With the New Year here, customers will be walking in with resolutions to exercise more, stress less, and find a healthier diet to bolster it all. Our experts have come through with tips to pass along, a look at what’s new, and information to make sure you can help your customers achieve their goals for the best year ever.


Energy and Fitness

The importance of energy can’t be understated—beyond wellness resolutions, it’s also key to breaking the fatigue that has set in for so many over the past year and a half. Materials provided by Nirvana Water Sciences state that while life expectancy is commonly used as an indicator of population health, it’s not all that people are concerned with these days: “Consumers are now more concerned with living healthy lives, not simply longer lives. The concept of health expectancy—the analysis of healthy and unhealthy years of life—has become a more relevant indicator, and is a driving consumer consideration. This shift in perception has led to our cornerstone tenet of Nirvana Water Sciences: Living Longer by Living Stronger. Health, fitness, and vitality are not options for lifestyles; they are commitments to living longer by living stronger.”

When it comes to fitness explicitly, Lindsey Toth, Director of Global Marketing at Lonza Capsules & Health Ingredients, says: “Active consumers are increasingly focused on achieving higher energy levels and better fitness through general wellbeing, including exploring achieving these goals through parallel benefit spaces like improved sleep, joint health, weight management, immune health, and stress management. And when working towards these fitness goals, active consumers want convenience and efficacy. According to Lonza’s proprietary research, clinical proof of efficacy is very important to over half (52%) of U.S. supplement users. Clean label credentials are another essential consideration—Lonza research shows that nearly three-quarters (72%) of supplement users want to know the source of the ingredients in their products.”

This is a great space for retailer guidance and education, notes Adam Goodman, VP Sales, Korea Ginseng Corporation. “Consumers aren’t always 100% sure what they’re looking for,” he shares. “Often, there is a belief that all energy is the same. That couldn’t be more incorrect. What they should be looking for is a longer-term sustainable energy product that doesn’t cause spiking and crashing, overstimulation, or unhealthy scenarios.”

Seconding that, Elyse Lovett, VP Marketing, Nutrition21, adds that in her experience, when customers do know what they want, they’re looking for the same thing: “Consumers are looking for products that deliver sustainable, non-stimulant energy. The hangover from stimulant ingredients like caffeine is pushing many to seek out new solutions that will help them get off the treadmill of overstimulation. Products like Nitrosigine from Nutrition21 have not only found great success in sports nutrition, where sports performance is a key benefit, but also in products geared toward consumers who are looking for non-stim, long lasting energy benefits.”

Beyond that: “Active consumers are looking for benefits like energy and muscle recovery, but they also have needs that are often overlooked—like skin health,” points out Zev Ziegler, Head of Global Brand and Marketing, Health, Lycored. “Much outdoors physical activity takes place in the open with little or no shade provision and various studies have shown that it can increase the risk of UV-linked conditions such as erythema (skin redness). That’s true even for activities associated with colder times of the year, like skiing. We recently asked respondents which health considerations were important to them while exercising or playing sport outdoors. ‘Avoiding damage to my skin (e.g. sunburn)’ was the greatest concern by some distance, higher even than avoiding muscular injury or immune health. We then asked: ‘How appealing is the idea of a dietary supplement that can promote a healthier relationship between your skin and the sun?’ Nine in ten (89%) found the idea appealing, with 44% describing it as ‘very appealing.’”

Formulation Innovation

“For brands, the challenge is to ensure that a consumer’s experience with a product always remains positive and encourages them to persevere towards achieving their goal,” says Lindsey Toth, Lonza. “Leveraging specialty dosage forms helps brands to meet consumer needs for convenient clean label efficiency, no matter what ingredients they are working with. If an immediate release of ingredients is required, then Lonza’s Capsugel Plantcaps pullulan capsules enable quick disintegration and absorption. If the requirement is longer-term, sustained energy, then Lonza’s Capsugel DRcaps designed release capsules can deliver energy and active nutrition ingredients past the stomach, for example helping to deliver a probiotic like TWK10 sports probiotic to the small intestine. Dosage forms innovations can also be used to combine synergistic energy and active nutrition ingredients for multi-faceted benefits, such as L-theanine’s smoothing effects on caffeine. Lonza’s DUOCAP capsule-in-capsule technology makes it possible to combine ingredients with customizable release profiles, allowing for unique combinations within the energy and fitness category.”

Also noting innovation in this area, Jacqueline Rizo says: “As ready-to-drink (RTD) products become more popular among consumers, one way we here at Stratum Nutrition are helping manufacturers overcome the challenges faced when formulating with water-insoluble ingredients is with our latest technology, VitaSperse. VitaSperse is a unique microemulsion technology that gets water-insoluble ingredients dispersed into water-based liquid applications.

“The benefits of antioxidant supplements, for instance, can often be limited by several factors,” Rizo continued. “These ingredients are often prone to degradation, and they are poorly absorbed through the intestinal wall which limits their bioavailability. Our VitaSperse technology helps overcome these obstacles. This technology enables even dispersion of fat-soluble ingredients, such as CoQ10 or astaxanthin into water-based liquids. VitaSperse combines two techniques proven to enhance absorption in the body: emulsification and micro-sized particles, yielding a microemulsion. This microemulsion helps improve stability of the antioxidant as well as enhance absorption through the intestinal wall. The use of the unique VitaSperse technology greatly expands the potential delivery formats for fat-soluble ingredients to include liquid drops, ready-to-drink formulations, and cosmetic applications.”
Other specific needs in this category: joint support. “As the new year approaches, consumers are seeking products that provide energy/endurance, support muscle recovery, and joint health,” shares Jacqueline Rizo, Content Coordinator, Stratum Nutrition. “Understanding that the benefits of joint maintenance and active recovery are very real, it’s becoming increasingly important to consumers to maintain optimal health from the beginning of their exercise regimen to recovery.”

Stratum’s Scientific and Regulatory Affairs Manager, Nena Dockery, explains: “Exercise that puts stress on joints can result in temporary joint cartilage turnover (breakdown and rebuilding). When this is combined with stress, strain, and sometimes injury to the soft tissue surrounding the joint, the resulting inflammation can cause not only pain and swelling during or after exercising but can also increase the amount of cartilage breakdown relative to the ability of the body to rebuild the cartilage, and permanent loss of cartilage can result. This process is a natural part of aging, and most of us will have more joint discomfort as we get older. Therefore, individuals who want to increase their physical fitness or maintain an active lifestyle need to be mindful throughout life that their joints need support to remain healthy.”

Looking to specific options that can help support an active lifestyle:

Carotenoids. “Carotenoids offer a range of more traditional sports nutrition benefits,” Ziegler says. “One double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled crossover trial found that phytonutrients can help reduce muscle damage. Another study has found that tomato-derived carotenoids can reduce DNA damage in healthy people after extensive physical activity. Lycoderm is our nutrient complex for skincare supplements. It offers optimal concentrations of lycopene, phytoene and phytofluene, as well as carnosic acid and vitamins A and E. The synergistic combination of these nutrients helps balance the skin’s response to environmental stress, and demand for these benefits is likely to be particularly high among physically active consumers.”

Eggshell Membrane. Stratum’s NEM brand eggshell membrane offers clinically studied joint support. “NEM is an ideal choice for both the active younger person and the more mature consumer concerned about the inevitable joint wear-and-tear of life activities,” opines Rizo. “Not only has NEM been studied in individuals who already have experienced the repercussions of normal joint wear-and-tear, it has been researched in healthy post-menopausal women and in younger men and women for benefits related to exercise-induced joint pain, stiffness, and cartilage breakdown.” Plus, Rizo says, it’s well-suited for use in custom formulations, as it doesn’t interfere in the metabolism or absorption of other ingredients.

Ginseng. “Ginseng in general has been shown for hundreds of years to provide longer-term sustained healthy energy levels that allow for people to succeed in their everyday lives as well as their workouts,” Goodman says. “KGC has created Koreselect Energy with the intent of providing this healthy energy in a convenient liquid stick pack for increased absorption and easy portability. This allows the fitness enthusiast to throw a stick into a gym bag for easy pre-workout or post-workout energy boost.”

HMB. B-hydroxy B-methylbutyrate is a natural substance in the body that supports muscle wellness, according to Nirvana Water Sciences. The company explains: “After exercise and with age, the body’s natural HMB depletes. Hydrating with Nirvana HMB spring water—infused with the proprietary myHMB Clear formulation—replaces that lost HMB. Over two decades of research and 90 clinical trials have proven its efficacy in enhancing athletic performance, boosting muscle performance, reducing muscle recovery time, and slowing muscle degradation.”

Nitrosigine. “Nitrosigine is a patented complex of Bonded Arginine Silicate, unique in that it offers powerful synergistic effects,” says Lovett. “Nitrosigine is a non-stimulant ingredient that boosts key factors for increasing blood flow and significantly increases nitric oxide (NO) levels. Nitrosigine has been clinically shown to promote NO production for improved blood flow, muscle pump, and energy. An independent study done at the University of Arkansas showed that 1.5g of Nitrosigine and 8g of citrulline malate both significantly increased flow-mediated dilation (FMD), which leads to an increase in skeletal muscle blood flow resulting in potential improvement in exercise performance.  However, citrulline malate was required at five times the dose of Nitrosigine to achieve the same results.”

Probiotics. Lonza’s Toth suggests probiotics—specifically, sports-focused ones. “TWK10 sports probiotic—originally sourced from Taiwanese kimchi—offers demonstrated, clean label sports nutrition benefits in an easy-to-swallow capsule. This vegan-friendly solution works in three ways. First, it modulates gut microbiota, encouraging the growth of bacteria which are connected with better exercise performance. Second, TWK10 sports probiotic supplementation leads to higher circulating levels of blood glucose during exercise, supporting increased levels of natural energy to help athletes push harder and go farther. Finally, TWK10 sports probiotic encourages improved body composition, with clinical results showing increased muscle mass of 1.32 lbs. over six weeks and reduced body fat by 1.2% compared to placebo.”

Cannabinoid Potential

By Nicole Brown, Chief Innovation Officer, Open Book Extracts
While cannabinoids may reduce stress and anxiety through direct pharmacological intervention, they also can support more holistic treatments, including:

Muscle Relaxation: Muscle relaxation is often recommended as a way of managing stress and anxiety. In recent years, this has become a more accessible stress management tool, as digital applications have been developed to help individuals practice progressive muscle relaxation. The good news is that research suggests cannabinoids may be a suitable aid for muscle relaxation.

Ritual: Another important practice that can help reduce stress or anxiety is ritual. There are many different kinds of symbolic actions and repetitive practices that people can use to calm down. Humans have been using cannabinoids in rituals for thousands of years. Earlier this year, several Israeli scientists found CBD, CBN, and THC residue at a shrine dating back 2,800 years. It appears that these materials were burned next to frankincense as part of an ancient spiritual ritual. Clearly, humanity has been drawn to cannabinoid-based rituals for quite some time. Cannabinoids present as pretty good candidates for rituals. While there are endless possibilities to how you may construct a cannabinoid-based calming ritual, CBD-infused bath bombs, beverages, and oils can all play a part in that stress-reducing routine.

Exercise: Exercise is another important component of a holistic approach to stress and anxiety management. While the fitness market is flooded with new applications and equipment that make working out fun and accessible, many individuals still do not get enough daily exercise. Cannabinoids could help. A recent study revealed that cannabinoids can help people exercise by removing some of the most common barriers to the activity, such as improper recovery after exercise, lack of motivation to exercise, and low enjoyment of exercise. Even though most athletes did not report cannabinoid-based performance improvements, they did see gains in recovery, motivation, and enjoyment of exercise. This suggests that a cannabinoid supplement regime could be helpful in encouraging regular exercise.

Social Support: The final pillar of stress and anxiety management is the maintenance of a strong social support network. Cannabinoids can help with this too as they can facilitate social interactions by relieving anxiety. Social anxiety disorder is a condition in which individuals may feel stress or anxiety around other people. An individual with social anxiety may be less likely to develop a supportive social network. This can deepen anxiety, which can be further isolating. Fortunately, CBD may be able to help. In a recent study, CBD was found to significantly reduce the anxiety levels in patients suffering from social anxiety disorder. These findings mirror earlier studies wherein CBD was found to reduce anxiety caused by public speaking. This suggests that in addition to reducing anxiety in general, CBD may be particularly effective at reducing social anxiety and breaking the vicious cycle of anxiety and social isolation. Beyond removing the barriers to social interactions, cannabinoids can even encourage positive social interaction. Novel cannabinoid products like CBD-infused drinks and foods can be shared, and smokeable or vaporizable cannabinoid products can be passed amongst friends.

Weight Management

Many are turning to diet for help, according to Steven Riley, Director of Marketing and Consumer Sales at OptiBiotix Health. “Research carried out by The Hartman Group reported that 83% of consumers said their weight needed to improve, and that food and beverage was their primary tool for weight management,” he shared. “According to a recent report from Lux Research, food, health and nutrition brands must start focusing on ingredients that are ‘better-for-you’ if they aren’t currently. In addition, they should also look to increase sustainability, develop food for health, satiety and nutrition, and master the role of the microbiome. FMCG Gurus research supports this, saying that 47% of consumers regularly seek out food and drink products that can improve digestive health. For consumers, weight management is now more about prevention than a cure. This is a win-win scenario for food brands focused on health and nutrition, whereby gut microbiome modulators that help to keep consumers fuller for longer can be incorporated into food and beverages easily and quickly. Consumer appetite for better-for-you products already exists; retailers need to tap into this market by choosing weight management products that can back up their claims with demonstrable scientific evidence.

One option: A meal-replacement product like Almased. “Almased is a low-glycemic, high-protein dietary supplement crafted with non-GMO soy, fat-free premium yogurt, and enzyme-rich honey,” explains Jamie Luu, RDN, LDN, Nutrition and Strategy Manager at Almased USA. “Almased nourishes the body with balanced nutrition, complete with metabolic-enhancing amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. In studies spanning over 30 years, Almased has been shown to help consumers lose more weight and burn more calories than with regular diets. Research shows that Almased can lower resistance to weight loss, enhance the body’s use of carbs, lose fat, aid healthy glucose levels, and support satiety.” It’s available in a neutral-tasting Original Formula (which Luu says can be customized with other flavors and extracts) and in an Almond-Vanilla flavor.

There are also plenty of options that can fit directly into an existing diet. Julia Rimer, CEO and Co-Founder of Crepini, for instance, pointed to Crepini itself, for anyone who wants to avoid carbs: “Crepini is a crepe-like wrap created mostly from eggs and used to replace carb-loaded wraps, tacos, burritos, pasta, bread, pitas, pizzas, and typical dessert and breakfast dishes. The wraps are made with healthy ingredients including cauliflower, sweet potato, turmeric, and other essential nutrients.” Options like Realgood’s Beyond Meat Pizza can make a comfort option healthy; Plant Pops’ Popped Lotus Seeds can pack nutrition into snack time; Alpha Foods’ plant-based breakfast burritos can bring veggies and protein into breakfast; Saffron Road is bringing ethical, clean-label, authentic Asian flavors to the frozen aisle… the list goes on. Check out our grocery products page for the latest clean-label, all-natural foods, snacks, and beverages that can help you meet your customers’ needs.


Stress Reduction

“Around the globe, we have a stress problem,” shares Nicole Brown, Chief Innovation Officer, Open Book Extracts. “In the United States alone, one-fifth of the adult population suffers from a clinically diagnosable anxiety disorder, and a far greater percentage of Americans suffer from chronic stress issues. A quick look at the American Psychology Association’s ‘Stress in America Polls’ reveals rampant stress: A majority of Americans are stressed about their jobs, their finances, the economy, the political climate, personal and public health, social injustice, and many other stressors. And all of these stresses have physical and mental consequences.”

Expounding on some of those consequences, Muhammed Majeed, Ph.D., Founder and Chairman, Sabinsa, told WholeFoods: “Stress originates in the brain, but it weakens the immune system, and the body becomes more prone to infection. Under stress, the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is activated, resulting in the release of glucocorticoids. Shagandha, Sabinsa’s USP-standardized Ashwagandha extract, is extremely helpful for this. Withanolides, the important constituents in ashwagandha, decrease the plasma corticosterone levels. Withanolides help in the structure and function of the spleen and adrenal glands, impacted by stress.” Another direct impact: Cardiovascular complications, leading to higher blood pressure. Dr. Majeed points to Sabeet, a beet root extract with natural nitrates, which can help with that side effect of stress.

The gut is also both a cause and victim of stress, adds Dr. Majeed. “The involvement of microbiota is increasingly appreciated, as the gut-brain axis transmits the effects of stress to the stomach, while an altered gut microbiota results in dysbiosis and further potentiates the ill effects of stress. Probiotics offer excellent and rapid solutions to reconstitute healthy microbial gut populations.” He points to Lactospore, a Sabinsa ingredient backed by decades of research, as a useful probiotic.

That’s only the beginning of the list of stress side effects, according to Susan J. Hewlings, Ph.D., R.D., Director of Scientific Affairs, Nutrasource/GRAS Associates. “The scientific literature has identified that stress is a leading cause for many chronic conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and more. It is responsible for the onset of several neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, etc., and is thought to induce or exacerbate many clinical ailments. In addition, it is known to impair the immune system and has thus been linked to the onset and progression of COVID-19. Therefore, managing stress has become a topic of great interest among consumers.”

Trisha Sugarek MacDonald, BS, MS, Sr. Director of R&D, Bluebonnet Nutrition Corporation, also noted the connection with sleep as a self-perpetuating downward cycle. “Stress and sleep are unavoidably linked, and unfortunately, the impact of each can be cyclical in nature to the other. For instance, significant stress in an individual’s personal or work life causes the brain to send signals to the autonomic nervous system (ANS) to release hormones like cortisol and adrenaline in large quantities. These hormones will engage the flight or fight response in the body, putting the brain and body on full alert, contributing to sleep deprivation. On the other hand, poor quality sleep due to chronic health conditions, like heartburn, respiratory issues (i.e., sleep apnea), or even thyroid disease, may elevate stress levels beyond what is appropriate. This is because, without quality sleep, the brain cannot recollect itself, causing mental tasks, worries, and other cognitive stressors to carry over to the next day. To put this in perspective, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approximates that 35.2% of adults in the United States are getting less than 7 hours of sleep each night, far below the standard of 7 to 9 hours, daily. This can lead to a sleep deficit that results in lasting physical and mental health problems and can contribute to stress, which roughly affects one out of every six adults in the form of depression and/or anxiety.”

But managing stress (and its accompanying side effects) isn't as simple as taking a pill. “Managing stress requires a multipronged approach,” says David Winston, RH(AHG), Founder and President, Herbalist & Alchemist, “including healthy diet, exercise, stress-reduction techniques—meditation, yoga, Tai Qi, etc.—and herbs that help the body manage heightened stress levels, which includes both adaptogens and nervines.”

Sugarek MacDonald turned to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America for some more prongs in the anti-stress approach, offering these 10 tips:
  1. Take a time-out. Practice yoga, listen to music, meditate, get a massage, or learn relaxation techniques. Take deep breaths. Inhale and exhale slowly. Count to 10 slowly. Repeat, and count to 20 if necessary.
  2. Eat well-balanced meals. Do not skip meals. Do keep healthful, energy-boosting snacks on-hand. Limit alcohol and caffeine, which can trigger anxiety and panic attacks.
  3. Get enough sleep. When stressed, your body needs additional sleep and rest.
  4. Exercise daily to help you feel good and maintain your health.
  5. Do your best. Instead of aiming for perfection, which isn’t possible, be proud of however close you get.
  6. Accept that you cannot control everything. Put your stress in perspective: Is it really as bad as you think?
  7. Maintain a positive attitude. Welcome humor. A good laugh goes a long way.
  8. Get involved. Volunteer or find another way to be active in your community.
  9. Learn what triggers your anxiety. Is it work, family, school, or something else you can identify? Write in a journal when you’re feeling stressed or anxious, and look for a pattern.
  10. Talk to someone. Tell friends and family you’re feeling overwhelmed, and let them know how they can help you. Talk to a physician or therapist for professional help.

3 Top Anti-Stress Tactics

By Maggie McNamara, Marketing Director, Gencor
The number one recommendation from several reliable sources such as the American Heart Association, CDC, National Health Institute, and the list goes on… is EXERCISE REGULARLY.

Exercise seems to help mood. Part of the reason may be that it stimulates your body to release a number of hormones like endorphins and endocannabinoids that help block pain, improve sleep, and sedate you. Some of them (endocannabinoids) may be responsible for the euphoric feeling, or ‘runner’s high,’ that some people report after long runs. People who exercise also tend to feel less anxious and more positive about themselves. When your body feels good, your mind often follows.

If you don’t have the time for a formal exercise program, you can still find ways to move throughout your day. Try these tips:
  • Bike instead of driving to the store.
  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Park as far as you can from the door.
  • Play with your kids or pets—outdoors.
  • Hand-wash your car.
  • Work in the garden or do a home improvement project.
  • Take a walk in nature on your lunch break.
  • Meditate or practice yoga.
Another area that can help reduce and cope with stress is getting enough SLEEP. The catch 22—a common side effect of stress is that you may struggle to fall asleep. Good sleep habits (sometimes referred to as “sleep hygiene”) can help you get a good night’s sleep.

Some habits that can improve sleep health:
  • Get some exercise. Being physically active during the day can help you fall asleep more easily at night.
  • Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime.
  • Be consistent. Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends.
  • Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature.
  • Remove electronic devices, such as TVs, computers, and smart phones, from the bedroom.
Mind and Body Approaches for Stress, although not new, are finding more and more traction due to their effectiveness in helping with stress, especially post COVID-19. Relaxation techniques and Mindfulness-Based meditation may be helpful in managing a variety of stress-related health conditions and there is evidence that yoga, as an adjunctive therapy, may also be effective.

Although tried-and-true self-help strategies, such as exercise, good sleep, socializing, mindfulness, positive reframing and self-compassion, are still the best prescription for lowering stress overall, sometimes a practical solution that can provide immediate relief is what’s needed. Studies show that talking to yourself in the third person takes the edge off stress and defuses it, often quite quickly. Even if it seems silly or contrived, try advising or coaching yourself the way you would talk to someone you care about the next time you get stressed. Doing so silently will work, but you might want to experiment with saying the words aloud if your environment allows for it.

Plus: The earliest study examining the calming effect of chewing gum, published in the journal Science in 1939, reported beneficial effects on muscle tension associated with stress. More recently, research has found that chewing gum can reduce anxiety, stress and cortisol while increasing alertness. Even though a review of studies linking gum-chewing and lowered stress showed inconsistent effects, you have nothing to lose by engaging in this easy and even fun activity, and now with supplements taking on new and interesting delivery formats like gummies and chewing gum, combining the activity with a supplement that has a sleep benefit may prove to be a winning combination.
People may find themselves needing new coping tactics, agrees Neil E. Levin, CCN, DANLA, Senior Nutrition Education Manager at NOW. “We’re living through a particularly stressful time, and the usual ways people might cope with stress are not as simple to do as in the past.” His suggestion: “Essential oils can be very helpful. I like NOW’s ‘Take a Zen Ten’ relaxing essential oil blend. You can apply to the soles of feet, back of neck, or pulse points for a dose of calm. Organic oils in the formula include Lavender, Orange, and Patchouli; conventional oils include Tangerine, Ylang Ylang Complete, Chamomile, and Sandalwood.” The oils, Levin shares, are delivered in a base of organic jojoba oil.

“This is a time when people should be encouraged to be proactive about taking a dietary supplement for stress, not reactive,” opines Maggie McNamara, Marketing Director for Gencor. “The best supplements always start with ingredients that have been scientifically vetted and studied in humans. These vitamins, minerals, herbal botanicals, amino acids, and other bioactives should be present at doses high enough to be efficacious according to clinical science, and these active ingredients should make up most of the supplement. Single-ingredient supplements such as magnesium or 5-HTP still have their place, but now, more often than not, ingredients such as Saffron extract are being mixed with other botanicals like Lavender, to address more than one on-ramp to stress. These new multi-functional formulas are designed to ease stress, while at the same time, promoting a sense of calm.” McNamara points to several options here:
  • Palmitoylethanolamide (PEA), an endogenous fatty acid amide proposed to promote better sleep via potential interaction with the endocannabinoid system, with various clinical studies to establish its efficacy and safety and support it effectiveness for sleep.
  • Jujube seed extract, which has long been used for relaxation and sedation in traditional Chinese medicine.
  • Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a naturally occurring neurotransmitter that sends the brain a signal to calm down.
  • L-theanine, an amino acid found naturally in green tea—but the kind found in supplements is often synthetic, McNamara shares. Due to the way it blocks receptors in the brain that can initiate a stress response, it’s been found to support sleep and cognitive function and calm stress in healthy adults in some studies.
  • Tart cherry extract (Prunus cerasus), a natural source of melatonin.
“However,” McNamara concludes, “if stress starts to hinder quality of life at any point, it’s best to seek professional support—while these supplements can help ease occasional stress, they are not a treatment for clinical mood disorders or any medical condition.”

Customers are absolutely turning to these supplements—among others—to support their healthy stress response, according to Sugarek MacDonald, who shares that the depression and mood supplement segment is expected to register a CAGR of 9.0% from 2021 to 2028: “This is because the increasing rate of depression among millennials is spreading like wildfire for this demographic. As per the data published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in January 2020, depression is a widespread mental illness, affecting roughly 264 million people worldwide. Depression is most prevalent in women, and in 2018, 1 in 13 people aged 12 and above reported symptoms of depression in the U.S, according to the CDC. Luckily, there is a growing awareness regarding mental health and depression, which will spur consumers to look for natural solutions for managing moods, stress, and sleep.” She suggests that individuals seek products that support their personal nutritional and mood needs, noting that Bluebonnet offers products ranging from single-ingredient vitamins, minerals, and omega fatty acids, to combination formulas and herbal products like Targeted Choice Stress Relief and Sleep Support Vegetable Capsules. “By adapting to stress, mindfully,” Sugarek MacDonald says, “individuals can recover more quickly, which is crucial for preventing chronic stress in the future, which can morph into depression. Consumers can adapt to stress better and manage sleep cycles by using amino acids, adaptogens, and melatonin, but for optimal recovery, we suggest the adjunctive use of healthy sleep, exercise most days, and good nutrition.”

Winston agrees, specifically calling out adaptogens as being useful in this matter: “Products that help people cope with stress are in high demand now, a trend that began shortly after the pandemic was declared. We’re seeing heightened consumer comprehension of the role adaptogens play in helping their bodies cope with stress.”

Winston pointed to four of H&A’s offerings: Calm Adapt, Serenity Compound, Tension Relief, and Kids Calmpound. All four compounds are specific formulae—Winston explains that the way herbs are combined is key to how well they function. Calm Adapt, for instance, combines adaptogens and nervines, intended to “help provide a serene, calm mindset, reducing agitation, anxiety, irritability, nervousness, anger, inflammation, and tension headaches,” Winston says, “while improving sleep quality and mental focus.” It’s made with ashwagandha, reishi, schisandra, fresh oat, and linden flower.

“Going beyond traditional remedies for sleep and relaxation,” Levin adds, “newer options are available for those who want to try something different. Traditional herbs for calming and sleep—such as hops, valerian, and passion flower—are being used along with nutrients such as GABA, L-theanine, taurine, 5-HTP, or melatonin to expand the scope of a formula to affect various biochemical pathways with the aim of overcoming barriers to a calmer day and a better night’s sleep.”

A top suggestion from Levin: saffron. “A well-known culinary herb, saffron (Crocus sativa) has turned out to be an effective aid for relaxation, good mood, and better sleep. It’s the world’s most expensive spice, and only recently scientifically studied. Saffron’s golden-yellow ‘stigma’ are tiny thread-like parts of the flower used to color and flavor recipes. No wonder it’s expensive; one gram of saffron requires about 150 flowers, harvested during a period of about one week per year, and the spice is produced by hand-picking the three stigmas in each blossom. New research suggests that saffron can help to support a positive mood, a relaxed attitude, and promote restful sleep. Other studies indicate that saffron may provide immune support. It is also a potent free radical neutralizer. In recent years there has been research interest in the cognitive balancing qualities of the carotenoid, crocin, found in the stigma. Saffron seems to influence neurotransmitters such as serotonin and GABA, which can affect mood and the snacking urges so many people are trying not to give in to these days. NOW uniquely uses only whole saffron stigma powder, rather than an extract, in our new 50mg Saffron capsules.”

Another option: cannabinoids. “Researchers are now interested in the important role that cannabinoids may play in the future of managing stress and anxiety,” says Brown. “Several studies have demonstrated the strong anxiolytic—or anti-anxiety—effects of cannabidiol (CBD) and other cannabinoids. Scientists have shared that ‘the ability of cannabinoids to modulate emotional responses is extremely attractive for the development of novel anxiolytic agents.’ Over the past few years, a range of scientific studies and papers have proposed that CBD and other cannabinoids could be the next best big thing in stress management. This is not only because cannabinoids may function as a direct biological treatment for stress, but also because cannabinoids may help support a holistic approach to stress management. In a recent review, an international team of scientists from New York University and the Universidad Miguel Hernandez in Spain wrote: ‘We found that existing preclinical evidence strongly supports CBD as a treatment for generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder when administered acutely.’ Another report by British scientists has explained why CBD may be so effective at treating these disorders: It turns out that endocannabinoids (cannabinoids naturally produced by the human body) play an important role in signaling fear and anxiety. Thus, compounds that influence the endocannabinoid system may be able to regulate stress and anxiety.”

Bringing some numbers to the CBD phenomenon, Joseph Dowling, CEO, CV Sciences, shares: “Consumer demand for products intended to promote relaxation and better sleep has increased during the pandemic. Data from a 2021 consumer survey of CBD users by Brightfield Group shows that sleep—that is, better sleep—is the most desired effect for consumers when purchasing CBD products, followed by relaxation and physical relief. The same survey from Brightfield also shows that gummies are now the fastest growing form factor among CBD users, which is reflected in the increased availability of CBD gummies in the market today. To meet changing consumer demographics and need states, and to help maximize the wellness benefits of CBD, many brands are introducing new products that combine CBD with other ingredients. PlusCBD Calm and Sleep, launched in May 2021, were specifically formulated to support sleep and stress management in flavorful gummy form. These condition-specific products combine CBD with meaningful amounts of other plant compounds—including magnolia and lemon bark—that work synergistically to support the endocannabinoid system and overall health.”

Brown hopes that the cannabinoid market moves in that direction—and past it. “While relief and treatment options are becoming better every day, there is still a significant opportunity for cannabinoids to transform the stress and anxiety markets. In order to truly provide stress and anxiety relief, cannabinoid suppliers must see beyond symptoms alone. It’s true that CBD and other cannabinoids have shown a promising ability to regulate the function of the endocannabinoid system to directly reduce stress or anxiety. But that doesn’t mean this is where stress management should end.”

And on top of that, or perhaps before all of it, your customers should consider some basics. “When under stress, the body’s need for some vitamins and minerals may increase, so a daily vitamin/mineral supplement is a great place to start,” says Hewlings. She also pointed to research finding that high-dose, sustained-release vitamin C may reduce anxiety; that essential fatty acids have been shown to help relieve stress and anxiety in women; and that diet has been shown to affect mood. (For more on that, check out our overview of Nutritional Psychology.)

Addiction Research Breakthroughs

Bad habits can include nail-biting and doomscrolling, things that can be addressed via behavioral work, but can also encompass much deeper, medical struggles, including tobacco, alcohol, and drug use. The good news: There are companies who are working to bring non-conventional treatments to bear on these problems.

One such company: CV Sciences. The company is working to develop and commercialize a CBD-based pharmaceutical to treat nicotine addiction in smokeless tobacco users. In July, CV Sciences and the University of California, San Diego published a preclinical study treating rats going through nicotine withdrawal with CBD, and found that the treatment prevented the rats from exhibiting withdrawal symptoms, including increased pain sensitivity. CV Sciences’ Joseph Dowling told WholeFoods: “Our drug development program is pursuing a treatment for smokeless tobacco use and addiction. This program addresses a huge unmet medical need with no current FDA approved treatment. The U.S. market alone is estimated at greater than $2 billion annually. This program has made good progress with excellent proof-of-concept data, strong pre-clinical data, and IP protection. Our current focus is completing the manufacturing phase in support of clinical trials.”

There is also research on the use of psychedelics in helping people overcome addiction. A review paper on MDMA, asking whether it could play a role in treating substance abuse, considered everything from the drug’s pharmacokinetics to early reports on MDMA-assisted psychotherapy (1). The researchers concluded: “It appears that MDMA may have a place in addressing substance abuse or dependence… MDMA-assisted psychotherapy may play a role in helping people with problematic substance use by alleviating other psychiatric conditions and by increasing trust and psychotherapeutic rapport.”

Ibogaine—another psychedelic—has been studied for the treatment of opioid use disorder (2). The study was performed on 30 subjects who had unsuccessfully tried previously to receive treatment for opioid dependance. Withdrawal symptoms decreased following treatment at a level comparable to the decrease following treatment with methadone. One month following treatment, 50% reported no opioid use during the previous 30 days; 33% reported the same at 3 months following treatment. The researchers concluded that, within the limitations of a small and uncontrolled study, ibogaine nonetheless “appeared to have a substantive treatment effect in opioid detoxification, and group statistics and individual trajectories appear to indicate an effect of reducing drug use.”

One major proponent of psychedelics: Dr. Bronner’s. The company donated to initiatives that helped pass Measure 110—the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act—in Oregon in November 2020, which makes screening health assessment, treatment, and recovery services available to all those who want and need those services, and which switches to a health-based approach to drug addiction by removing criminal penalties for low-level drug possession, according to www.oregon.gov (3). The latest: California is working on SB 519, a psychedelic decriminalization bill. Dr. Bronner’s Cosmic Engagement Officer (CEO) David Bronner reported on the Dr. Bronner’s blog that the bill passed the California Assembly Health Committee, a major step towards passing the bill and decriminalizing psychedelics in the state (4).

Where Energy, Fitness, and Stress Reduction Meet

Few people resolve to do it all—but they just might achieve all of the benefits if done right, suggests Hewlings. “I got my first job in the fitness industry over 25 years ago; I have seen every trend come and go and come back again,” she shares. “I have read tons of peer reviewed research; I have adjusted my recommendations about nutrition and exercise to reflect the current science. The one thing that has never changed is that in order to be healthy, manage stress, be resilient, be your best you—you must move. What ‘move’ means may change throughout life, but yes, exercise is the key. Participating in exercise that helps to build and maintain your muscle mass is critical to maintaining health throughout every stage of life. I think the trick is finding something you enjoy, and if there is nothing that really grabs you, then change it up. Yoga one day, weight lifting the next, boot camp the next, bike ride, swim, roller blade, dance, aerial arts, martial arts, high intensity training, Peloton, group classes, try a new app, ballet, paddle board, snow shoe, ski, walk dogs at your local shelter... I could keep going, but you get the point. The main thing is: Don’t make it one more obligation. Make it your escape from the obligations, and it will reduce stress and increase resilience and just make you feel better about everything.” Perhaps, then, the answer is to provide your customers with food and supplements that support a healthy exercise regimen, and let them move their way to their best year ever. WF

  1. Lisa Jerome, Shira Schuster, and B. Berra Yazar-Klosinski, “Can MDMA Play a Role in the Treatment of Substance Abuse?” Current Drug Abuse Reviews. 6. 54-62(2013). https://s3-us-west-1.amazonaws.com/mapscontent/research-archive/published/Jerome_2013_MDMA_Addiction_Review.pdf
  2. Thomas Kingsley Brown and Kenneth Alper, “Treatment of opioid use disorder with ibogaine: detoxification and drug use outcomes.” The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse. 2017. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00952990.2017.1320802
  3. “Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act.” Oregon.gov. Updated 11/10/2021. Accessed 12/1/2021. https://www.oregon.gov/oha/HSD/AMH/Pages/Measure110.aspx
  4. David Bronner, “California’s Psychedelic Decrim Bill SB 519 Marches On!” DrBronner.com. Posted 07/14/2021. Accessed 12/1/2021. https://www.drbronner.com/all-one-blog/2021/07/californias-psychedelic-decrim-bill-sb-519-marches-on/