The brain care category is booming.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, brain fog became a very real concern, resulting in an increased interest in brain-boosting supplements. This brought on a wave of nootropics, natural and synthetic molecules proven to boost cognitive function, often considered to be a quick fix. Ingredient interest continues to grow — nootropics receive 148,200 average monthly searches and are up 1.5 percent year over year, according to search data from Spate. The overall neurological category is growing, as well — Deloitte reports that the global neurological market reached $612 billion in 2022 and could grow to $721 billion by 2026.
“Fifteen years ago there started to be an increased amount of research on the concept of concussion, brain injuries and then as time moved on, there was increased understanding awareness and research on mental health,” said Dr. Rami Hashish, Ph.D., DPT, principal director of the National Biomechanics Institute and on staff at University of Southern California’s Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy.
While nootropics have seen an uptick, a new category, which many are calling “brain care,” has also gained recognition among brands and consumers. Videos tagged #BrainHealth have more than 200 million views on TikTok. The brain care approach is two-pronged, focusing on both immediate cognitive benefits and long-term health to prevent or reduce significant brain aging.
According to Dr. Hashish, over time, the brain shrinks, the functionality of neurons becomes less effective and blood flow to the brain reduces. Research shows that the brain is fully developed in a person’s mid-to-late 20s, and afterward, it begins to shrink.
“We basically just have this overall degeneration and as a result that affects essentially every single function that we do, both mentally and physically,” he said.
According to cognitive research, accelerated brain aging can lead to a slew of health issues, including increased symptoms for those struggling with mental health disorders like depression or bipolar, decreased mental function and risk for neurodegenerative conditions, like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. While the brain does age on its own, certain habits can accelerate it, like smoking, an unhealthy diet, lack of movement, excessive stress, etc.
As nutrition is a key component of brain care — along with movement, sleep and reduced stress — according to Dr. Hashish, a slew of brands are aiming to take on the category and make caring for the mind easier by developing daily supplements. Benefits include cognitive function, energy boosts, mental clarity, better memory and even reduced risk of disease.
Heights, founded by Dan Murray-Serter and Joel Freeman, launched in 2021 with its Smart Supplement, $55, which the brand claims to be an “all-in-one brain supplement.”
“We designed this specifically to help support your brain, so our first product, the Smart Supplement, [has] the top 20 scientifically proven nutrients that will make an impact on things that matter to your brain: mood, sleep, energy, focus, clarity, brain fog,” Murray-Serter said.
The Smart Supplement includes ingredients like B vitamins, omega 3 DHA and blueberry extract, as blueberries have been proven to improve memory and attention. While the brand recently launched its Smart Probiotic, $50, to support the gut brain connection, Murray-Serter said Heights’ lineup will remain small with a focus entirely on the brain. Similarly, the brand has maintained a direct-to-consumer model, as the team reevaluates the formulas every three months to ensure they are on par with the latest research findings.
Parable, founded by Cristina Poindexter and Brian McGrath Davis, launched in January with Daily, an unflavored powder supplement with an array of ingredients, like curcumin, phosphatidylserine and several B vitamins, clinically proven to boost short- and long-term cognitive function as well as repair and build cell membranes. Poindexter claims that a daily dose of the ingestible powder is equivalent to about 10 pills.
“Looking at the landscape, there’s lots of products for treating the symptomatic surface-level needs of here and now. I need some energy. I need some focus. I need to get to sleep, but not really seeing offerings on the consumer landscape for taking care of this thing [the brain] for the long term and so that became a curiosity of ours to discover,” McGrath Davis previously told WWD. “What we found was that consumers overwhelmingly value having a healthy brain but don’t really know what to do.”
Alice, a functional mushroom chocolate brand that launched late 2022, had a similar approach with its brain care supplement Brainstorm.
“With our chocolates, we like to take the now-and-later approach. A lot of people are looking for instant gratification when they take any supplement and knowing that when we created and formulated Brainstorm, we included lion’s mane and cordyceps but then we also have phosphatidylserine and guarana,” said cofounder and CEO Lindsay Goodstein. Phosphatidylserine, a fatty acid from soybeans, and guarana, a caffeinated berry, both provide immediate energy and cognitive benefits, while lion’s mane and cordyceps support long-term neurological health.
“At some point within 30 minutes, you are going to start feeling much more energized but without the jitters,” said Charlotte Cruze, cofounder and chief marketing officer. “After about two to three weeks of daily use, you’re going to start to feel like putting ideas together is feeling a little more seamless, your memory is going to be sharper, your ease of getting into a flow state is going to be much more second nature.”
With long-term use, recent studies have shown that medicinal doses of lion’s mane could reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and slow down the onset for those already diagnosed.
Many of the brain care brands on the market are employing recent research around ingredients like lion’s mane, blueberry extract and omega 3 to formulate supplements that could deter cognitive aging and support a healthy brain for years to come.
The Brain Boosters:
Alice Brainstorm, $29
Alice’s Brainstorm chocolates combine lion’s mane and cordyceps fruiting body mushrooms for long-term brain health with guarana and phosphatidylserine for instant energy boost.
Parable Daily, $90
Parable’s Daily is an unflavored neuro-fortified supplement based in powdered oat milk that can be added to any drink.
Heights Smart Supplement, $55
Heights’ Smart Supplement combines the top 20 scientifically proven nutrients to boost brain health over time, including B vitamins, omega 3 DHA and blueberry extract.
First Person Sunbeam, $50
First Person’s Sunbeam employs mushrooms like lion’s mane and cordyceps to enhance mental function over time and prevent brain aging.
Deon Libra Unbothered Elixir, $54
Deon Libra’s Unbothered Elixir combines an adaptogenic blend of ingredients like lion’s mane, reishi and ashwagandha into a chocolate-y chai drink powder that can provide sustainable energy and boost overall mood.
Moon Juice Brain Dust, $38
Moon Juice’s Brain Dust employs the brain care category’s favorite ingredient, lion’s mane, to support long-term cognitive function, astragalus to promote blood flow and maca to boost energy and memory.