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Ocular nutrition solutions need to meet both current health demands and future health concerns by providing a more holistic and comprehensive list of benefits.
As societies around the world increasingly find themselves in front of digital screens, and for longer periods of time, our vision health is more at risk than ever before. Deteriorating eye health used to be more prevalent among older individuals; now, even children and young adults are facing frequent vision challenges. This is because modern technology has made the use of digital screens a necessity for scholastic and occupational purposes, not to mention the additional hours spent for entertainment.
In the short-term, one of the most common symptoms of excessive screen time is computer vision syndrome (CVS). Up to 90% of people who spend at least three hours per day at a computer will experience symptoms of CVS, including headaches, eye strain and fatigue, blurred vision, and dry eyes.1 A 2019 survey by Common Sense Media found that on average, 8- to 12-year-olds spent 4 hours and 44 minutes on screen media each day, while teenagers spent 7 hours and 22 minutes, and this did not include time spent at school or doing homework.2 Another survey found that American adults are spending 42%—approximately 6 hours and 43 minutes—of their waking hours each day looking at a television, computer, smartphone, or another device.3
This is a perfect recipe for eye strain caused by digital screens slowing the blink rate by 80%, causing the eyes to dry. The constantly moving and changing pixels on screen mixed with the blue light then furthers the problem by increasing eye strain. In other words, American eye health is in jeopardy, and the current COVID-19 pandemic has only escalated the situation by increasing the number of hours that adolescents and adults spend in front of screens.
Fortunately, consumers are becoming better educated about the risks of eye strain, and now is a great opportunity to help them see that natural ingredients can provide powerful solutions addressing these concerns.
A History of Carotenoids for Eye Health
For years, research has recognized the role that particular carotenoids play in helping to protect and improve eye health. Since their discovery, more than 1,000 unique carotenoids have been compiled. Found in plant species—including some algae and fungi—carotenoids are responsible for the varied and vivid pigmentation in plants. Among the first discovered was beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A to provide eye health support. Next discovered were xanthophylls—yellow-, orange-, and red-pigmented carotenoids recognized for their benefits for eye health and which have been studied extensively for over 100 years. The most commonly recognized xanthophylls are lutein and zeaxanthin, which can be found concentrated within the retina. The carotenoid class also includes cryptoxanthin, capsanthin, and astaxanthin.4,5
Over the last 10 years, research into these eye health nutrients has focused on their ability to provide macular pigment optical density (MPOD) support and, as an appendage to that, blue light protection. High consumption of food and supplementation with lutein and zeaxanthin has shown to reduce the risk of age-related vision challenges.6,7 Through antioxidant activity and by increasing MPOD, these xanthophylls are able to help filter blue light and thereby offer protection from its effects.
Maintaining proper levels of intraocular pressure (IOP)—fluid pressure within the eye—is another important aspect of eye health that is just recently seeing some traction in the natural products sector for better long-term vision care.
While lutein and zeaxanthin have been leading the market in eye health solutions, capsanthin is also gaining awareness as an eye health nutrient. (Disclosure: the author’s company, Unibar Corp., sells a capsanthin ingredient.) For instance, an unpublished, internal 12-week human clinical study commissioned by Unibar and performed by researchers from the University of North Texas found that MPOD measurements increased at 4, 8, and 12 weeks of capsanthin consumption. In tandem with MPOD increases, the researchers discovered that subjects experienced heightened photostress recovery (the time it takes for the restoration of visual acuity after the retina is overloaded with bright light). Subjects were able to read content via blue and white light screens faster than those taking the placebo.8 Researchers continue to investigate capsanthin’s potential benefits. For instance, in another internal, unpublished Unibar study (an animal study) researchers found that after eight days of capsanthin consumption, Wistar rats with high intraocular pressure were able to significantly reduce IOP to a level almost equal to the control group.9 This ability to support optimal IOP levels via oral application is thought to be unique to capsanthin in the ocular nutrition space.
Searching for Support
Most of us have experienced the recognizable effects of too much digital screen time: the eye fatigue, dryness, and strain, often accompanied by headaches. But heightened intraocular pressure can often go unnoticed without regular visits to the optometrist. If left unchecked, the IOP imbalance may lead to blurry vision, damage to the macula, nerve damage, and long-term vision health concerns, such as glaucoma.10 The National Eye Institute at the U.S. National Institutes of Health has reported that glaucoma rates will continue to rise as the population of adults older than 40 continues to grow over the next 30 years, estimating that at least 6.3 million people may have it by that point. They additionally expect that the most common eye health challenges currently faced will double by 2050 and that there is a need to take more proactive care.11,12
As we continue to learn more about how the eyes work and the health risks we face, upgrading our natural solutions is a must. Blue light–filtering glasses, frequent breaks from screens, and regular optometrist check-ups are all important to help protect the eyes. Supplementation can play a key role as well. Ocular nutrition solutions need to meet both current health demands and future health concerns by providing a more holistic and comprehensive list of benefits. Challenges from age, injury, and excessive blue light can all arise naturally, but our industry can adapt with natural solutions that derive from a combination of new and old xanthophylls to provide better care.
Sevanti Mehta, president of Unibar Corporation (Houston, TX), was raised to value good health through diet and ayurvedic tradition. He made it his lifegoal to help mankind improve health through science-based solutions and now brings 20 years of experience to the natural products industry. Mehta personally believes in the power of natural ingredients to support health and used his patent-pending CapsiClear to help reduce intraocular pressure and improve his impaired vision. Mehta earned a BS in Engineering from Pune University and studied for a graduate degree from Long Island University. He provides active support for eye health and education in poor communities in India.