Regulators failing to match consumer demand for natural products supporting mental well-being – Watch

By Nurul Ain Razali

- Last updated on GMT

Experts demand regulators to step up their game in the supplement sector. ©Getty Images
Experts demand regulators to step up their game in the supplement sector. ©Getty Images

Related tags mood psychobiotics ashwagandha Resveratrol

Our first Mind and Mood Interactive Broadcast has heard that regulators are failing to match consumer demand for natural products to aid mental well-being spanning cognition, sleep, stress and anxiety in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Watch the on-demand event​ here for free.

Clinical pharmacologist and pharmaco-nutritionist Dr Paul Clayton said many firms had formulated products, but legislation has crippled sales in various markets. However, he quoted Singapore and Lithuania as exemplary in public health policy. Singapore has employed innovative strategies, whereas Lithuania has banned smoking in many areas.

“You can see the positive impact policies have on public health. Political figures, sadly, are largely scientifically illiterate. We could find a way to persuade them to take public health more seriously. One way is to approach them through mediconomists. Mediconomists have a disproportionate influence on policy formation, at least in the early stages. Improving public health is very cost-effective,” ​said Dr Clayton, a fellow at UK’s Institute for Food, Brain and Behaviour.

Other speakers included Dr Lesley Braun, Director at Blackmores Institute; Emeritus Professor Peter Howe from the University of Newcastle, Australia; Ewa Hudson, Director of Insights at Lumina Intelligence; Gillian Fish, Founder and CEO of The 6AM Agency; Angus Brown, Co-Founder and CEO of Ārepa; Ramesh Krish Kumar, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Asmara; and Kirsten Taylor, Director of Sleep and Wellness Centre New Zealand.

Specifying supplements

Taylor shared that vitamin and SleepDrops demand grew over the past year during the pandemic, demonstrating that consumers prioritise health. However, in terms of communications, Fish encouraged firms to explore consumer behaviour and triggers, for example, the causes of sleeplessness. After that, consumers should be empowered with relevant knowledge.

“A massive amount of relevant content that’s effective is key because that’s where the battle is won among brands,”​ Fish added.

The demand for mental wellness supplements was also substantiated by Brown, whose firm witnessed an explosion of sales during the pandemic. According to him, consumers were looking for two benefits, mind and happiness.

Based on the growing demand, Dr Braun suggested a compendium on stress, physiological effects and the latest evidence for pharmacists. Additionally, she highlighted trending adaptogens like ashwagandha, CoQ10 and ginseng to alleviate stressors.

“When working with adaptogens, understand which ones work quickly or are long-term builders. For example, ashwagandha. Research shows you will get a response the same day,” ​she said.

For Hudson, psychobiotics are the eighth fastest rising probiotic supplements in APAC for 2021. She defined psychobiotics as probiotics that support the gut-brain axis, such as mood and cognitive health. The most significant market for the supplement was China, followed by Australia and India.

“Consumers are increasingly taking probiotics as treatments, and definitely beyond digestion and immunity. The big picture is that it was zero four years ago, but in APAC today, it is up by 35,000% in reviews,”​ said Hudson.

Prof Howe elaborated on resveratrol, a polyphenol that could enhance circulatory function. After conducting several clinical research, he found it to be most potent in enhancing blood flow. Resveratrol also showed an impact on mood, he said.

Speaking about Asian ingredients in the panel was Kumar, who highlighted the trend of reviving local sources as supplements like saffron and holy basil. However, the challenge lies in dosage formats because consumers prefer them incorporated into beverages or food.

Supporting supplements

Ending the event, Dr Clayton demanded facilitation to educate the public on scientific truths and discontinuation of the consumption of “toxic” products as public health declined.

“I think that this is a call for arms. We need to change this regulatory system. We all know it has effectively been co-opted by big pharma. They have got their boots on our throats, making it impossible for us to talk freely.

“We’ve been aiming our guns in the wrong direction. We need to focus exclusively on the food webs. And that goes all the way, from sustainability and production to the manufacturing and provision of less toxic products in the retail space. This is an incredibly turbulent and very interesting time. We see the rise of the East. Maybe, food is going to assume its rightful place in the public health space,”​ he said.

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