Eye health supplements continue to improve and diversify, with ingredient R&D opening new avenues.
Staring into the future of the eye health supplements market, companies are feeling extremely positive. Globally, eye health supplement sales surpassed $1.5 billion USD in 2019, and the market is forecasted to maintain a 6.1% CAGR through 2027.1
Consumers are increasingly looking for effective natural health products that can reduce eyestrain and promote ocular health. The rise in digital screen usage and the proliferation of virtual meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic are key drivers in the eye health market these days, according to Grand View Research market analysts. With this sector growing so quickly, brands that can capture even a small piece of market share will find commercial success. For those looking to develop new products, here are some of the most promising recent advancements in eye health ingredients.
Capsanthin Supports Photostress Recovery
The carotenoid capsanthin, sourced from Capsicum annuum, has garnered press in recent years for its ability to reduce intraocular pressure in animal studies. Now, research is showing that this ingredient may also be an effective herbal remedy for dry eyes.
Sevanti Mehta, president of Unibar Corp. (Houston, TX), says Unibar recently completed an animal study on capsanthin that showed promising results. The study, which is not yet published, examined the efficacy of capsanthin on reducing symptoms of benzalkonium chloride–induced dry eyes in Wistar rats. Mehta says the study’s results were later confirmed through gene-expression studies. While the results are preliminary, Mehta says Unibar looks forward to sharing the full data later in 2022.
While capsanthin’s application as a remedy for dry eyes continues to undergo investigation, other research has more clearly demonstrated the ingredient’s other eye health benefits. Unibar’s patent-pending CapsiClear, a naturally derived capsanthin ingredient standardized to 50% capsanthin, launched in 2020, has the support of two clinical trials demonstrating its efficacy in promoting photostress recovery and increasing macular pigment optical density (MPOD).
For Mehta, though, the possibilities of capsanthin and nutraceuticals for eye health go even further. “I’m excited to see the innovative ways the industry is finding to improve vision health, such as how the gut can influence better eye health outcomes,” Mehta says. “I look forward to future research into how nutraceuticals can support specific eye functions, like night vision.”
Postbiotics Enter Eye Health
Postbiotics are gaining ground in several new applications, and now, they’ve found an opportunity in eye health. Maria Stanieich, marketing manager for Kyowa Hakko USA (New York City), says a growing body of evidence points to a connection between gut health, immune health, and eye health.
One 2020 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group clinical trial2 investigated Kirin Holdings’ (Tokyo) trademarked EyeMuse ingredient, launched in 2021. Kirin Holdings is the parent company of Kyowa Hakko. The trial, which was sponsored by Kirin Holdings, assessed the effects of EyeMuse, which contains a proprietary heat-treated strain of Lacticaseibacillus paracasei, on 88 healthy Japanese adults between the ages of 35 and 50 who suffer from eye fatigue. Participants were randomly assigned to receive either one capsule containing the postbiotic ingredient EyeMuse or one placebo capsule containing 200 mg of cornstarch (n = 44), per day for 8 weeks. The subjects were assessed on tests of critical flicker frequency (CFF), high-frequency component values (HFC-1), miosis rate, eye fatigue, and visual analogue scale for fatigue and mood, at baseline and after 4 and 8 weeks.
The subjects receiving EyeMuse reported larger increases in CFF scores than those receiving the placebo after 4 weeks, but larger decreases after 8 weeks. The EyeMuse group also exhibited lower intraocular pressure than the placebo group after 4 and 8 weeks. The study authors determined that EyeMuse improved parameters of eye fatigue and reduced reports of unfocused vision relative to placebo.
Modern technology is a significant driving force behind eye health ingredient innovation, Stanieich says. Consumers are increasingly looking for eye health supplements that counteract blue light exposure and mitigate the harmful effects of too much screen time.
“Eye health is becoming top of mind with gamers and young professionals,” Stanieich says. “Virtual learning, digital work environments, and multitaskers who are becoming more reliant on technology are driving demand for scientifically proven and clinically safe ingredients to fortify and maintain eye health.”
Newly Launched Remedy for Dry Eyes
Dry eye is a common consumer complaint. Data provided by OmniInsights, the consumer research department of OmniActive Health Technologies (Morristown, NJ), shows that Google search traffic for “dry eye syndrome” doubled from December 2010 to July 2020. Akhil Bajaj, category manager for vision and cognitive health at OmniActive Health Technologies, says dry eye affects between 5% and 15% of the American population.
The ubiquity of dry eyes prompted OmniActive to launch its branded Nutritears ingredient in 2021. Nutritears is a patent-pending combination of vitamin D3, curcuminoids, and lutein and zeaxanthin isomers designed for inclusion in formats like softgels, gummies, and chewables. OmniActive created Nutritears using its Integrated Actives platform, which enables the formulation of multiple active ingredients into a smaller, more concentrated dose.
“OmniInsights’ consumer research shows there is an unmet need for a product like Nutritears,” Bajaj says. “Our survey revealed that nearly three quarters of consumers consider dietary supplement solutions for occasional dry eye to be just as effective as, or more effective than, current therapies such as eye drops.”
Prenatal Nutrition Influences Eye-Brain Connection
Emerging research has already demonstrated a connection between eye health and brain health. But now, studies are establishing prenatal nutrition’s role in the eye-brain connection.
One 2021 prospective cohort study3 involving 1,580 mother-child pairs examined the effects of the mothers’ dietary lutein and zeaxanthin consumption during pregnancy on the children’s cognitive abilities. The mothers consumed an average of 2.6 mg/day of dietary lutein and zeaxanthin in the first and second trimesters. The study, which was sponsored by Kemin (Des Moines, IA), examined data that had been collected as part of Project Viva. Project Viva, a Harvard University study funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health and USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, tracked the mother-child pairs from pregnancy through middle childhood. Study visits occurred during the first and second trimesters, and at ages 6 months, 3 years, and 7-8 years.
At baseline and during the first and second trimester visits, the mothers completed a 166-item food frequency questionnaire. The study authors calculated the mothers’ lutein and zeaxanthin intake from their diets using a Harvard University nutrient composition database. The 6-month visit involved a visual recognition memory (VRM) test involving novel and habituated stimuli. At the 3-year visit, the children were assessed on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT-III) and the Wide Range Assessment of Visual Motor Abilities. At the 7- to 8-year test, the children completed the Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test for global intelligence and the WRAVMA drawing subtest to measure visual-motor abilities.
This study found that at three years of age, higher maternal lutein/zeaxanthin consumption was associated with better child scores on the WRAVMA drawing subtest, which is indicative of better visual-motor integration. This association persisted even after adjusting for age, race, education, marital status, and socioeconomic status.
Growing consumer demand for brain health products is opening up new niches for eye health ingredients, says Tyler Holstein, Kemin’s global product manager, carotenoids. The eye-brain connection, he says, makes eye health supplements particularly appealing to gamers.
“We’ve seen an increased demand for lutein due to the amount of research into its cognitive benefits as well as its already-established eye health benefits,” Holstein says. “Some of the new products being launched in the gamer market that contain lutein are positioned to help consumers protect their eyes and enhance cognitive ability.”
Kemin’s branded FloraGLO Lutein, a free-form lutein ingredient designed for easy absorption, is one of the ingredients in one such gamer-branded product line. Iovate Health Products International has incorporated FloraGLO Lutein into various gamer-oriented products offered by its esports brand XP Sports, including its Boost energy drink, its Zero Lag mental focus and eye health support capsules, and its XP Sports Gummies.
Lots More to Come
Recent research advances have uncovered diverse opportunities for multiple classes of eye health ingredients. These ingredients are undergoing development to support targeted functions or to meet the needs of specific demographics, which is creating niche opportunities for specialty brands.
Several popular eye health ingredients, like lutein and zeaxanthin, are also effective brain health ingredients, and the connection between eye health and brain health is also opening up new avenues for marketers. Whether it’s prenatal nutrition, dry eyes, or biohacking for gamers, eye health brands have ample opportunities to capitalize on niche products.