Shall we start with the good news? A report from the Global Wellness Institute found that the global mental wellness economy is a $121 billion market (1). Of course, the bad news is that the market is booming because 2020 has left many of us feeling stressed, sad, and depleted. Mental wellness is becoming harder and harder to maintain, and looking on the bright side can be difficult in these times. Cheryl Myers, Chief of Scientific Affairs and Education at EuroPharma, Inc., tells WholeFoods: “Many people have been affected by the virus, either through their livelihood, the loss of loved ones, or just the continual sense of uncertainty. Our new daily realities make it difficult to keep perspective.”

For consumers looking to take some control over their mental wellness, the experts we consulted have offered up lifestyle tips, supplement recommendations, and a few words of caution.


Rest, Refresh, Reset 

“Whatever you do for mood, don’t cheat sleep,” cautions Kartikeya Baldwa, CEO of Ixoreal Biomed. “We require sound, deep, restful, and restorative sleep to keep healthy and in good mental condition. There is a reason that sleep deprivation is considered torture. We must sleep well to stay in good physical and mental condition.”

Lifestyle changes can help. “Focus on good sleep hygiene,” advises Miles Sarill, a scientist with CV Sciences. “Turn off your TV, cell phone, and similar screened devices that emit the blue light that depletes internal production of melatonin. Melatonin levels are inversely correlated with cortisol, and when we sleep poorly, it affects the entire body later. You can also try meditating with a focus on the breath. Or get outdoors and take ‘awe inspiring’ nature walks. Research shows this can support a healthy mental state.”

There are plenty of supplement options that can help with sleep as well. Besides melatonin, Brittini Gehring, Master Herbalist at RidgeCrest Herbals, says: “Quality sleep plays a major role in how we feel mentally and emotionally. There are lots of good herbs that are safe and effective to help with relaxation prior to sleep and getting good quality sleep through the night. Some of these include Valerian, Passionflower, Chamomile, Lemon Balm, and Lavender. Combining those at night with mood-enhancing herbs such as 5-HTP, Holy Basil, Ashwagandha, JuJube fruit, Saffron, and/or Ginseng will help the body to feel more refreshed upon waking and boost mood right from the start of the day!”

With that feel-good energy, consumers would be wise to get moving. “Nothing can substitute for exercise,” says Baldwa. “Getting out for a brisk walk enhances circulation, digestion and posture, and helps the brain to maintain better levels of feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin, which is directly associated with mood. Aerobic exercise aids the production of additional feel-good compounds, the endorphins. If you can, get out into nature. A forest, a beach, a wide-open place, a river, a lake can help us to re-connect with our innermost natural self, and take a break from hustle and tech.”

Myers agrees, and explains another feel-good benefit of exercise: “While exercise is a positive thing on its own merits, it is one of the only ways the body generates a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF. This protein is partly responsible for brain plasticity and learning. Individuals with genetic predispositions for a lack of BDNF may be prone to depression, anxiety, and memory problems. So going on a brisk walk, working outside in your garden, or biking around your neighborhood can preserve both your mental well-being and your physical fitness.”


Choosing Smarter Comfort Food 

“Comfort foods are always tempting when you feel stressed or depressed, but ultimately that road leads to weight gain, sugar surges and drops, and an even more acute downward spiral,” cautions Myers. Her pick for snacks that can have a positive effect: walnuts, almonds, berries, and other whole foods, which “provide protective nutrients, plentiful fiber, and feel-good proteins, and leave you feeling satisfied—but not stuffed.”

Berries are a great option, Baldwa agrees. “While all fruits and vegetables naturally contain antioxidants, purple berries contain anthocyanins. These powerful compounds demonstrate mood-enhancing properties, and are linked with greater stability of blood sugar. Eating purple berries helps to enhance mood and cognitive function.” You don’t have to have fresh elderberries or chokeberries on hand. You can stock them as supplements—in the mood or cognitive section, to get that conversation started with your customers.

When it comes to stress-soothing sips, alcohol isn’t the best path, Myers notes. “It’s always a good idea to watch alcohol intake in any case, but using it as a stress reliever or as a way of coping with negative moods is not only unhealthy, but it also packs in empty calories and messes up your natural sleep cycle, which makes you even more prone to depression.”

A better pour for comfort: tea. Peppermint, chamomile, and lavender may help relieve stress and anxiety (2).


Fostering Connections

“Those we love and care for play key roles in our overall happiness and sense of self,” Baldwa says. “Spending time with friends and family is all part of a good and happy life.”

These days, that’s more difficult than it once was. Social isolation is hurting us all, and there’s no easy solution; given how the COVID-19 virus spreads, many are concerned with the potential risks that come with connecting, knowing that they’re making that choice for everyone around them as well as themselves. However, Myers points to the power of a truly small gathering: connecting with oneself: “Take a moment each day to recognize what is good,” Myers suggests. “It may sound trite to tell someone who is struggling emotionally to be grateful, but that’s certainly not the intention. We can all acknowledge that these are trying times, but many of us still have, at the core, things that make us happy and feel fortunate to be alive. The items on the list don’t have to be anything earth-shattering: They could include things like the aroma of fresh coffee, the sweet taste of blueberries, a gentle breeze, or a sunny day.”

Retailers can help by offering sustainably produced journals or notebooks to help people kickstart the habit in a way that aligns with their ethics—sustainable colored pencils, like those sold by Sprout, can help make the inside of the journal visually appealing, as well. Having everything in a journal can provide an easy way to look back and remember the good, in a time when it’s so easy to remember the bad.

Once your customers have checked in with themselves, they may find themselves in a better mood to connect with others. “Stay connected with friends,” Myers urges. “The virus has made it difficult to connect with people in person, but I recommend using social media as a way of staying in touch. It has been a heaven-sent medium during this time for many people who would have otherwise felt even more isolated.” This can result in more screentime than ever before; consider pointing customers towards supplements that can help support their vision.

It may also be helpful for customers to disconnect from the news. “We can get into a habit of seeking out the worst headlines, or those that only serve to promote our worst expectations,” Myers says. “This can take a toll on our sense of balance and well-being. Instead, consider a different approach to your daily diet of current events. Consider changing the kind of sites or articles that you consume, and choose those that give you a more life-affirming way of staying informed without adding to your fears about the world at large.”

Suggest seeking out other positive distractions as well, such as finding communities online to get tips, tricks, and human interaction. It doesn’t have to be difficult: “Even board games with family or loved ones can help slow down fears and provide a little holiday away from the news cycle,” Myers notes. However, for those who are considering picking up a more long-term hobby like knitting or learning to play an instrument, consider recommending a cognitive health supplement, so that their brain is at its best while they pick up a new hobby.

Sarill suggests working with your customers to address issues that may be preventing them from taking these lifestyle steps—if taking a walk is difficult due to joint concerns, for instance, recommend a joint health supplement that the customer can discuss with a healthcare provider. If the customer is experiencing sleep disruptions or excessive stress, you can recommend supplements that may assist there as well. As always, customers should discuss all health issues and potential supplement regimens with a healthcare provider, but you may be able to speed that process by helping your customer clarify their options and questions beforehand.
Essentially Uplifted
Never underestimate the mood-boosting power of scent. While lifestyle tips often require lifestyle changes, and supplements may take time to work, sometimes a customer just needs a quick mood boost, and often, scents can provide that. Keep essential oils in stock, to help give your customers more control over their environment and their moods. Citrus smells like bergamot and sweet orange are cheerful and energizing, and nostalgic scents like vanilla, cinnamon, and pine can put individuals in a more cheerful headspace. NOW Solutions sells Non-GMO Project Verified essential oils, both in single scents and in blends—their Smiles for Miles blend, for instance, includes orange, bergamot, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger oils, and their Cheer Up Buttercup blend includes lemon and grapefruit oils.

Selecting Savvy Supps

There are plenty of supplements out there to promote stress reliance, lift mood, and support brain health. Myers’ suggestion: curcumin and saffron. “Both of these botanicals, on their own or combined, have been shown in clinical studies to be effective for depression. They reduce damaging inflammation that affects moods and help realign your brain’s chemistry in a positive direction.”

Saffron, Myers tells WholeFoods, boosts serotonin production, lowers cortisol, and helps preserve levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). “Saffron fights depression along a number of fronts,” Myers says. “For cases of milder depression—possibly for people dealing with dysthymia—saffron may offer relief without the need to commit to strong medications or an intensive regimen. A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial published in the journal Phytotherapy Research found that saffron reduced symptoms in just six weeks. In more serious and harder-to-treat forms of depression, especially when they overlap with anxiety, saffron also works well to relieve symptoms.”

Myers also described the potential mechanism of action for saffron: “Studies conducted at Cork University Hospital and College in Ireland found that chemical stress responses from the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis encourage the release of inflammatory cytokines that have a detrimental effect on the brain and behavior. Inflammation changes the nature of how cells interact with each other across the board. Saffron compounds are strong anti-inflammatory agents.”

When it comes to curcumin, Myers points to a 2014 study published in Phytotherapy Research. 60 patients were randomized into three groups for six weeks, and given the antidepressant fluoxetine, curcumin, or both (3). 77.8% of those in the combination group improved, while 64.7% in the fluoxetine and 62.5% of those in the curcumin groups improved. The difference between the fluoxetine and curcumin groups was too small to be statistically significant. The study also notes that the average improvement along the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale was comparable in all three groups, and concludes: “This study provides first clinical evidence that curcumin may be used as an effective and safe modality for treatment in patients with [major depressive disorder] without concurrent suicidal ideation or other psychotic disorders.”

Myers notes that curcumin and saffron work along different pathways, indicating that the two combined, as in Terry Naturally’s Saffron Lift+Curcumin, “have a synergy with a broad spectrum of anti-inflammatory action.” She cites a study showing that Terry Naturally’s BCM-95 curcumin and saffron combined—at 15mg of saffron and 250mg of curcumin twice daily—helped relieve symptoms of depression and accompanying anxiety (4). Those with atypical depression, a difficult-to-treat subtype, also saw relief.

5-HTP has also been shown to help reduce symptoms of depression, by boosting serotonin levels, although the studies in question were small (5). Much of the research performed on this compound suggests that it works best in combination with other substances or with antidepressant medication, making it a good option to discuss with a psychiatrist or other healthcare provider. Those looking for a 5-HTP supplement may want to turn to Bluebonnet, which offers a vegan, Kosher Parve, gluten-free, non-GMO option.

A suggestion from Global Healing: passionflower. “Passionflower is best known for its relaxing and calming effects,” writes Edward Group, Ph.D., Founder of Global Healing (6). “[It] is commonly used to support restful sleep, and the evidence to support this use isn’t just anecdotal. Multiple studies confirm the plant’s ability to help you get a good night’s rest. In 2011, a double-blind investigation found that participants who drank passionflower tea reported better sleep quality than the placebo group.”

Another major option: ashwagandha. “Proven in human clinical studies to reduce stress, enhance overall wellbeing, improve cognitive function, and boost the function of major organ systems, ashwagandha root has come into its own,” Baldwa notes. “KSM-66 ashwagandha has several new published studies that show reduced stress, decreased serum cortisol, enhanced cognitive function, and improved sleep as a result of taking 600mg of extract daily. Health Canada recently approved additional claims for KSM-66 relative to mood and stress support. There has been a surge in the new product launches using KSM-66 for emotional and mental wellbeing, and in delivery formats like those of gummies, bars, and chocolates.”

Cannabidiol (CBD) is another popular pick. “Recent research published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements focuses on the benefits of cannabidiol from hemp as a dietary supplement,” says Sarill. “CV Sciences’ PlusCBD was the subject of three different peer-reviewed studies, focusing on safety and adverse event reporting, chemical composition of hemp extracts, and the efficacy of supplementation with PlusCBD in healthy humans. In the latter study, 15mg of PlusCBD supported healthy sleep and overall wellness in participants.” He notes that the studies also evaluated safety, and found no issues with kidney and liver function.

“We are also seeing evidence of phytocannabinoids for overall enhancement of mood and mental function,” Baldwa agrees. “And even though CBD is a big cannabis superstar compound in the market, the reality of how cannabinoids work in the body points to a synergistic group of cannabinoids, terpenes and antioxidants as best delivering real benefits to health.”

David Winston, RH(AHG), Founder and President, Herbalist & Alchemist, says that when it comes to herbs, it’s not about the individuals. “Keep in mind, herbs are usually most effective when used in a skillfully formulated combination, rather than one alone.” He offered some examples of how he combines herbs, and why they work well together in formulas: “To elevate mood, I use a formula of St. John’s wort flowering tops, fresh lemon balm, mimosa bark, fresh black cohosh root, fresh night blooming cereus stem, fresh holy basil, and lavender flowers.”

Winston’s reasoning: “St. John’s wort has been shown to be as effective as SSRI’s and SNRI’s for mild to moderate depression. I use it for hepatic or GI based depression, for people with a sour attitude, biliousness, and GI dysfunction. Used with Lemon Balm it can be effective for treating seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Lemon Balm is a mild mood elevator, anxiolytic and nervine. Mimosa bark is the most effective mood elevator I have ever utilized, helping to relieve grief, chronic emotional pain, and sadness. Animal studies also indicate that Mimosa has antidepressant and anxiolytic activity. Black Cohosh and Night Blooming Cereus are indicated for ‘gloom and doom’ and for menopausal depression. Night Blooming Cereus is also used for old-age depression and ‘cardiac’ depression. Holy Basil acts as a mood elevator, mild adaptogen, and it enhances mental clarity. Lavender is used for stagnant depression which is situational depression that becomes chronic. It also enhances sleep quality.”

Herbalist & Alchemist offers products including Emotional Relief, Tension Relief, Phytocalm, and Serenity Compound, all put together with Winston’s expertise. He offers this advice:
  • For insomnia with circular repetitive thinking—Passionflower
  • For stress-induced GI symptoms—Hops, Catnip, Chamomile or Valerian
  • For winter blues—Lemon Balm, with St John’s wort, Mimosa bark, Holy Basil, Roses, Rosemary
  • For irritability—Fresh Milky Oat, Hawthorn Solid extract, Linden Flower
As always, customers should discuss all complementary medicines with their healthcare providers, and should talk to a professional if things feel overwhelming. However, these lifestyle tips can help customers support and maintain a healthy mood and emotional balance, even in difficult times. WF 
Master the Mental Wellness Market 
Interested in learning more about this area? Join us on January 20-21, 2021 for the free virtual conference, Mental Wellness: Mastering the Market, a Naturally Informed event. From optimizing cognitive function to building stress resilience, mental wellness is a top priority for consumers across the globe with nootropics and adaptogenic ingredients becoming some of the hottest categories in the wellness space. During this two-day event, we will investigate how researchers, suppliers, brands, retailers, practitioners, and other industry players can succeed in this surging market.

World-class experts—including keynote speaker Uma Naidoo, M.D, Harvard psychiatrist, trained professional chef, and author of This Is Your Brain on Food—will discuss the latest research into clinical benefits and mechanisms of action for cognitive boosters and mood modifiers targeting important areas like the endocannabinoid system and the gut-brain axis. We’ll hear from experts in consumer trends, and address need-to-know information for developing and positioning products, and offer actionable insights for communicating with consumers as well as winning strategies for merchandising products on the shelf. Register to attend live or view sessions on demand at 
  1. Global Wellness Institute, “Defining the Mental Wellness Economy,” Posted 11/09/2020. Accessed 12/01/2020.
  2. Healthline Medical Network, “Try This: 25 Teas to Relieve Stress and Anxiety,” Posted 03/07/2019. Accessed 12/01/2020.
  3. Jayesh Sanmukhani et al., “Efficacy and safety of curcumin in major depressive disorder: a randomized controlled trial,” Phytotherapy Research. 28(4). 579-85(2014). Accessed 12/01/2020.
  4. Adrian L. Lopresti, Peter D. Drummond, “Efficacy of curcumin, and a saffron/curcumin combination for the treatment of major depression: A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study.” Journal of Affective Disorders. 207. 188-196(2017). Accessed 12/01/2020.
  5. Gavin Van De Walle, “5 Science-Based Benefits of 5-HTP (plus dosage and side effects),” Posted 05/21/2018. Accessed 12/01/2020.
  6. Edward Group, “What are the Health Benefits of Passion Flower?” Posted 01/19/2017. Accessed 12/01/2020.