The myriad health benefits of carotenoid supplementation

Carotenoids possess significant antioxidant powers that have been shown to support cognition, eye health, cardiovascular wellness and skin care.

Marygrace Taylor, Marygrace Taylor

October 18, 2018

9 Min Read
The myriad health benefits of carotenoid supplementation

What makes tomatoes red and carrots orange? The answer is a family of naturally occurring phytonutrients called carotenoids. And they’re not just pretty to look at. Carotenoids possess significant antioxidant powers that have been shown to support the body in a number of ways—including cognition, eye health, cardiovascular wellness and skin care. 

“Overall, the nutritional approach—from diet or supplementation—allows the platform to affect many processes on a molecular level,” explained Karin Hermoni, Ph.D., head of science and nutrition at Lycored. “Carotenoids may help enhance and support the natural resilience of cells to cope with many different exogenous and endogenous challenges.” That can help lower levels of inflammation in the body, in turn reducing the risk for chronic health problems and improving well-being overall.

Here’s a closer look at how this class of compounds can benefit consumers of all ages, why carotenoid supplements may be preferable to food sources alone, and how manufacturers are solving inherent formulation challenges to develop more powerful products.

Who needs carotenoids?

Some of carotenoids’ most noteworthy benefits may be especially helpful for older adults. “With aging global populations, there is an ever-increasing need for brain and eye support,” said Kristen Marshall, marketing coordinator at Verdure Sciences. With age, the risk for problems like age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cognitive decline increases.

But bigger factors are at play, too. “The older an individual gets, the more he or she needs a wholesome diet with optimal supplemental nutrition,” explained Annie Eng, CEO of HP Ingredients. “The body systems slow down and require what may be known to help preserve more youthful function and structure.”

Carotenoids aren’t just for the senior set, though. With regards to eye health in particular, these antioxidants can be critical for consumers of all ages. Carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin absorb harmful blue light from ultraviolet (UV) radiation and electronic devices, and help promote optimal vision performance throughout life. “Because everyone is exposed to blue light from LED lights or digital devices as well as from sunlight, all ages can benefit from increasing macular pigment optical density with lutein and R,R-zeaxanthin,” said Ceci Snyder, MS, RD, global vision product manager at Kemin.

Exposure to stressors like pollution, UV light and even hormones like cortisol can also deplete the body’s stores of carotenoids, Hermoni said. With that in mind, “practically everyone at any age can benefit from nourishing their bodies and providing an extra boost to their natural resilience and natural protection mechanisms through carotenoid supplementation,” she said. “Investing in our own maintenance platforms and elevating our antioxidant status is a lifelong journey.”

How carotenoids help: A closer look

These small-but-mighty compounds have been found to support several important health issues that affect consumers of all ages.

Cognitive function

A growing body of research supports carotenoids as an important nutrient for cognitive function throughout adulthood.

Chief among these carotenoids are lutein and zeaxanthin. Three recent randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials called out the benefits of Kemin’s FloraGLO Lutein and OPTISHARP Zeaxanthin in particular. In one trial, both supplements were shown to support blood flow to specific brain regions and increase neural activation.1 “The authors suggest that lutein and zeathanthin may work to buffer the effects of cognitive aging by increasing blood flow to areas of the brain at risk for poor cerebral perfusion and the subsequent age-related impairment,” Snyder said. Another found that the supplements support cognitive flexibility and attention.2 The compounds’ brain-boosting benefits may even extend to younger people, with one trial showing that FloraGLO Lutein and OPTISHARP Zeaxanthin can enhance spatial memory, reasoning ability and complex attention in young, healthy adults.3

Other products have yielded similarly impressive results. OmniActive’s forthcoming Lutein and Mental Acuity (LAMA) study showed taking macular carotenoids like Lutemax 2020 (a marigold extract providing lutein and enhanced levels of RR- and RS [meso]-zeaxanthin) resulted in a significant increase in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BNDF).4 “This protein plays a role in neuroplasticity, which is the ability to maintain the health of neurons in the brain and creating new ones,” said Brian Appell, marketing manager at OmniActive Health Technologies.

Vision performance

Carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin isomers are perhaps best known for their ability to support eye health. “Out of more than 600 carotenoids found in nature, only three—lutein, RR-zeaxanthin and RS (meso)-zeaxanthin—are found in the eye where they form a protective layer in the macula,” Appell explained. Not only is the macula the part of the retina responsible for the highest visual performance, it’s also the area most susceptible to photo-oxidative damage from constant exposure to high-energy light like blue light, he added.

Lutein and zeaxanthin play critical roles in supporting a range of visual functions, too.5,6 They’re essential for contrast sensitivity, which is needed for driving in low light or navigating dimly lit rooms. The macular carotenoids also absorb light as it enters the eye, reducing blinding glares from the sun or digital devices. “Without them, light would bounce around inside the eye, similar to the way light bounces off a mirror,” Appell said. “If your eye can’t absorb the light, you can’t see clearly.” Finally, lutein and zeaxanthin aid in photostress recovery, when the eyes must quickly adjust to bright flashes or sudden changes in light intensity. “Without photostress recovery, the flash would leave us blinded for longer periods of time before we could see again,” Appell explained.

Lutein and zeaxanthin can also deliver special benefits for the visual function of older adults. The second Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS2), which looked at FloraGLO Lutein, concluded 10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin added to the AREDS formula (vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, zinc and copper) lowered the risk of AMD and cataract progression in an at-risk population.7,8,9 Research has also confirmed that chronic overexposure to blue light has the potential to damage retinal tissues.10 “Kemin Health is the author of a patent showing how lutein filters bright light to help protect eyes that may be most vulnerable to damage from blue light,”11 Snyder said.

Cardiovascular health

Carotenoids don’t just exert a positive impact on the brain and the eyes. They’ve also been shown to have a positive effect on heart health. Within the last few years, Lycored embarked on the launch of Cardiomato, a synergistic, cardio-optimized tomato nutrient complex. The supplement was inspired by the benefits of the tomato-derived carotenoid lycopene and its synergy with other tomato phytonutrients like vitamin E, which contributes to the protection of cells from oxidative damage, Hermoni explained.

Lycored’s tomato-derived products are backed by a host of pre-clinical, clinical and pharmacokinetic studies. These provide evidence for the ability of carotenoids like lycopene to support healthy circulation12 and maintain healthy blood pressure.13 Both boost the body’s own protection mechanisms against oxidative stress while reducing levels of clinically relevant biomarkers like c-reactive protein (CRP)—a marker of inflammation linked to several health conditions, including cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk.

Lycored’s cardio research program delivered impressive results in the form of a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 150 subjects.14 After two weeks of supplementing with Cardiomato, subjects showed a reduction in oxidized low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol—the “bad” cholesterol known to increase risk of negative cardiovascular events. “The bioavailability of the carotenoids lycopene, phytoene and phytofluene was proven, and provides a crucial link and cause-and-effect relationship between the supplement and the benefits,” Hermoni said.

Skin care

The exploding edible beauty trend created another prime avenue for carotenoid supplementation. “Lycopene, as well as the colorless tomato carotenoids phytoene and phytofluene, are great options for beauty-from-within supplements,” Hermoni explained. “Lycored’s tomato-derived portfolio is designed to successfully replenish the antioxidant reservoir of our skin.”

Lycoderm, Lycored’s skin-healthy holistic solution is inspired by the Mediterranean diet. The food-derived, carotenoid-rich blend combines a standardized tomato extract featuring a balance of lycopene, phytoene and phytofluene. Findings showed lycopene supplementation can help minimize the damaging effects of the sun’s UV rays and even play a role in preventing skin cancer.15 Together, these phytonutrients “induce a synergistic effect as well as naturally occurring tomato vitamins, such as vitamin A and vitamin E. The tomato phytontutrients are complemented by carnosic acid from rosemary leaf extract,” Hermoni said.

The benefits of supplementing

There’s no shortage of reasons to get enough carotenoids. But these phytonutrients are found in plenty of foods, including just about any red and orange fruit or dark green leafy vegetable. So why can’t consumers just eat their fill?

“While carotenoids can be consumed through foods, it’s often difficult to actually do this,” Marshall said. For instance, humans need around 10 mg/d of lutein to reap the carotenoid’s eye-protecting benefits. But data shows that most Americans’ daily consumption of lutein falls far short of the levels necessary for eye protection.16 In order to get 10 mg of lutein from diet alone, a person would need to eat around 0.5 cups of cooked kale, 0.5 cups of cooked spinach, 4.5 cups of corn, 4.5 cups of green peas, 5.5 cups of broccoli, nearly 8 cups of romaine lettuce, 12.5 cups of green beans, 33 eggs or 50 oranges, Marshall said. Even among the serving sizes that seem doable—spinach or kale, for example—it’s safe to say most people simply aren’t eating those vegetables every single day.

Indeed, some findings suggest that consumers who regularly manage to eat the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables are only getting around 6 mg lutein per day.17 That’s why supplementing makes sense, Appell argued.

Formulation challenges

Despite the documented benefits of carotenoid supplements, stability can be an issue. “The biggest challenge carotenoids pose in finished formulations is that they are highly labile and sensitive to oxygen, light and heat,” Appell said. Traditional technologies tend to use powder or granular versions of active compounds that fail to keep carotenoids adequately protected. “This leaves actives vulnerable to oxygen and light and when compressed into a tablet, the active leaches into the tablet matrix, rendering it unstable,” he added.

To overcome this problem, OmniActive developed the novel nutrient stabilizing technology OmniBead. Not only does it serve to protect active carotenoid compounds from becoming denatured, it allows for higher carotenoid loading. “OmniActive’s current products contain up to 25 percent active, which enables more efficacious dosages in formulations and allows room for other ingredients,” Appell said.

What’s next?

Carotenoid supplementation is a simple, effective way for people to improve their health via several outcomes. And the number of consumers who are poised to benefit will only continue to grow. For instance, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicted the number of adults with vision impairments will double over the next three decades, while individuals with dementia is expected to triple by 2050.

“Given these rising numbers and the associated burden of care, more than ever consumers are interested in maintaining both central nervous system and retinal health,” Marshall said. “It’s up to experts to show consumers and patients that both must be looked at simultaneously for comprehensive anti-aging support.”

A former food editor, Marygrace Taylor is an award-winning health and nutrition writer specializing in natural living. She writes for consumer and trade publications including Prevention, FITNESS and Food Service Director, and is the co-author of the cookbook “Allergy-Friendly Food for Families.”

Carotenoids are among many supplements that can support the needs of aging consumers. For tools, tips and tricks on how to effectively market to healthy aging consumers, join us for the Healthy Aging: Lifelong Wellness workshop on Wednesday, Nov. 7, at SupplySide West 2018. This workshop is underwritten by Lonza.

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