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World Mental Health Day: Q&A with brain feed

By M Borriero

There is no doubt that 2020 has been a tough year for everyone, in particular those people already living with mental illness. So to mark this year’s World Mental Health Day (October 10th) we spoke to some of our brands to find out how their products can support mental health and wellbeing. Here is what James Lister, Managing Director of brain feed had to say.

Q: What is brain feed and how does it work?

A: brain feed has a range of natural, isolated nutrients for brain health and performance. Three of our products are known as precursors (building blocks) to different chemical messengers: serotonin, dopamine, and acetylcholine. The fourth isolated nutrient works on the chemical messenger GABA but its mechanism of action is slightly different.

Q: What makes brain feed so unique?

A: The milligram dosages are based on existing clinical trial data, we use natural formats and we only isolate the nutrients because we can only be confident of the mechanisms of action in isolation. The biggest challenge with both drug and nutrient delivery to the brain is their ability to cross the blood-brain-barrier (BBB). Put simply, the BBB is the body’s defensive barrier to protect our most vital organ from toxins and viruses. We only use forms of the nutrients that freely across the BBB. We use a form of choline called Alpha GPC for example, whereas other nutraceutical companies use choline bitartrate which may help with liver function, but it won’t deliver health benefits to a brain.

Q: How was the company started and why?

A: We started at Newcastle University in 2015. As a team, we had begun to notice an increased body of scientific data for nutritional health as a potential method to treat, prevent or cure certain conditions. Today the NHS uses the Ketogenic diet for children with epilepsy; we see vitamin D fortification in staple foods in many Nordic countries; and the link between IBS and gut health is continuing to grow. However, it was clinical research behind brain health that interested us the most and this field of research was being driven by more robust research methods such as FMRI and PET scans. We fundamentally believe that there are nutritional solutions to some mood, cognition, and brain health conditions.

Q: Why is looking after your health and wellbeing so important, especially now?

A: As human beings we have a default survival mechanism which is reinforced through learned behaviour and it enables us to become mentally robust to the challenges we face. However, we were not mentally prepared for COVID-19. We had no previous experience; and for many this increased emotional stress, variable moods, feelings of isolation, which were exacerbated by worries about finance, job security and schooling. The furlough programme and home working has also brought about a unique set of challenges centred around motivation and productivity. The good news is that nutrition, exercise, and sleep are ideal solutions to managing many of these new challenges.

What also helped to counteract these challenges was how quickly the British public responded to changing social interactions to online video formats, giving generously, supporting neighbours and those in the community who were more vulnerable, and the sense of collective togetherness and purpose this created. We hope that continues!

Q: How can supplements boost brain health and performance?

5-htp is the building block to your happy chemical messenger, serotonin (5-ht). Serotonin’s primary role in the brain is to help regulate mood.

Work Enhancement - Choline (Alpha GPC) – is the precursor to acetylcholine, a chemical in the brain which is released when conducting tasks such as memory retention or learning.

Dopamine Precursor - Tyrosine – is the building block to dopamine; your reward and pleasure chemical which is released when you derive pleasure from things such as sex, great food and accomplishment. It’s also linked to alertness and motivation.

Relax - Natural Theanine – it increases the relative concentration of the chemical messenger GABA. GABA’s principle role in the brain is to aid relaxation without sedation and it’s suitable for anybody looking to unwind or whose stress levels have been brought on by an acute stressor e.g. a business Zoom call to a new client.

Q: You use natural, safe and functional nutrients – can you explain more about the ingredients you use?

A: The biggest challenge with both drug and nutrient delivery to the brain is their ability to cross the blood-brain-barrier. We use natural forms of these nutrients and encapsulate them in vegan formats. The encapsulation process is surprisingly difficult. We batch test every production run to ensure the correct amount of the active ingredients. To ensure flowability in the encapsulation process we use a form of magnesium (vegetable source) and follow this with stability data testing to validate the best before date.

Q: Can you tell us more about your scientific research?

A: Brain health is not a settled science. 90% of what we know about dementia has been discovered in the last 15 years and even the hypotheses about the cause and effect of beta-amyloid and tau proteins may be proven incorrect.

Nutraceutical science for the brain is also an emerging science so we can be accurate about certain endpoints e.g. x number of minutes/hours post-ingestion x happens. However, to link certain nutraceutical solutions to an endpoint such as treating a condition like ADHD or the effects of aging beyond small scale studies and anecdotal feedback is a challenge. We have research methods in place for visual and auditory stimuli for cognitive testing.

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