Creating Product Formulations with Carotenoids

November 13, 2007

5 Min Read
Creating Product Formulations with Carotenoids

There are more than 600 known carotenoids, naturally-occurring pigments found in plants, some bacteria, fungus and algae. Developing dietary supplements with carotenoids begins with knowing and appreciating the health benefits of these pigments and then investigating the science behind them to support claims. Carotenoids are more expensive than fruit and vegetable powders, but are worth adding into formulas since the actives indicated on the certificate of analysis (C of A) are guaranteed to be delivered.

The goal in product development is to determine how carotenoids can be used in a product to support the body, and if the science is available to show how the pigments provide health benefits and support product claims. Currently, there is an abundance of ongoing research being performed on them, which can help in developing new products. Some of the most common carotenoids include astaxanthin, canthaxanthin, alphacarotene, beta-carotene, delta-carotene, gamma-carotene, alpha-cryptoxanthin, diatoxanthin, fucoxanthin, fucoxanthinol, lutein, lycopene, peridinin, rhodopin glucoside and zeaxanthin. The strongest research lies among a few of the top carotenoids such as beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene and astaxanthin.

Carotenoids or Extracts?

Consumers may not know how to define carotenoids, but they are aware carotenoids are found in fruits and vegetables. Some companies have developed marketing campaigns positioning fruit and vegetable extract products as all-inclusive products, comparing them to the actual fruits or vegetables found in grocery store produce departments. For example, a promotion for a cherry extract in pill form may be marketed as, “a great way to get the benefits of eating cherries without the sugar—all in a pill.”

Cherries as a whole food are full of nutrients, including carotenoids, but selling and marketing the powder this way is somewhat deceptive. Cherry extracts may contain bioflavonoids shown on the C of A but do not contain all the other rich compounds found in fresh fruit. Many of these fruit and vegetable powders have health benefits, and research performed directly on them may show physiological effects on the body. The C of A may report that these compounds contain polyphenols or guarantee other actives. If published research exists on the ingredients and their actives, formulators should review it to evaluate the actual compounds being used in the studies and their dosage to demonstrate significant improvements in health. Some of these extracts with their actives have been studied in animal studies and have antioxidant properties and possibly an ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) value, but do not claim to provide the same beneficial nutrients in fruits and vegetables. As a product formulator, review the published data (in vitro, animal and human studies). Fewer calls will need to be made to the raw good material supplier if a research package is sent with all of the science on the material they are selling. Make your decisions based on what extract is used in the studies, the dose and the effectiveness.

Some juice products containing carotenoids have been highlighted for their high ORAC values to promote antioxidant benefits; however, ORAC measurements can be misleading. For example, a company could express the ORAC measurement by stating it supplies 2000 ORAC. This is misleading since there is no standard or measure to follow in grams or servings to compare one product to another. Also, ORAC testing is performed in a laboratory setting, so it does not necessarily follow that it benefits human health. Further research must be available to show bioavailability and efficacy in the body.

Product Formulation & Claims Development

There is ongoing research on the beneficial role of the different carotenoids, but product formulators need to review the peer-reviewed studies to determine whether the compounds will support product claims. Lutein, a carotenoid found in dark leafy greens, carrots, eggs and orange juice, has antioxidant properties with particular benefit to eye health—helping to prevent the progression or onset of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Additionally, lutein may support cardiovascular health by preventing the narrowing and plaque formation in blood vessel walls. Studies have found individuals with high lutein blood levels exhibited lower levels of arterial wall thickening compared with individuals with low lutein levels. But does that evidence support a claim for artery health? Because the research was on dietary consumption patterns, not nutritional intervention, statements should be made about food containing lutein and its importance to blood vessels. Since lutein also has antioxidant properties, combined with other heart health ingredients, it may make a formulation unique compared to other formulations on the market.

Lycopene is another popular carotenoid ingredient. It is particularly well-known for its role in prostate health; this health benefit came to public awareness after a 1995 study demonstrated men who consume foods rich in lycopene had a reduced risk for prostate cancer. From that time, more research has been performed to show that the extract is beneficial. Again, it is important to review the state of the science and the studies themselves to ensure any health or structure/function claims match the ingredient, dosage and dietary intervention pattern.

Crafting compliant claims means accurately reflecting the state of the science. Take the time to read the whole study, since the researchers generally have extensively reviewed the compound before starting the study. There may be excellent references in the journal article that may support claims. Use good wisdom to develop marketing copy. 

Judi Quilici-Timmcke, M.S., is the president and product formulation specialist at Q-Tech Services Inc. ( She was previously the vice president of R&D for Weider Nutrition’s Specialty Market, and head of product development for Rexall Showcase International; Quilici-Timmcke holds a master’s in dietetics/exercise physiology.

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