Brain health is fast becoming a significant opportunity for the dietary supplements’ category. The market is growing and forecast to accelerate driven by consumer needs for healthy living products extending from physical to cognitive wellbeing as populations continue to age. The question for the industry, is how best to meet that growing demand? BASF has an answer in omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – now available in new and superior formats and validated by both consumers and science.
Allied Market Research predicts the global market for brain health supplements will achieve a compound annual growth rate of 8.8% from 2017 to 2023, outpacing the 5.8% predicted for the wider dietary supplement market.1,2 The market is being driven by consumer prioritization of brain health, particularly by younger people, and a willingness to pay for products and services intended to improve or maintain mental faculties.3,4
There are an array of data points indicating that consumers are prioritizing brain health and cognitive wellbeing. One example comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which tracked a threefold increase in the proportion of US adults who meditate between 2012 and 2017.5 Meditation is as common among 18 to 44 year olds as the over 65s.
Another comes from Google, which tracked a double-digit increase in searches for “brain health” between 2015 and 2018.6 Google search data also reveals increased interest in terms such as “brain supplement” and “mental performance.”7,8
The data show tens of millions of people are paying more attention to cognitive wellbeing and that trend is likely to continue. Aging populations will drive an ongoing increase in interest in brain health, with the United Nations predicting there will be 2.1bn people aged 60 and older worldwide in 2050.9
The evidence supporting DHA use
A large, growing body of research points toward the role DHA supplementation may play in supporting mental wellbeing and healthy aging.
“Fat makes up a large portion of human brain tissue and the good omega-3 fat, DHA, makes up a significant percentage of the fat in the brain. Just as calcium is essential for building strong bones, the brain needs DHA for optimal development.
“Neurons in the brain process and transmit electrical and chemical “messages” that enable our bodies to function normally. Neurons are rich in omega-3 DHA; therefore, a diet deficient in DHA will deprive the nervous system of a critical nutrient and may impair the brain’s ability to function optimally,” Ellen Schutt, Executive Director of Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3 (GOED), said.
The earliest evidence of the importance of DHA comes from fossil records. Hominid brain capacity was roughly the same for millions of years. Then, brain capacity expanded rapidly when hominids began eating a seafood diet rich in DHA.10
That evidence is supported by modern studies, which show DHA is the main omega-3 fat in the brain and that its availability is crucial for multiple aspects of neurological development, including mental processing, psychomotor development and hand-eye coordination.11
Some of the research uses the Omega-3 Index, a tool for measuring levels of DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in the blood. According to the latest thinking regarding omega-3 indexes and positive health correlations, risks are minimized and benefits more likely to be realized when people enjoy an Omega-3 Index of 8% or more. At those levels, research has associated DHA with better focus, memory and behavior.
Multiple studies have linked higher intake of omega-3 fats to a lower risk of mental decline and DHA levels are lower in people with Alzheimer’s disease than healthy older adults.12,13 The effect of DHA is most pronounced when supplementation starts before significant mental decline.14
Additionally, there is also robust evidence linking the omega-3 to effects on ocular and cellular health. Multiple studies have found potential positive effects in dry eye disease and diabetic retinopathy.15–17 Other researchers have shown DHA may reduce eye discomfort in contact lens wearers and help to lower eye pressure in healthy people.18,19
The need to increase DHA levels
There is strong evidence that people find it challenging to consume food with enough DHA or EPA on a day to day basis. In many countries, including the US and UK, EPA and DHA make up less than 4% of total fatty acid intake.20 Such low scores on the Omega-3 Index suggest deficiency of DHA in the cell membranes in the brain and eyes.
Countries with diets rich in fish, such as Japan, consume much higher levels of DHA but typical modern lifestyles in many countries are not conducive to getting enough omega-3 from natural sources. The challenge becomes particularly acute as factors such as aging, medication and health negatively impact omega-3 absorption and sufficiency.
The ability of consumers to increase DHA levels via supplementation is also constrained by the range of products available to them. Most omega-3 products only contain 12% DHA and its highly likely that only a fraction of that amount gets to the cells that need it.
That evidence relates to what people eat at breakfast, the time at which most take their supplements. Dietary fats are needed to stimulate the digestive system but most people consume little, if any, of these molecules at breakfast.21-22 As such, the conditions for absorption are suboptimal when many people take supplements. The result is too little DHA gets to where it is needed to have the desired effects.
BASF has responded with a solution that delivers optimal absorption, regardless of food intake and with sufficient omega-3 content. AccelonTM is a self-micro emulsifying delivery system designed to mitigate the need for fatty foods and the bile salt release they stimulate is now available in a new, high-DHA variant. In validating the technology in non-clinical and clinical tests, Accelon DHA increased absorption by a minimum of three times compared to standard fish oils.23,24 These absorption levels were achieved when the supplement was taken first thing in the morning in the absence of specific meals or conditions.
Increased DHA absorption also results in more people achieving Omega-3 Index levels associated with improved cognitive function. In a 12-week trial of healthy people with starting index levels of 6.5% or lower, 70% of people who took Accelon DHA achieved 8% index levels by the end of the study. The rate was 25% among the group that received high concentrate omega-3 oil, suggesting Accelon DHA is far more efficient and consistent in helping raise the Omega-3 Index than regular products in a representative population.
The growth opportunity is for brand owners to leverage Accelon DHA technology and clinical results, combined with insights on how people take omega-3 supplements and the proven links between DHA and brain, eye and cell health.
In doing so, brand owners are likely to influence a virtuous growth cycle: where novel, scientifically-validated products provide exciting innovation, supported with marketing, to drive consumer awareness and interest. Ideally, this would encourage more healthcare recommendations and consumers to include omega-3 DHA as an essential daily supplement.
Join us at Supply Side West
BASF will be attending Supply Side West in Las Vegas, October 15th-19th. Visit us at Booth M34 5047 and have your Omega-3 Index tested. Our experts are happy to answer your questions and discuss solutions for growing your omega-3 business. To schedule a meeting in advance please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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17. Souied, E. H. et al. Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Age-Related Macular Degeneration. ORE 55, 62–69 (2016).
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19. Downie, L. E. & Vingrys, A. J. Oral Omega-3 Supplementation Lowers Intraocular Pressure in Normotensive Adults. Transl. Vis. Sci. Technol. 7, 1 (2018).
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24. Qin, Y., Nyheim, H., Haram, E. M., Moritz, J. M. & Hustvedt, S. O. A novel self-micro-emulsifying delivery system (SMEDS) formulation significantly improves the fasting absorption of EPA and DHA from a single dose of an omega-3 ethyl ester concentrate. Lipids Health Dis. 16, 204 (2017).