Keeping an eye on cognitive health with lutein: 2023 Ingredient trends for food, drinks, dietary supplements, and natural products

Published on: 
Nutritional Outlook, Volume 26, Issue 1

Lutein grew significantly in the cognitive health category last year, signaling potential synergies and opportunities for incorporating this ingredient in future products.

Screen time. Two words we all know too intimately at this point as screens consume both our professional and personal lives. While limiting our screen time would be beneficial, this is not realistic in a professional or educational setting. One solution that has been devised is blue light–blocking glasses. Another is dietary supplementation, with lutein being a particularly well-known and respected ingredient to this end.

“The demand for eye health products, and lutein in particular, is strong. Many of our customers are aware of the negative impact of increased screen time and exposure to high levels of blue light and its effect on macular health, eye fatigue, and interference with good sleep,” says Eric Cohen, senior brand manager, Private Brands, The Vitamin Shoppe.

Lutein has been on Nutritional Outlook’s list of Ingredients to Watch before, in 2019, when eye health was one of the top-10 bestselling categories in the U.S. mainstream supplements channel with $347 million in sales. Within that category, lutein made $52 million, having grown 38.8% over the previous year. This time around, eye health didn’t see the growth it did back then, but according to ingredient-sales data from SPINS (Chicago), lutein did grow 161% in the cognitive health category of the U.S. mainstream supplements channel in 2022. This points to an evolution of the ingredient and how it is being used.

Research has demonstrated that lutein can help reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration to preserve the health of our eyes. As a potent antioxidant, lutein quenches singlet oxygen and scavenges free radicals and also has the ability to filter blue light to reduce phototoxic damage to photoreceptor cells.1 Emerging research suggests that lutein may play a significant role in our cognitive function as well. For example, lutein is believed to preserve neural efficiency, and some research has shown that higher circulating levels of lutein are associated with better cognitive performance in older adults and even centenarians.1 Specifically, lutein has been linked to improved memory performance as well as spatial memory, verbal fluency, efficient learning, and reasoning.1

Therefore, the inclusion of lutein in a supplement formula lends itself well to a more comprehensive approach that allows users to not only support their eye health but also complementary areas such as memory and concentration. In combination with other scientifically validated ingredients, lutein has a great deal of synergy in the cognitive health space, says Irfan Qureshi, vice president, product development and quality assurance, Healthy Directions.

“An expanding area of science includes the brain health benefits of lutein and zeaxanthin,” he explains. “Therefore, newer synergies with these ingredients could include several other nootropic ingredients that support memory, focus, and other cognitive benefits. Mood-support ingredients would also combine well with lutein and zeaxanthin.”

A good example of a category that could and does benefit from the inclusion of eye health ingredients like lutein is the esports category. Competitive and even recreational gamers turn to these products to support focus, energy, and endurance during long hours of gameplay, with eye strain being a major factor in these marathon sessions. However, esports, while trendy, is a marketing niche.

Ultimately, the idea of supporting eye health, in addition to cognitive health outcomes—both acute and long-term—does appeal to a wider audience.

While immune health was of paramount importance during the pandemic for obvious reason, awareness about eye health also grew because of virtual learning and work-from-home during which our interactions with classmates and coworkers became limited to phone calls or video calls. While virtual learning has been largely phased out, virtual work-from-home has become more attractive to the workforce for the flexibility it offers. As a result, explains Scott Dicker, senior market insights analyst at SPINS, we can continue to expect consistent demand for eye heath products. Related categories such as esports that combine eye health needs with energy and focus requirements will also be in demand, but to a lesser extent.

“I think the overwhelming theme here is that eye health is going to be of more importance because of the additional screen time that everyone has,” says Dicker. “Of course, if you’re a competitive gamer, you’re going to be looking for everything that you can to help it. I think that that group of people is a relatively small one compared to the ones who are just finding themselves in front of their computer and phone more and more. Their eyes are getting tired, and they’ll be looking for an eye health/eye support product, [and] lutein is the most well-known amongst eye-health supplement ingredients to date.”

The potential cognitive health benefits and the eye health benefits of lutein are highly complementary to products marketed for focus and energy. As such, the inclusion of lutein can be a valuable differentiator. As more cognitive-health research is conducted on lutein, the ingredient’s profile is bound to grow.


  1. Buscemi, S.; Corleo, D.; Di Pace, F.; Petroni, M.L.; Satriano, A.; Marchesini, G. The Effect of Lutein on Eye and Extra-Eye Health. Nutrients. 2018, 10 (8): 1321. DOI: 10.3390/nu10091321