Eye health is, perhaps, one of the most important, yet most overlooked, health category for today’s consumer. Even though most people consider loss of vision to be "the worst ailment that could happen … relative to losing memory, speech, hearing or a limb," many are unaware of important eye diseases, and their behavioral or familial risk factors.1
Eye health has always been an activity of preventing future diseases, such as cataracts or macular degeneration, and it’s hard to convince a young, healthy person to take a supplement that will help them see well 20, 30 or 50 years from now. Most consumers are looking for, and more apt to buy, products that target specific benefits rather than address something as ambiguous as prevention. The good news: There are nutrients for the eyes that provide benefits by supporting visual performance and the ability to see.
Visual performance can be described by several key functions:
- Contrast sensitivity pertains to the ability to differentiate objects from one another and depth perception. It is especially important in situations of low light—like driving at night—or under conditions of fog, haze or glare. For example, contrast sensitivity helps navigate a dimly lit room so the eyes can see the outlines of obstacles and where they lie in a room.
- Glare performance is an important function of macular carotenoids to absorb light as it enters the eye. Without them, light would bounce around inside the eye similar to the way light bounces off of a mirror. Glare occurs under conditions of direct, bright light, like when the sun is in the direct field of vision. It also occurs when using digital devices, like computers and smartphones, because the light emitted is focused directly into the eyes. Glare not only inhibits clear vision, but can also lead to eye fatigue and strain.
- Photostress recovery occurs when bright flashes of light or sudden changes in light intensity—like when moving from bright areas to dark—requires eyes to adjust rapidly. The ability of the eyes to recovery from the temporary blindness resulting from a flash bulb is an example of photostress recovery.
The Macular Carotenoids Protect and Perform
The three main macular carotenoids—lutein, RR-zeaxanthin and RS-[meso] zeaxanthin—are important for all these areas of visual performance. Their deposition in the eye is specific: Lutein is found within the peripheral macula; RR-zeaxanthin in the mid-periphery; and RS-zeaxanthin in the center.2 These are the only known carotenoids that make up the macular pigment. Research confirms their ability to reduce photo-oxidation and reduce the risk of developing age-related diseases such as macular degeneration.3,4,5 But they may play a more important role in seeing clearly under a variety of conditions. Recent studies have shown supplementing with all three macular carotenoids can help improve these aspects of visual performance.
In a 12-month, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study in young, healthy subjects supplementing with either a placebo or two different doses of lutein and zeaxanthin isomers (10 and 2 mg or 20 and 4 mg, respectively) resulted in a significant improvement in glare performance and contrast sensitivity compared to placebo at both doses after six months with additional improvements found at 12 months.6 The B.L.U.E. (Blue Light User Exposure) Study demonstrated that after six months of subjects supplementing with a formula containing all three macular carotenoids and exposed to various sources of high-energy blue light—including sunlight, digital devices, screens and LED lighting—glare performance, photostress recovery and contrast sensitivity significantly improved by approximately 44 percent, 33 percent and 20 percent, respectively. 7 Eye fatigue and strain—symptoms associated with long-duration exposure to blue light—also improved significantly compared to placebo.
Eye health is not just a concern for the older population. The macular carotenoids are well known for their role in preventing the slow, gradual decline in vision that can result from a constant bombardment of free radicals generated from light entering the eye. They are also important for supporting the mechanism of vision that helps people navigate their environments safely and allows for independence.
For a list of references, email [email protected].
Brian Appell is marketing manager of OmniActive Health Technologies.