned to aid memory and brain health, provided they are accompanied by strong and continuous educational messaging.