“I realized there wasn’t any product out there that tackles gut health at the same time as supporting mental health and immunity,” Heights co-founder Joel Freeman said leading up to the Jan. 2 launch. “We wanted to bridge that gap. After more than two years in development and backed by over 380 clinical studies, our second product, the Smart Probiotic, is ready to launch.”
Freeman founded the UK-based company with fellow serial entrepreneur Dan Murray-Serter, debuting a first Smart Supplement chocked full of omega-3s, B-Complex, anthocyanin, Vitamin D and a handful of other key nutrients in 2021. This week, they announced over 5.4 million pills sold through the Heights website and have raised over $6 million on crowdfunding platform Seedrs. The mission: “To help people do more of what they want by investing in braincare”.
The Smart Probiotic
Developed by the company’s head of nutritional research Sophie Medlin, RD and chief science officer Dr. Tara Swart, the Smart Probiotic is formulated with seven of the most studied probiotic strains, including Lallemand Health Solution’s mood-enhancing CereBiome blend of Lactobacillus helveticus (Rosell-52) and Bifidobacterium longum (Rosell-175).
“A probiotic might not seem like an obvious choice for a braincare company,” Swart said. “But in reality, the brain and the gut are inextricably linked, both physically and chemically, by the gut-brain axis. The unique combination of strains can promote mental health as well as gut and immune health, promoting neuroplasticity, regulating the stress response and supporting your whole body.”
Heights backs its formula with an ever-growing body of third-party science stressing the fundamental connection between a happy brain and a happy gut.
“In fact, 95% of the body’s serotonin and almost half of its dopamine is produced in the gut, making the gut-brain axis one of the best opportunities to improve our overall health, mental well-being, and quality of life,” the company said in its launch statement.
Targeting the gut-brain axis
The interaction between gastrointestinal tract and nervous system began making waves several years ago as evidence accumulated about the symbiotic relationship between the two along signaling pathways. The research coined the term “psychobiotic” to refer to live bacteria that might confer mental health benefits by affecting microbiota in the gut.
One early entrant into the psychobiotic space was BrainMD, founded by brain health expert Dr. Daniel Amen, with the two-strain ProBrainBiotics to counter gloominess and stress.
“One of the most exciting areas of the nutritional supplement industry and one of the things that is very important to you is to get your gut right so your brain can be right,” Dr. Amen said in a 2015 promotional spot. A ProBrainBiotics MAX version followed in 2021, formulated with seven strains for added immunity and brain health benefits.
Other psychobiotics are pursuing an even more targeted approach, including Bened Life’s single-strain Neuralli PS 128 launched last November in support of mind, mood and movement in people with neurological conditions, and researchers at the CHUM Center at the University of Montreal – supported by a $1.6 million brain health grant – are exploring the neuroprotective promise of another Lallemand strain.
What sets Heights Smart Probiotic apart is its delayed-release technology and proprietary protective matrix, Murray-Serter said. Together, they protect from degradation in the digestive system and ensure the colony-forming units (CFUS) reach the intestine, as demonstrated in a Simulator of Human Intestinal Microbial Ecosystem (SHIME) viability study.
“Whilst we claim 20 billion CFUs on the label to be on the safe side, our third-party trials have confirmed over 30 billion reach your gut alive where it matters, whilst others don’t,” he explained. “This matters. That’s where the strains can make a difference.”
Rise of the braincare category
The increasing focus on brain health, spurred on by years of pandemic pressures and World Health Organization statistics signaling a global mental health crisis, continues to propel the growth of braincare as wellness category.
The Smart Probiotic launches into a global brain health supplement market that Polaris Market Research projects will reach $14.75 billion by 2030. Here, nootropics (cognitive enhancers once reserved for biohackers like e-sports professionals) and adaptogens (herbal stress stabilizers used in traditional medicine for centuries) already abound.
For Heights, which started as a popular Sunday morning newsletter about braincare, advancing brain health supplements comes with the added responsibility to emphasize sustained rituals over quick fixes.
“We’re aware that we can’t just build a brand, we have to build a category - easier said than done,” said Murray-Serter. “Haircare, nail care, oral care - they all exist, and people understand that a little bit every day goes a long way to slow decay and keep us at our best - that’s self-care. But brain care? Ignored, for no reason.”
The Smart Probiotic is accompanied by a “gut health, redefined” campaign, designed to cut through the “misinformation, flashy trends, influencer scams, claims that lack science backing and unregulated products promising the world and delivering nothing.”