June/July 2024 Issue

Brain Health: Mental Health at Expo West
By Mindy Hermann, MBA, RDN
Today’s Dietitian
Vol. 26 No. 6 P. 12

Showcasing Company Innovations for a Sound Mind

War, inflation, housing prices, elections, social polarization, post-COVID stresses, and work expectations—consumers today certainly have a lot on their minds. So it’s no surprise that food, beverage, and supplement manufacturers are offering a growing number of products to help people reduce stress, focus on tasks, relax and sleep, improve overall mood, and generally boost their mental health.

This year’s Natural Products Expo West, held in March in Anaheim, California, featured a staggering number of supplements, drinks, beverage powders, and fortified foods with ingredients chosen for their various benefits to mental and emotional functioning. This article will explore the current mental health marketplace and some of the products that stood out at this year’s Natural Products Expo West.

Mental Health Marketplace Grows
As mental health becomes a more critical part of people’s lives, many are searching for ways to naturally care for themselves. This is leading to a growing market that companies are taking note of.

In the report, “Brain Health Functional Food and Beverage Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report,” Grand View Research notes that the global brain health functional food and beverage market, valued at USD $18.10 billion in 2022, is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.5% from 2023 to 2030.1

The company includes various nutrients and bioactive compounds in its analysis of functional foods and beverages, noting that functional foods are more palatable than medicines. Research and Markets—in an analysis of foods, beverages, and supplements—values the global mental health market at USD $375.21 billion in 2022 and expects a CAGR of 3.85% from 2023 to 2030.2

With the market set to grow, many companies are hoping to jump in with products that span the gamut of brain health. From improving mood and increasing concentration to assisting in getting a good night’s sleep, these products are taking aim at mental health.

Improving Mood
It’s normal to fall into a pessimistic mood as headlines constantly roll in, but there are some innovative manufacturers creating products that help keep people going at their best.
At Expo West, Four Sigmatic debuted its new line of organic instant teas, which will be available online and at Whole Foods beginning in May 2024. Each tea is infused with functional mushrooms and adaptogens for a focused, calm, and positive mood. Four Sigmatic describes itself as the top mushroom coffee brand on the market. The company’s Think Organic Coffee contains 500 mg of dual-extracted functional mushroom fruiting bodies, in a base of organic Arabica coffee.

“Our teas are formulated to be delicious, easy to use, and most importantly, efficacious. Every serving contains 500 mg of organic, dual-extracted functional mushroom fruiting bodies from Lion’s Mane mushrooms plus synergistic supporting vitamins, minerals, adaptogens, and herbal botanicals. Each formula is crafted using organic, whole-food ingredients in potent doses to deliver effective benefits in every serving,” says Danielle Ryan Dawson, RH (AHG), a registered herbalist and product marketing manager at Four Sigmatic.

Emotional Utility Beverage’s Euphoric beverage is promoted to regulate mood, pleasure, stress, and the fight-or-flight response. The company describes the ingredient benefits as including mood elevation and anxiety reduction from lion’s mane; control of stress, anxiety, fear, and depression from gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA); nootropic effects improving cognitive function from L-theanine; brain performance from B vitamins; and magnesium as a regulator of neurotransmitters.

A recent review of studies examining the effects of mushrooms—namely lion’s mane—on mood, concluded that while the mushroom showed some benefit to mood enhancement in middle-aged and older adults, additional studies are needed to confirm their effects.3 GABA supplementation has been associated with a positive emotional response,4 though it’s use should be determined on a case-by-case basis with guidance by a qualified health provider. Studies on the various bioactive compounds in tea leaves, including L-theanine, are ongoing.

More Focus and Productivity
With the world pulling people in every direction, some may find it hard to concentrate on daily tasks. So, companies are trying innovative products that may help increase productivity. For instance, Emotional Utility Beverage’s Focused beverages include Alpha GPC and N-acetyl-L-tyrosine, along with L-theanine, magnesium, B vitamins, and organic green tea. The company describes Alpha GPC as a nootropic and natural compound in the brain tied to learning and memory and a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine that benefits attention and memory.

It positions N-acetyl-L-tyrosine as a nootropic that supports mental performance, particularly during multitasking and stressful situations. The company cites individual studies supporting its active ingredients, but benefits aren’t yet described in resources from the National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).5

Another company, BrainJuice, promotes its drinks and powders as stimulating focus, clarity, memory, and mood. Its BrainPower Blend includes Alpha GPC, acetyl-L-carnitine, acerola cherry powder, green tea leaves, acai berry powder, L-tyrosine, and L-theanine. Acetyl carnitine is a common blood metabolite with a history of use in neuropsychiatric disorders and may have a role in the treatment of fatigue related to long COVID.6

Stress Relief
Not all manufacturers are trying to increase consumers’ productivity. Some companies just want to help people have a sense of ease.

Moment, for example, is a line of botanical-flavored drinks positioned to reduce stress and promote calmness. With the tagline “drink your meditation,” Moment beverages offer an Asian-inspired blend of ashwagandha, L-theanine, black cherry, thyme, and tulsi for stress modulation and cognitive function. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine and recently was named in a scoping review, along with green tea and other botanicals, as a top ingredient with potential mental health benefits.7

In addition, at Expo West, Melting Forest showcased its line of D-Stress beverages, which are promoted as a “natural way to relieve stress and unwind.” The beverages feature a combination of reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) and lion’s mane mushrooms, L-theanine, rhodiola, and lemon balm extract. The company describes these ingredients as promoting relaxation, improving mental clarity, and supporting overall well-being. NCCIH doesn’t offer studies on reishi and describes rhodiola research as preliminary and lacking in humans.5

For a Better Night’s Sleep
A good night’s sleep is elusive for many consumers and products for better sleep are well-established in the marketplace. Dozens of companies at Expo West displayed their supplements, foods, and beverages positioned to improve sleep. SOM Sleep beverage powders and ready-to-drink cans include a combination of magnesium to support melatonin production, vitamin B6 to support serotonin production, L-theanine, the neurotransmitter GABA, and melatonin. Rootine Sleep Support Drink Mix incorporates phosphatidyl serine and myo-inositol, along with L-theanine, GABA, and melatonin. NCCIH acknowledges research supporting melatonin and notes that evidence regarding the efficacy of other ingredients is inconsistent or limited.8

“One of the most important considerations around sleep is what’s known as your sleep hygiene,” advises Chris Mohr, PhD, RD, co-owner of Mohr Results, Inc in Louisville, Kentucky. “Sleep hygiene is where people need to start. Look at digital habits around bedtime, the sleep environment, alcohol or caffeine consumption close to bedtime, and so on. There’s no magic pill that you can take or use and still have poor sleep hygiene without concern.”

Mental Health Requires Self-Care
As the world becomes increasingly more demanding, people are discovering new healthful methods to care for themselves, whether that be through mushroom-infused beverages or nootropics; however, there’s no substitute for proper self-care. “I have found that we need a variety of tools or modalities to help us find more stability, joy, or peace in these challenging times,” says Eva Selhub, MD, founder of Resilience Experts, LLC. “First and foremost, cultivate self-compassion, not blaming yourself for the way you feel and for not being happy or perfect. Allow room for imperfections and prioritize self-care.”

Selhub also suggests one or more of the following, which can help improve brain biochemistry: practice meditation and mindfulness to lower stress response reactivity, support calm, and reduce anxiety; seek social support; practice gratitude daily for transformative mental well-being; get appropriate physical activity to support neurotransmitter levels and endorphins and reduce feelings of depression; and feed the body well by avoiding too much sugar, enjoying a variety of nutrient-dense foods, including sources of omega-3 fatty acids, feeding the microbiome, and, if needed, considering supplementation with B vitamins, vitamin D, omega-3 fish oils, magnesium, and/or probiotics. Selhub also advises checking in with a doctor, therapist, or counselor to help manage mental health.

“Higher doses of omega 3s have been helpful and effective for my clients,” advises Jenna Braddock, MSH, RDN, CSSD, CPT, a performance dietitian in St. Augustine, Florida, and owner of MakeHealthyEasy.com and RhythmSportsNutrition.com. “I typically start around 2 g/day and may recommend more based on dietary patterns or severity of symptoms. I also like to measure [using the] Omega-3 Index to better tailor a dosage to my client’s needs.” Braddock often recommends creatine for cognitive performance, mental fatigue reduction, sleep improvement, stress reduction, and mood support.

Braddock adds that “RDs can play a helpful, proactive role in helping clients understand the impact of stress on their wellbeing and coaching them on ways to improve their parasympathetic drive, which will benefit the gut-brain axis.”

— Mindy Hermann, MBA, RDN, is a food and nutrition communications consultant in metro New York.


1. Brain health functional food and beverage market size, share & trends analysis report by ingredient (choline, curcumin), by product (dairy, bakery), by distribution channel (specialty stores, online), and segment forecasts, 2023–2030. Grand View Research website. https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/brain-health-functional-food-beverage-market-report. Accessed April 15, 2024.

2. Mental health market: global industry analysis, trends, market size, and forecasts up to 2030. Research and Markets website. https://www.researchandmarkets.com/reports/5898329/mental-health-market-global-industry-analysis. Published October 2023.

3. Cha S, Bell L, Shukitt-Hale B, Williams CM. A review of the effects of mushrooms on mood and neurocognitive health across the lifespan. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2024;158:105548.

4. Guimarães AP, Seidel H, Pires LVM, et al. GABA supplementation, increased heart-rate variability, emotional response, sleep efficiency and reduced depression in sedentary overweight women undergoing physical exercise: placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial. J Diet Suppl. 2024:1-15.

5. What does NCCIH do? National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health website. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/. Accessed April 15, 2024.

6. Helbing DL, Dommaschk EM, Danyeli LV, et al. Conceptual foundations of acetylcarnitine supplementation in neuropsychiatric long COVID syndrome: a narrative review [Published online January 3, 2024]. Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. doi: 10.1007/s00406-023-01734-3.

7. Nieman KM, Zhu Y, Tucker M, Koecher K. The role of dietary ingredients in mental energy — a scoping review of randomized controlled trials. J Am Nutr Assoc. 2024;43(2):167-182.

8. Sleep disorders: what you need to know. National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health website. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/sleep-disorders-what-you-need-to-know. Updated March 2024. Accessed April 15, 2024.