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Commercial benefits derived from research measuring the efficacy of brain health supplements

Researchers at the Brain, Performance and Nutrition Research Centre (BPNRC) at Northumbria University have explored the effects of dietary supplements on people’s brain function and behaviour. The research has captured the attention of international health supplement manufacturers, including global leaders Bayer Healthcare (Germany) and International Flavors and Fragrances Inc (IFF, USA), who have used it to strengthen marketing efforts, boost sales, and develop new products and ingredients.  

Since their introduction in the 1940s, there has been a significant growth in the market for health supplements – ingredients claiming to improve the body’s health by providing essential nutrients required by the body. Growing public interest in good health and an increase in disposable income are two factors thought to have fuelled this boost, creating a market which is now worth upwards of 140 billion US dollars. Within this market, brain health supplements are estimated to be worth up to one billion euros within the EU and of similar value in the US.  

To remain competitive within this vast, rapidly changing industry, manufacturers rely on up-to-date research on effective ingredients. Northumbria University’s BPNRC has an international reputation for delivering such research and is recognised as being at the forefront of nutritional neuroscience. For the last decade, Professor David Kennedy, Dr Philippa Jackson, and their BPNRC colleagues have conducted many clinical trials exploring the efficacy of supplement ingredients in relation to human brain function and behaviour. To assist this process, the BPNRC developed novel computer software known as COMPASS, a system which uses a selection of bespoke and standardised tasks to rigorously assess cognitive performance. The assessments measure a range of outcomes, including working and episodic memory, attention, and executive function. Mood is assessed via visual analogue scales. COMPASS has proved so successful in identifying cognitive changes in trials that its use has been adopted by other companies and research organisations across Asia, Australasia, Europe, and the US.  

Between 2012 and 2018 the BPNRC worked with the Bayer Consumer Care AG (Basel), an international enterprise that produces multi-vitamin/mineral (MVM) supplements to target vitamin and mineral deficiencies within the body. In this work, the BPNRC conducted a series of trials testing the effects of two of Bayer’s well-known products - Berocca™ and Supradyn™ – on participant metabolism, exertion, and cognitive performance. COMPASS findings confirmed the benefits of taking these supplements, and metabolic measures showed acute and sustained effects of supplementation, information which Bayer now uses to market these products. Bayer acknowledge that the high-quality BPNRC research demonstrating the efficacy of their products has given them a competitive advantage in the marketplace, ultimately boosting their market share. 

In 2017 BPNRC researchers worked with IFF Health, a well-known company specialising in the development of natural health and nutritional ingredients, to find out how well their Neuravena® product, a natural cognitive health ingredient extracted from wild green oat, improves cognitive performance. As well as meeting regulatory requirements, tests completed by the BPNRC using COMPASS identified that the benefits of the product could still be achieved through a much lower dose than initially thought, leading IFF Health to reduce their dose recommendation from 1250mg (2 capsules) to 800mg or less (1 capsule). Through this, BPNRC’s research opened the market for Neuravena® by making it a more affordable product for consumers, attracting new customers for IFF health. 

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