The latest on ingredients for vision performance.
The eye health category is expanding with new herbal formulations joining popular legacy ingredients like lutein and zeaxanthin. The market is also diversifying from single-ingredient products to synergistic blends as brands strive to improve product efficacy and target multiple, related eye-health conditions like eyestrain and blue light exposure.
As demand for vision-support products grows, supplement ingredient suppliers and brands are experimenting with new formulations and delivery formats providing substantiated benefits. Here are some developments making this category one worth watching.
Black Currant Reduces Blurry Vision
While the vision market has long been dominated by mainstays like vitamin A, emerging studies are demonstrating that botanicals can alleviate eye health conditions and help improve visual performance.
The scourge of blue light has increased demand for vision performance ingredients that can ameliorate dry eye fatigue and manage the other symptoms of “computer eye,” says Melanie Bush, vice president of science and research for ingredients supplier Artemis International Inc. (Fort Wayne, IN). “Blue light and excess screen time have brought about a new set of eye afflictions,” Bush explains. “Instead of just the aging population, new categories like esports could benefit from eye-health formulas. Novel ingredients that help with the symptoms of digital eye fatigue now have a time to shine.”
Artemis International recently completed a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial examining the effects of CurrantCraft, a branded black currant (Ribes nigrum) extract, on symptoms of screen time–induced eye fatigue in 61 subjects. The 10-week study, which is pending publication, followed subjects who spend at least 6 hours per day in front of a screen. The group using CurrantCraft experienced a 29.9% reduction in blurry vision as well as reductions in dry eye and eye strain relative to the placebo group.
Bush says the next innovation in vision performance ingredients will involve innovative delivery systems that improve product experience. She points to nutraceutical-infused chocolates as an example of a functional food trend that will soon emerge in this category.
Eye Health Ingredients Target Children
While first-generation eye health ingredients focused on older adults, newer ingredients are being formulated for younger consumers. Tyler Holstein, global product manager for Kemin (Des Moines, IA), says the largest area of growth in vision performance ingredients is in children’s formulations.
“The research on the effects of blue light in children has really caught our eye because it showcases the importance of lutein in children and younger adults,” Holstein explains. “A study on video game vision syndrome in children found that 85% of video game players had asthenopenia [eye strain], and that ‘prolonged use of video games for 30 minutes or more almost every day in children up to 10 years old might affect and compromise the development of their visual pathway.’”
The study in question is an observational study of 320 healthy children between ages 3 and 10. One group played video games almost every day for more than 30 minutes per day, while the other group played video games for less than 30 minutes per day and did not play every day. The study examined the children for refraction, ocular mobility, dominant eye, and Lang-Stereotest scores. Information about screen time and asthenopia symptoms was gathered via questionnaire.
The study found that 58% of the video game group subjects reported at least one symptom of eyestrain compared to 27% of the control group. Moreover, 85% of the video game group had asthenopia, and the video game group reported a higher incidence of astigmatism.1
Emerging solutions for both adult and child eye health aim to protect against the effects of blue light exposure. Kemin recently launched Macu-LZ, a branded ingredient that combines lutein and zeaxanthin isomers in the optimal 5:1 ratio. Holstein says Macu-LZ helps to protect against blue light exposure while alleviating symptoms of eyestrain and eye fatigue.
Mineral-Botanical Blend Preserves Vision
One unexpected new entrant to the vision performance market is a unique mineral-botanical blend that aims to prevent dry age-related macular degeneration. This ingredient—a branded blend of zeaxanthin, lutein, piperine, zinc monomethionine, as well as bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) and saffron (Crocus sativus) extracts—is sold by Sabinsa (East Windsor, NJ) under the brand name Macumax. A novel phyto-mineral composition, Macumax is designed to manage the symptoms of early-stage dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
One 2020 open-label trial examined the effects of Macumax on day vision scores, perception of black spots, dark adaptation, and diminished and distorted vision scores in subjects with early-stage dry AMD. Subjects were assigned to receive either two capsules of Macumax per day (n = 22), or a placebo (n = 18), for 90 days. The subjects were assessed for distorted vision, diminished vision, difficulty in day vision, dark adaptation, xanthopsia, and yellowed perception of objects at baseline and on days 30, 60, and 90.
After 90 days, the subjects in the Macumax group reported a statistically significant reduction in diminished vision scores as well as distorted vision scores. None of the other parameters worsened over time in the Macumax group. The study authors determined that Macumax supplementation is a safe and effective means of preventing further vision deterioration in subjects with early-stage dry AMD.2
Bilberry Extract Combats “Computer Eye”
Bilberry extract has shown efficacy in both synergistic blends and as a standalone ingredient. One pair of 2016 and 2017 clinical trials examined the effects of Bilberon, a branded bilberry extract by Maypro Industries (Purchase, NY), on eye fatigue in healthy adults.
In this pair of studies, the subjects received either 120 mg or 160 mg of Bilberon per day for 6 weeks. Both studies found that Bilberon improved eye fatigue, focus, and dryness. In the 2017 study, however, the researchers found that Bilberon also improved shoulder and neck stiffness.3,4
Denis Alimonti, director of U.S. nutrition for Maypro, says formulators are increasingly becoming interested in carotenoids and anthocyanins for eye health. Alimonti says the anthocyanins in bilberry extract are responsible for its effects on vision.
Bilberry extract is also proving to be useful in blended products. Shaheen Majeed, CEO of BGG Americas (Irvine, CA), says emerging combination products are moving away from lutein and zeaxanthin and toward ingredients that have more diverse effects.
“One fantastic addition to eye health products is astaxanthin from algae,” Majeed says. “It’s been clinically validated in 15 human clinical trials to positively impact more than a dozen different eye conditions—from preventing eye strain and fatigue due to computer overuse, to increasing the speed and quality of blood flow to the retina, to name a few.”
BGG recently tested its branded bilberry extract, MyrtiPro, both alone and in combination with astaxanthin and lutein, for relieving eye fatigue caused by overuse of computer displays in healthy adults. This not-yet-published trial found that both the standalone bilberry extract and the combination formula improved eye accommodation; however, the combination formula performed slightly better than the standalone extract. This and other studies show that bilberry is well suited for use in synergistic blends.
Vision Performance Ingredients Set for Evolution
Vision performance ingredients are gaining scientific substantiation through robust clinical trials. Meanwhile, emerging blends are using synergistic ingredient combinations to address multiple areas of concern.
As consumers seek out natural solutions for eyestrain and computer over-use, demand for well-validated ingredients will only grow. However, the days of simple lutein-only ingredients may be ending. Emerging products are showing that synergistic blends of unexpected herbal and other ingredients can perform as well as lutein, if not better. Brands that want to compete in the vision performance space would do well to diversify their product portfolios.