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Into The Light


Ingredient suppliers envision a broader vision health category as eyesight concerns grow.

Earlier this year, the Chicago Tribune ran the headline “Some nutrients can stave off vision loss and eye disease that occurs as we age.” The article stated that “it’s not too early to start taking your eye vitamins and that some nutrients can stave off the burdensome vision loss and eye disease that occur as we age, mounting research suggests.”

Lest the reporter give too much credit to nutritional supplements, the article then added that, “claims by supplement manufacturers about the powers of eye-friendly antioxidants are frequently overblown.” Also, “A new study published in the journal Ophthalmology showing that vitamins E and C did nothing to help protect aging eyes from macular degeneration—the longest-running study to test vitamin E for eyesight in men, and the first to try out vitamin C alone—further confirms the lack of benefits of single antioxidants.”

The author reported that still, sales of vision supplements in the U.S. reached $370 million in 2010, a six percent increase over the previous year, according to estimates by Nutrition Business Journal (NBJ). Lutein, multivitamins and fish oil are the most popular eye-related products, NBJ said.

So whether mainstream media will endorse the supplement industry remains to be seen—however, eye disease is a big problem; eight million people are at risk for experiencing age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and 1.75 million people have an advanced form of AMD, according to the National Eye Institute. It is expected that the number of people who have AMD will double by the year 2020.

Ingredient suppliers are ramping up their offerings for the category. Stacey Daigle, sales and marketing manager with Connecticut-based NutriScience Innovations, LLC, said the company first began providing lutein esters for vision health more than 10 years ago, and has since expanded its products under the OptiLut® brand name. The line features a diverse range of lutein products containing naturally occurring zeaxanthin suitable for use in many different applications such as soft gels, capsules, functional foods and beverages, she said.

“The market continues to grow as consumers become more educated about nutritional support for vision health,” Daigle explained. “There is an increasing desire for to take proactive steps such as including dietary supplements in order to help improve health and quality of life. Maintaining visual health is of particular concern due to the potentially significant impact it can have on the quality of life of our aging population.”

Another consideration for the expansion of the eye health category involves diabetes. Victor Ferrari, CEO, Horphag Research USA Inc. in New Jersey, maker of Pycnogenol® (French maritime pine bark extract), said the company began research on eye health in the early 1980s. “It became clear early on that Pycnogenol may play an important role in eye health, in particular in the field of diabetic retinopathy,” he added, noting that the market for vision health supplements is very much focused on AREDs (Age-Related Eye Disease study) formulas, whereas specific formulations for retinopathy or for the management of intraocular pressure seem to take a longer time to go to market.

Looking at the Market

Even in a difficult economy, consumers still want to make wise health decisions to maintain or potentially improve their health and well-being. Deteriorating vision can have a significant impact on quality of life and independence, therefore consumers see the value of incorporating the use of dietary supplements for visual health as a part of a healthy lifestyle. And the aging consumer is the group most focused on vision health.

“The primary market for lutein for vision health is older adults, as vision quality often deteriorates due to the aging process and age-related conditions such as AMD and cataracts,” said Daigle. “Declining vision quality can lead to increased incidence of accidents at home and while driving, and lack of independence. As the aging population continues to grow and becomes more educated and receptive to the benefits of dietary supplements, we expect the demand for vision health products such as OptiLut to further increase.”

Eye health products were typically marketed for AMD, which accounts for nine percent of eye health-related issues, noted Ferrari, while glaucoma and retinopathy together account for 17 percent of eye health related issues. “Here is the field in which our market is growing rapidly and where our clinical trials have shown efficacy for Pycnogenol,” he said.

Trends to Watch

While the use of dietary supplements for vision health continues to grow, there is an increasing interest for alternative delivery systems such as functional foods and beverages that can be incorporated into active lifestyles versus the traditional capsule or softgel. NutriScience offers a variety of grades of OptiLut in powder, beadlets, cold water dispersible powder and liquid forms to suit many types of applications.

“In order to gain the most benefit from an eye health product, it must be taken regularly, therefore it is important to be able to offer different delivery options to best suit the preferences of the individual consumer,” Daigle explained. “Newer delivery systems such as functional foods and beverages help to attract a new segment of potential consumers that may not be interested in taking ‘another pill,’” she said, adding that the wide range of OptiLut Lutein offerings ensures ease of formulating lutein and zeaxanthin into just about any type of product from traditional soft gel and capsule applications to functional foods and beverages.

Ferrari explained that at Horphag Research, “We realize that the industry and consumers are looking for specific eye health formulas relating to specific health issues, rather than an overall eye health formula.”

And while the majority of studies conducted on lutein and zeaxanthin to date have focused primarily on vision deterioration due to age-related conditions such as AMD and cataracts, there has been an increasing interest in investigating the potential benefits of lutein and zeaxanthin to help improve visual acuity and reduce visual fatigue in the general adult population, Daigle noted. “As we spend increasingly more time looking at computer, cell phone and television screens this seems to be a very important and relevant segment worthy of further research.”

Product Focus

NutriScience Innovations’ best selling grade of OptiLut is the Lutein Esters 80%, with minimum 80 percent lutein esters content (equivalent to 40 percent free lutein). “It is one of the highest purity lutein products available on the market,” Daigle said.

The ingredient is produced through a patented, eco-friendly process that allows for joint extraction of lutein and zeaxanthin from marigold flowers, she explained. “The zeaxanthin present in OptiLut occurs naturally and is not a separate ingredient that is blended in like other products on the market. Exceptional care is taken throughout the process to ensure the highest quality product with minimal impact on the environment, this includes the use of marigold seeds and flowers that are fully traceable back to the farm and an ecofriendly process that does not utilize any class II solvents. To our knowledge not many other companies offer this high level purity of lutein esters. This benefits formulators who need to deliver the maxiumum dose using a smaller sized tablet or capsule; this is what truly what distinguishes our OptiLut Lutein Esters 80%.” The OptiLut Lutein products are both kosher and halal certified.

Frank Schonlau, scientific director with Horphag Research USA Inc., noted that early investigations showed that Pycnogenol stabilizes fragile capallaries and an ophthalmologist suggested to find out whether this function may help diabetic people protect their retina. “In diabetes, the retinal blood vessels turn brittle as a result of the high blood glucose and these vessels begin to leak blood plasma into the tissue bearing the light sensing cones and rods,” he said. “In consequence, pressure builds up in the retina which causes vision to gradually deteriorate.”

A recent study has shown that diabetic patients at this stage may recover their vision by taking Pycnogenol over a couple of months. The swelling subsides and the visual acuity, as judged from a reading test, improves tremendously.

“At later stages of diabetic retinopathy, the vessel in the retina turn so brittle that blood seeps into the tissue,” Schonlau continued. “At this stage, at best, a progression of this situation may be stopped.” In a multi-center field study in Germany with 1,169 patients, Pycnogenol was indeed effective in stoping the progression of retinopathy and save the remaining eyesight.

“The great problem for people with diabetes is the circumstance that retinopathy develops slowly and gradually with time,” said Schonlau. “People affected by this diseases don’t notice any symptoms, there is no resulting pain and vision gets worse slowly and gradually. For people with diabetes it is of great importance to have the background of their eyes checked by a qualified ophthalmologist regularly. An uncontrolled retinopathy may result in complete blindness. Losing eyesight is one the most feared disabilities. Fortunately, Pycnogenol is a safe food supplement and an excellent preventative measure.”

Future Visions

As further research is conducted on the benefits of lutein and zeaxanthin use for the general population, Daigle said NutriScience Innovations anticipates that it will start to see increasingly diverse offerings in terms of delivery systems and the consumer groups targeted. “In the future we expect larger segments of the population to benefit from the use of products such as OptiLut to support vision health during various life stages.”

In partnership with Indena, Horphag Research has launched a new patented product for the use in the management of intraocular pressure. The product is called Mirtogenol® and is available on an exclusive basis to several marketers around the world.


■ Horphag Research USA Inc., (201) 459-0300
■ Nutri-Med Logic Corp., (888) 777-3713
■ NutriScience Innovations, LLC,(203) 372-8877

Antioxidant & Anti-Inflammation Hope for AMD

Published in June in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, a study of patients having early and intermediate age-related maculate degeneration (AMD), a major cause of visual impairment in those over age 50, suggests that alpha lipoic acid (ALA), may have a possible preventive role in the development of AMD.

Agreeing with this study, Floridabased Nutri-Med Logic Corp., a producer of balanced, deodorized, concentrated and pharmaceutical-grade omega-3, pointed out that another recent landmark study by the Department of Ophthalmology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, also suggests that supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids, an anti-inflammatory nutrient, resulted in a protective application against age-related retina functional losses.

This study, which incorporated patients between 50-75 years of age, found that the administration of ALA resulted in a statistically significant increase in the antioxidant defense of The ALA group, suggesting that ALA could propose a preventive role in the development of the dry AMD.

Dry AMD is the result of atrophy of the retinal pigment epithelial (a cellular layer of the retina), in another words, the loss of photoreceptor cells (vision loss). The retinal pigment epithelial shields the retina from excess incoming light as well as supplying omega-3 fatty acids (DHA), which are the sole fatty acids incorporated into the cellular membranes of the eyes.

Cellular oxidative stress plays a key and fundamental role in retinal pigment epithelial cell death during aging, thus leading to the development of AMD.

Superoxide dismutase (SOD) is an antioxidant defense system that shields the human body from oxidative stress, and the study found that the application of ALA resulted in the increased activity of SOD.

While this finding proposes an important dietary intervention for ALA and AMD, another study by the Department of Ophthalmology of the University of Alberta, found that one- to six-month trials of omega-3 (DHA) dietary supplementation resulted in its increased retina levels, preserving the retinal pigment epithelial function and, further, the sixto 12-month trials led to maintained outer and inner retina function. The increased antioxidant defense (SOD) by ALA suggests a lesser oxidative stress and thus a diminished premature retinal pigment epithelial cell death—the very cell line that supplies omega-3 fatty acids of DHA.

The retina has the highest concentration of DHA omega-3 fatty acids, the precursor to Docosanoids, which produce neuroprotectin D1, inhibiting premature apoptosis (cell death) and oxidative-stress-mediated pro-inflammatory gene induction.

Pointing to these studies, Nutri-Med Logic Corp. noted that while the supplementation of R-alpha lipoic acid, an antioxidant nutrient, would be beneficial in AMD, a concurrent supplementation of omega-3, an anti-inflammatory nutrient, would propose additional benefits.

Albion Minerals®