Brain food and beverages to improve relaxation and concentration
Working harder and longer calls for foods and beverages that boost our brains or help us relax
We are all working harder and longer hours and would welcome food and beverage products that can give our brains a boost or help us relax. Some drink coffee and tea to help get through the day.
Thousands of scientific articles have been written about the health benefits of caffeine, coffee, and tea. Coffee and tea beverages have been noted to improved alertness and elevated mood (coffee at doses of as little as 32mg). The long-term effects of their use on brain function also has been studied and provides some evidence that coffee, tea, and caffeine consumption, or higher plasma caffeine levels, may protect against cognitive impairment/decline (as is evidenced in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia).
During the past few years, there have been a number of innovative, natural, and functional foods and beverage products developed containing various nutraceuticals, including ice cream, brownies, ready-to-drink (RTD) teas and coffees, and sparling waters. The range of ingredients included in these products varies from vitamins B6 and B12, taurine, omega-3 fatty acids, phosphatidylserine, magnesium, and others.
There also are easily portable stick packs containing dietary supplement powders to improve mental alertness and other nutraceutical products derived from microalgae or certain crustaceans—and even jellyfish—promoted to either reduce physical and mental fatigue or to improve memory, respectively. These products can not only sharpen our mental abilities while we are younger but also help ameliorate some of the symptoms associated with age-related cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other intellectual abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for between 60-80% of dementia cases. In 2016, the Alzheimer’s Assn. website stated that this disease affects more than 5 million Americans. According to the group’s 2016 “Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures” report, Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in America and kills more than breast and prostate cancer, combined.
In 2016, it was estimated that Alzheimer’s and other associated dementias cost the nation over $236 billion. By 2050, costs associated with Alzheimer’s are estimated to rise to more than $1 trillion.
Sleep On It
Melatonin is a hormone secreted at night by a small gland in the center of our brains. The pineal gland helps to regulate our circadian rhythms (our internal body clock) and allow humans and animals to enjoy a restful night’s sleep. According to the Society for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms, approximately 5-25µg of melatonin circulates in the bloodstream of healthy young and middle-aged men at nighttime.
Melatonin helps to regulate both sleep and wakefulness and is sold over the counter to treat insomnia. Melatonin is not only produced in the pineal gland but is also naturally present in a variety of edible plants—where it functions as a first line of defense against oxidative stress. It is known that melatonin production decreases as we get older, which is one reason why the elderly suffer more from insomnia. Tomatoes have far less melatonin than tart cherries, but people generally eat more tomatoes than cherries. Sweet cherries have 50 times less melatonin than tart ones.
Researchers who have studied the melatonin content of cherries have recommended eating them at least one hour before going to bed. If you have had a hard day and need some shut-eye, companies such as R.W. Knudsen Family Co. sell 100% pure, natural tart cherry juice. A few spices also are fairly potent; just a teaspoon of mustard seeds has as much melatonin as several tomatoes.
Potassium and magnesium are natural muscle relaxants, and bananas are a good source of both. Bananas also contain the amino acid L-tryptophan, which gets converted into 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) in the brain. 5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin, a natural, mood-stabilizing hormone or neurotransmitter that plays a role in depressive disorders.
A line of relaxation beverages was launched in the same reggae spirit of its namesake. Marley Beverage Co. has created a line of innovative, natural, and functional beverages under its Mellow Mood brand and includes both decaffeinated black teas and sparkling waters.
These products are either low or no calorie and are sweetened with a combination of erythritol and stevia. The company’s flavors include Peach Raspberry, Bartlett Pear, Mixed Berry, Lemon Citrus, and Mango. The products contain a blend of five herbal extracts to help consumers achieve nirvana; chamomile (reduces anxiety), lemon balm (enhances mood and calmness), valerian root (promotes relaxation without drowsiness), hops (promotes relaxation), and passionflower (decreases anxiety).
The medicinal benefits of ginger have been known for more than 2,000 years. Along with its delicious flavor, ginger is well-known to have a calming effect on the digestive system and studies have also shown that it can relieve muscle pain following exercise. After a long day at the office, relaxing with a can of a sparkling, ginger-flavored beverage can be just what the doctor ordered.
More than 20,000 scientific papers have been published on omega-3 fatty acids and their beneficial effects on sustaining healthy cholesterol levels and improving heart health, and for improving neural development and brain function in infants and older adults.
The increasing incidence of heart-related complications and other serious health issues, such as diabetes, are fueling the demand for omega-3 fatty acids. The increasing interest towards maintaining a healthy diet also contributes to the growing popularity of omega-3 ingredients globally. Omega-3 fatty acids find application in infant formulas, functional foods and beverages, nutritional supplements, pharmaceuticals, clinical nutrition, and pet foods.
According to a 2016 report by Markets and Markets, the global omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) market is estimated to be valued at around $10 billion. It is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.8% until 2020. The omega-3 PUFA market is segmented by three types of fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and alphalinolenic acid (ALA).
The brain is composed of about 60% lipids (based on dry weight), with omega-3 fatty acids making up about 60% of nerve cell membranes in the vicinity of the synapses where the cells communicate with each other. The two important omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, are both metabolites of ALA. Because the metabolic conversion of ALA to these longer chain fatty acids is low, people need to obtain these fatty acids from dietary sources, such as fatty fish like salmon, herring, sardines, tuna, and mackerel.
Not all fatty acids are created equal. Omega-3 fatty acids are derived from marine sources, (with flax seeds having a high concentration, at 57%), while omega-6 fatty acids are derived from vegetable oils (safflower, sunflower, and soybean). Research has shown that the average US diet is low in omega-3s, with an unnecessary over-abundance of omega-6 fats.
However, it is the omega-3 fatty acids which are important for both brain and heart health. While the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends 500mg of EPA and DHA daily, most Americans only consume an average of 57mg DHA and 34mg EPA per day.
Anthropological studies suggest our ancestors consumed omega-6 and omega-3 fats in a ratio of roughly 1:1 and that these peoples were free from the modern inflammatory diseases, like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes—all of which plague us today. At the onset of the industrial revolution and continuing into today, there has been a marked shift in the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in the diet, primarily due to the fact that vegetable oil consumption has risen dramatically.
For example, between 1935 and 1939, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids was reported to be 8.4:1. From 1935-1985, this ratio increased to 10.3:1. Today, estimates of this ratio range from an average of 10:1 to 20:1, with a ratio of 25:1 in some individuals. Omega-6 fatty acids from vegetable oils are pro-inflammatory and contribute to the progression of a variety of diseases.
The relationship between the intake of omega-6 fats and cardiovascular mortality has been discussed in “Eicosanoids and Ischemic Heart Disease,” by Stephan Guyenet, PhD. It includes a correlation between a rising dietary intake of omega-6 fatty acids and increased mortality from heart disease. While the mortality was highest in the US, it was far lower in Japan and Greenland, where fish are consumed to a much greater extent.
Products offering cognitive health benefits should be a booming market, due to aging of the global population. However, new product development specifically targeting seniors remains relatively low. Product launch activity tracked containing brain health ingredients in 2015 was led by China (14%) and the United States (11%), together representing one quarter of all product launches.
The lion’s share of new brain health product launches in 2015 was for the baby food market, followed by sports performance. The leading brain health ingredients used for new product launches in 2015 include vitamins B6 and B12, taurine, magnesium, choline, and DHA, according to Innova Market Insights.
Taurine is a low-cost amino acid and one of the most abundant amino acids in our bodies. It plays special roles in the brain, where it meets many of the criteria for being a neurotransmitter (a molecule that transmits signals between brain cells). Scientists have recognized for more than a decade that taurine is critical for normal brain development.
Brain taurine concentrations decline with aging, so interest in the ingredient is rising to the forefront of cognitive science. Taurine supplementation can help to mitigate age-related losses of memory and learning functions.
Most recently, taurine has been shown to be protective against toxic environmental exposures, including lead and pesticides. It also inhibits beta amyloid formation associated with Alzheimer’s and helps regulate the brain’s control of glucose. Taurine also shows evidence of protection against the cognitive deficits induced by stroke.
Caffeine has several close relatives, theophylline (present in tea), and theobromine (present in chocolate). As a natural constituent in coffee, caffeine is known to stimulate mental alertness and helps a person focus on mentally challenging projects. Caffeine also is present in colas, guarana, energy drinks, and yerba maté tea.
The caffeine content in coffee varies, depending upon the brewing method and the bean-roasting process. A typical cup of brewed coffee contains between 75-150mg caffeine. In contrast, cola soft drinks contain between 10-50mg caffeine per 12oz. Most caffeinated energy drinks, such as Red Bull, contain about 80mg per serving.
Tea and Thine
Tea and coffee are still primary vehicles for those alkaloids that both energize and focus everyone, from college kids cramming for finals to desk jockeys putting in their 70-hour weeks. But as the tea and coffee-based beverage category grows, so too does the application of these ingredients and their components in other formulations. Tearrific Ice Cream LLC manufactures a line of artisanal, tea-infused ice creams in seven unique flavors, including Matcha Green Tea, Ginger Matcha, Masala Chai, and Chamomile.
“Our ice creams are infused with fresh, brewed loose-leaf and herbal teas and are manufactured without the use of preservatives, stabilizers, corn syrup, or artificial colors and flavors. Our ice cream is appealing to consumers, because it offers the combination of distinct, complex flavor profiles and a refreshing mouthfeel that is unlike any other super-premium ice cream brand on the market,” says Mario Leite, company president.
“Our Just Chill Zero Ginger beverage has zero calories, is sugarless, and is sweetened with erythritol and a touch of stevia,” says Mitchell Raisch, co-founder of functional beverage maker Chill Group Inc. “The active ingredient, L-theanine, has been shown to help improve mental focus and promote relaxation, without drowsiness. In addition to the 150mg of L-theanine, the beverages also contain vitamins B and C, magnesium, zinc, and lemongrass extract.” Lemongrass is known for both soothing and digestive health properties.
The most significant phytochemical in green tea is the polyphenolic antioxidant epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG). Its benefits have been studied in the laboratory and in animal and human subjects, as well.
EGCG is the most abundant catechin in tea. In an animal study published in a 2012 issue of Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, researchers looked at the potential of EGCG to enhance brain function. Specifically, they studied the effects of the polyphenol on the generation of neurons in the hippocampus, the area of the brain where memories are formed and is most affected by diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The research team found that the EGCG in green tea promotes neurogenesis or neuron creation in the hippocampus of adult mice and, thus, improves cognitive function.
The UK company Brainwave Drinks Ltd. developed a functional beverage called “Brainwave.” The product is billed as a sugarless, cognitive health drink targeting “anyone with a brain.” It contains three functional ingredients in a combination of Mango, Pineapple, and Jasmine Flavors. “The blend of a high dose of EGCG, caffeine—about as much as a low dose coffee—and L-theanine is synergistic,” says Richard Baister, founder and CEO. “L-theanine appears to act as a carrier to enhance the delivery of nutrients through the blood-brain barrier.”
Scientists and clinicians have been studying phosphatidylserine (PS) and phosphatidic acid (PA) for decades. PA is the simplest phospholipid and the precursor for the biosynthesis of many other lipids. Both PS and PA are important phospholipids found in cell membranes and help keep membranes flexible. Furthermore, PS has been found to both increase glucose metabolism and also to decrease oxidative stress in the brain.
Phosphatidylserine increases communication between cells in your brain by increasing the number of membrane receptor sites for receiving messages, all of which are important to learning, memory and other cognitive functions. Scientific studies have demonstrated that phosphatidylserine restores the brain’s supply and output of acetylcholine, a critical memory neurotransmitter. It is believed that this nutraceutical can help turn back the time clock in an aging brain.
Both PA and PS are produced by the enzymatic conversion of soy lecithin (phosphatidylcholine). An Israeli company has developed a patented, vegetarian-based 400mg complex supplement combining equal parts of PS and PA (PSPA).
More than 3,000 published research papers and more than 60 clinical trials have established that phosphatidylserine can rejuvenate brain cell membranes and thereby strengthen memory; increase vigilance and attention; boost learning; and increase mental acuity. Human clinical studies have shown that PS might assist against the symptoms of dementia, age-associated memory impairment (AAMI), and cognitive dysfunction.
Recently, several double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials were done to show that the PSPA complex can deliver a reduction in both physical and mental stress levels as well as offer cognitive support. In one study, PSPA was able to lower cortisol levels in chronically stressed individuals, decreasing everyday stress and elevating mood in men.
In another study, the positive influence of PSPA on memory, mood, and cognition was demonstrated among elderly subjects with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Approximately 43% of the PSPA patients (but none taking placebo) continued with post-trial supplementation.
A more bioavailable magnesium chelate (magnesium L-threonate) is a breakthrough compound for cognitive health and memory and has been shown to effectively cross the blood-brain barrier and raise magnesium levels in the brain. By some estimates, up to 80% of Americans are not getting enough magnesium and may be deficient.
Other research shows that only about 25% of US adults are getting the recommended daily amount of magnesium chelate (310-320mg for women and 400-420mg for men). Animal research has demonstrated positive results for both short- and long-term memory improvements. This compound has the potential to assist anyone experiencing forgetfulness; difficulty in focusing; or who needs assistance in decision-making or spatial/visual recognition. The ingredient is self-affirmed GRAS.
Magnesium chelate is suitable for both the nutraceutical and food/beverage industries. It has a clean taste, is odorless, highly soluble, and is safe to consume. Since the magnesium level in this compound is low at only 8.3%, a formulator needs to be cognizant of the fact that a greater amount of this ingredient will be required depending on the product’s label claim.
Another product touted to support mental focus is INVIA. This drink mix supplement comes in a convenient stick pack that can be added to a bottle of water. “INVIA assists in promoting the activity of the brain’s frontal cortex, the region behind the forehead where the most complex mental activities take place. INVIA contains 100mg caffeine, which is equivalent to a cup of black tea as well as ornithine and 250mg of citicoline,” says Robert Paul, PhD, a neuropsychologist and founder of INVIA.
“Ornithine is an amino acid that stimulates the breakdown of proteins—resulting in the release of stored energy. It also reduces ammonia, a substance that causes fatigue and is harmful to the body and brain. Results of a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial of office employees revealed that a combination of ornithine and caffeine reduces fatigue and promotes concentration more than caffeine alone,” concludes Paul.
Citicoline was introduced in the 1970s. Research studies suggest that citicoline supplements increase dopamine receptor densities, and this helps prevent memory impairment resulting from poor environmental conditions. Preliminary research has found that citicoline supplements help improve focus and mental energy, and might possibly be useful in the treatment of attention deficit disorder.
One “hot” ingredient getting attention for its role in brain health is the carotenoid astaxanthin. Combined clinical and experimental studies have shown supplementation of 12mg/day natural astaxanthin, over a period of three months, improved mental quickness, multitasking, memory, and faster learning in subjects complaining of age-related forgetfulness. Clinical studies also suggest astaxanthin can fight vascular dementia by reducing oxidative by-products in red blood cells–a primary factor for the prevention of vascular dementia.
Avoid the Dip
The “post lunch dip” is a well-known phenomenon that results in substantial deterioration in function and productivity after eating lunch. An Israeli company, InnoBev Ltd., developed a 100ml beverage shot—WakeUp!—that can help workers get back to being productive. WakeUp! has been scientifically proven effective in four clinical trials. In one study of 30 volunteers, performance and vigilance were significantly superior after two hours, as compared against both placebo and caffeine drinks.
“WakeUp! contains just 10mg of caffeine (derived from guarana extract) and also contains elderberry and Gingko biloba,” says Eli Faraggi, CEO at InnoBev. “Furthermore, WakeUp! also contains an apple sugar-based ingredient, naturally derived from fruits, with a very low glycemic index of 34. The low GI means that drinking this product will have a minimal effect on raising blood glucose levels. Consuming low glycemic foods and beverages can not only deliver sustainable energy, but can also help prevent the onset of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity,” concludes Faraggi.
Originally appeared in the April, 2017 issue of Prepared Foods as Relaxation and Concentration.
Reporting in a 2015 article in Forbes magazine, researchers tried to quantify the effects of stress on American workers and the economy. While there was more variation when it came to estimating costs, it was determined that workplace stress causes additional expenditures of anywhere from $125 to $190 billion per year, representing 5-8% of national spending on healthcare. The biggest factor in these costs was high demands at work, estimated as responsible for an estimated $48 billion in spending. They determined, among other findings, that workplace stress contributes to at least 120,000 deaths each year. Based on those statistics, we all can learn to chill out more. Fortunately, food and beverage manufacturers can supply us with appealing products which deliver the nutrients that can help us relax.
The FDA and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have been issuing increasing numbers of warning letters to food and supplement manufacturers that fall afoul of their product labeling and permitted claims regulations and the Dietary Supplement Health Education Act (DSHEA) from 1994. At the start of 2017, Prevagen, a brain-health supplement product marketed extensively for purported memory benefits, was sued by the FTC and the New York State attorney general for making “false and unsubstantiated claims that their product improves memory, provides cognitive benefits, and is ‘clinically shown’ to work.”
Prevagen has been sold in major pharmacies for prices ranging from $24-68 and, from 2007-2015, racked up $165 million in sales. Prevagen’s active ingredient, apoaequorin, is derived from a protein found in jellyfish. Although the company frequently references a double-blind, placebo-controlled study in which Prevagen use led to “rapid and dramatic memory improvement for product users,” the FTC found that the study actually failed to show Prevagen worked any better than a placebo on any parameter of cognitive function.
Several years ago, two different brands of brownies were marketed with claims that they could help boost energy and promote relaxation and sleep. One of the brands contained caffeine, guarana, and ginseng for energy, and the other contained melatonin for relaxation and sleep. The FDA deemed such products containing dietary supplements to be “adulterated” and sent the companies warning letters.
The FDA also sent a warning letter to Bebida Beverage Co. stating that, among other things, that the company’s use of melatonin in its lightly carbonated beverage product, Koma Unwind Liquid Relaxation, constituted use of an “unapproved and unsafe food additive,” rendering the product “adulterated” and “misbranded under provisions of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.”
The issue is that, while Bebida declared its product as a dietary supplement, the beverage is actually a conventional food (a category that includes beverages). Melatonin is approved as a dietary supplement; however, it is not approved for use in food products. If a company markets its product as a dietary supplement; renders the supplement facts panel correctly; stays within the guidelines of the FDA’s allowable claims (affecting the normal structure or function of the human body); and does not promote its supplement products as being able to “diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease” (permitted only within the drug realm); then they can rest easier. The lesson? Stake your claim—carefully.