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Dairy is making its debut in the mental wellness space with milk phospholipids

Picture a room with a large table in the middle of it. Sitting around the table are all the wellness product categories that are geared toward mental wellbeing that you can think of. There’s CBD, melatonin and adaptogens along with holistic products and vitamin supplements, and they’ve all been sitting there for a long time. But now, dairy is pulling up a chair.

With new innovations from NZMP, Milk Phospholipids have joined the conversation as the latest addition to the ingredient portfolio of one of the largest dairy producers in the world. At a time when there is a growing interest in mental health and stress, consumers are searching for solutions that go beyond traditional methods, and for some, milk phospholipids may help provide an answer.

Stress affects everyone, whether it be a young student who struggles to complete their school work, an adult in a demanding work environment, a parent trying to find balance between work, parenthood and social life, or an older adult who may worry about age-related issues such as cognitive decline. According to GlobalData, 74% of global consumers are concerned or very concerned about stress and anxiety. The pandemic has heightened the concern over stress and anxiety to the forefront and many people are looking for cognitive and stress management support.

At the same time, consumer demands are shifting away from traditional supplement delivery formats, such as capsules. Globally, 85% of consumers prefer to consume health-enhancing ingredients through food and 57% prefer drinks compared to only 23% who have a preference for pills and tablet supplements, according to GlobalData. With stress levels being at an all-time high, this is big news for brands who might be seeking functional ingredients to help address the growing consumer demand for food to be used as medicine. “Phospholipids are clinically proven to help manage the effects of stress, allowing consumers to stay focused and positive under stress,” says Charlotte Ortiz, Marketing and Communications Manager at Fonterra.

Phospholipids are building blocks of all cell membranes in our body. While there are high concentrations of phospholipids throughout the human body, the brain has some of the highest levels. This is due to the structural and functional roles that they play, helping to maintain strength, flexibility, and integrity of brain cell membranes. “As we age, brain phospholipid levels decline, a condition potentially improved by phospholipid supplementation as digested dietary phospholipids absorb easily in humans and cross the blood-brain barrier,” says Ortiz. While they are found in a range of different food sources, phospholipids are particularly abundant in mammalian milk. Specifically, bovine milk sources carry a wider range of phospholipids compared to plant sources.

With the advancement of modern processing technologies, NZMP has produced a dairy-derived ingredient with a high concentration of milk phospholipids suitable for use in a range of applications for consumers seeking functional benefits in their food and beverages, such as nutritional bars and ready-to-mix powders. 

Alastair MacGibbon, a principal research scientist at Fonterra, explains the mechanisms of action of milk phospholipids on stress, “The range of milk phospholipids, and in particular phosphatidylserine and sphingomyelin, can not only help balance stress by reducing the release of the stress hormone cortisol, but also stimulates the production of key neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine, and contributes to the protective effect of the nerve covering, to improve nerve signaling.” MacGibbon also notes that milk phospholipids have anti-inflammatory effects on the immune system.

There is an expanding body of human clinical research linking consumption of phospholipids to improvements in cognitive performance and mood, especially during stressful times. Such as a recent study​ published in the journal Nutrition, which showed consumption of milk phospholipids improved reaction time during attention switching, under psychosocial stress. Another study​ including 46 healthy men tested the effects of milk phospholipids versus a placebo during a three-week period. The researchers found that milk phospholipids intake can improve the endocrine response, and improved working memory, during an imposed bout of stress.  Supplementation​ with 300mg phosphatidylserine, a phospholipid class which accounts for about 14% of the phospholipids in the brain, per day for 30 days in young male subjects induced a more relaxed mood and was associated with a lower production of stress hormones, while performing strenuous exercise.

According to SPINS​, mental health is one of the latest categories of functional ingredients that will start to emerge in 2021. NZMP Milk Phospholipids present an exciting opportunity for food and beverage companies to tap directly into the needs of consumers with a category of food with which they may be more familiar: dairy.