Increasing concern about vision health leads to innovation in the natural ingredient marketplace.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced school-attending children and employed adults across the globe to perform their duties at home, particularly in front of their computer screens. From virtual classroom learning to Zoom meetings with coworkers and clients, there has been significantly less respite from screen time within the past year. Although the use of electronics has been sharply rising for decades with advancements in technology, it seems that the pandemic has increased screen time even more. In addition, being unable to go to restaurants, bars, events or the homes of extended family members has led many to rely on their televisions, smart phones, tablets and computers as primary sources of entertainment.
This behavior, however, can lead to serious consequences when it comes to vision health. As a result, consumer concern related to vision has increased significantly. Fortunately, the natural ingredient market is responding to the need for solutions to maintain vision health in our tech-savvy world.
According to www.grandviewresearch.com, “The global eye health supplements market size was valued at $1.5 billion (U.S.) in 2019 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.1 percent from 2020 to 2027. The growing incidences of vision impairment and rising myopic population, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, owing to an increased usage of screens and joining virtual meetings while working from home, is one of the key factors driving the market.”
It is no wonder, then, why consumers are becoming increasingly worried about their vision, especially since the pandemic has forced so many to remain in front of screens for extended periods, often more than they are accustomed to. “High myopia can be attributable to increased risk of various progressive eye disorders, such as cataract, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration,” www.grandviewresearch.com continued.
This is a grave concern for many, especially considering that “according to a 2019 JAMA Ophthalmology survey, 88 percent of respondents stated that vision is their most valued sense,” explained Sevanti Mehta, president of Unibar Corporation located in Houston, TX. “This builds upon data from a 2016 study in the same journal which found that respondents considered vision loss to be worse than losing hearing, memory, speech or a limb.” Mehta continued, “About 90 percent of people that spend at least three hours per day at a computer will experience various symptoms of computer vision syndrome, including headaches, eye strain and fatigue, blurred vision and dry eyes.”
Julia Diaz, head of marketing at PharmActive Ltd., located in Madrid, Spain, echoed Mehta and explained, “Eye health was already a concern before the pandemic, but there has definitely been an upsurge in concern and awareness over the last year with a subsequent increase in consumer demand for eye health supplements that can counter blue light damage.”
Zev Zeigler, vice president of brand & marketing at Lycored (Be’er Sheva, Israel), noted that “in addition to screen time, many consumers are concerned about other occupation-related factors, such as the white fluorescent bulbs that are so common in the workplace, or simply over-work. Unbalanced diets can also contribute to poor eye health.”
Vision Health Market Trends
There have been several trends noticed by natural vision health ingredient manufacturers in recent years, especially since the start of the pandemic. Diaz noted, “Beyond vision health, E-sport and e-market supplements is an emerging category in the supplement space. There is definitely scope and demand for developing this segment with high quality science-backed formulations that give gamers and avid screen consumers natural support, especially when limiting screen time is impossible.”
Furthermore, Diaz noticed that “over the last few years, we have witnessed increasing consumer interest in naturally derived eye health nutraceuticals that can be offered to both adults and children given the rise in multimedia exposure. As the market develops, I believe we will see manufacturers aspiring to bring to the market science-backed products with demonstrably enhanced bioavailable products.”
Monica Mitchell, vice president of strategic brand sales & marketing at Stauber (Fullerton, CA) has noticed that “we are experiencing a new awareness and definition of visual health from consumers. This growing trend is expected to rise with increased digital exposure as more of us work and learn from a remote environment. While many stay socially connected online, many consumers are suffering with eye fatigue, myopia, stress and strain as a result of prolonged use of electronic devices and computers. Just as the general population has increased supplement intake for overall wellness, nutritional supplementation for visual health is now a part of consumer daily health regimens.”
She also echoed Diaz, stating that “the video gaming consumers are a great category to target. Many of these consumers are younger and looking to be proactive for their health and especially vision. Good visual processing skills are critical for this group as they require the ability to process visual information quickly and make accurate decisions based on that information.”
Mehta concurred: “A steep rise in the time spent in front of digital screens for school, work and entertainment—influenced by the pandemic—has resulted in more consumers becoming aware of their eye health. When focusing too long on a digital screen, the blink rate slows by up to 80 percent, causing eyes to experience heightened amounts of strain, fatigue and dryness. Because of this, people are looking for convenient and comprehensive options for relief and protection, and supplementation is an accessible avenue to take.”
Natural Ingredients Meeting Market Demand
The goal of vision health supplements, according to Ziegler, is to reduce inflammatory reactions induced by UV and HEV radiation. “Oxidants, such as free-radicals and other reactive oxygen species, are formed, causing damage to the cells in the eye” when the eye is penetrated by these types of radiation. “Most retinal diseases, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD), are mediated by inflammatory reactions, and oxidative stress is known to contribute to the inflammatory pathogenesis. An inverse relationship exists between the incidences of AMD and the number of macular pigments, like lutein, in the eye.”
He stressed that it is always best to reduce the risk of eye damage than to try to reverse it. With this in mind, Lycored created Lutein Complex, “a proprietary nutrient mix including zeaxanthin and lutein. It has been shown to promote retinal and macular health as well as help offset the effects of ultraviolet rays and high energy visible light.”
Sabrina Di Blasio, director of corporate communication & branding at OmniActive Health Technologies located in Morristown, NJ, noted that “in 2017, OmniActive published our groundbreaking B.L.U.E. (an acronym for Blue Light User Exposure) study, which was the first to demonstrate that macular carotenoids support visual performance and reduce symptoms associated with prolonged screen time, including eye strain, eye fatigue, headache frequency and sleep quality.”
She further explained, “Out of more than 600 carotenoids found in nature, lutein, RR-zeaxanthin and RS-zeaxanthin—also known as the macular carotenoids—are the only carotenoids in nature that are accumulated in the eye and accumulate in specific regions of the macula … our most successful brand would have to be our globally recognized, award-winning Lutemax 2020, a naturally derived, patented extract from marigold flower, which contains all three macular carotenoids in a 5-to-1 ratio as found naturally in the diet.”
Pharmactive, according to Diaz, produces “affronEYE, one of our saffron extracts, [which is] an integral alternative eye health solution thanks to its multitarget mechanism of action.” She noted that although Lutein and zeanzanthin have been the most widely used and credited ingredients targeting eye health, saffron is emerging as a new player. “AffronEYE is standardized to 3 percent crocins … the major carotenoids of saffron, acting as potent antioxidants clinically proven to mitigate the development of AMD. Our formula increases the oxygen available to photoreceptors, which have high metabolic demands, and thus protects them from death, preserving retinal function.” The company performed an animal study in 2020 that demonstrated saffron’s potential in preventing the progression of glaucoma.
Stauber, according to Mitchell, continues to bring new innovations to the vision health category with their xanthophylls: lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin. They produce “Xanthosight, [which] supports macular pigment, vision performance and cognition. We also provide omega 3s with our EPAX (EPA/DHA fish oil concentrates) and from Fermentalg (high potency, pure DHA algal oils).” She went on to explain that “new research behind the addition of meso-zeaxanthin has proven that the collective antioxidant power of lutein, zeaxanthin and mes-zeaxanthin is greater than any single carotenoid,” and that these carotenoids are better absorbed with omega-3s, especially DHA.
Lastly, Mehta stated that Unibar has recently released their latest vision health innovation CapsiClear, “a standardized capsanthin ingredient that is a source of holistic ocular nutrition.” He noted that although lutein and zeaxanthin have long been the leading vision health ingredients, “recent research has shown that capsanthin, a carotenoid in the same family as lutein and zeaxanthin, has similar and more extensive benefits for eye health.” He claimed that studies have shown capsanthin’s potential for holistic eye health support, delivering benefits for both short- and long-term vision care and performance.
In summation, there are a few key players that have long been used in natural ingredients to support eye health, and there are also new discoveries being made. Ingredient companies are constantly innovating new ingredients for products that can achieve optimal ocular health.
What Manufacturers Should Consider
As far as what manufacturers should consider when choosing ingredients and producing supplements, Ziegler pointed out that “ingredients need to be scientifically substantiated, but other purchasing considerations—such as being more likely to want products containing natural or sustainably produced ingredients—are increasingly important, especially for younger consumers.”
Di Blasio concurred, stating that “Quality is something that is many times assumed but should be carefully evaluated and verified. Looking for assurance from a third party, such as USP or the Non-GMO (genetically modified organism) Project is a great place to start.” She continued, “the regulatory status of the ingredient, e.g., U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA)-notified generally recognized as safe (GRAS) is also a strong indicator that your ingredient has gone through rigorous testing.”
Adding to these, Diaz related that “Quality assurance in terms of purity and concentration and scientific backing for ingredients are the most important parameters that formulators need to keep in mind … As with most supplement categories, consumers tend to associate quality credentials with brands.”
The Benefits of Vision Health Supplementation
Spending less time in front of the TV, phone, tablet and computer screen is highly beneficial for ocular health; during the ongoing pandemic this is not always possible, especially for employees and students. Supplementation with ingredients that support vision health is one of the best ways to combat the ailments that can develop due to too much screen time and too much exposure to the wrong types of light. NIE