The eye health segment appears to be undergoing a solid resurgence over the past few years. According to data from Innova Market Insights, global new product launches with “vision" claims more than doubled from 2015 to 2016, and remain on pace to maintain that level for 2017, as well. This growth is likely driven by a renewed focus on maintaining vision in later years, particularly regarding increased attention around the impact of blue light on macular degeneration. However, healthy vision is not solely an issue for older consumers—optimal eye health starts early in life with good prenatal nutrition.
Emerging research is pointing to choline as an important nutrient for building and maintaining lifelong vision. Choline has been in the news recently after the American Medical Association (AMA) adopted a resolution during its 2017 AMA Annual Meeting in support of including choline in all prenatal vitamins. This is also great news for eye health because choline supports the development of the retina of the eye in the same way it supports brain development. It’s also an excellent opportunity for supplement manufacturers to communicate news about choline’s benefits to their customers.
Initial studies by Stephen Zeisel, M.D., Ph.D., at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, suggest choline intake during pregnancy can positively impact the development of neural progenitor cells, which leads to an increase in retinal cells. More retinal cells in the eye translate to better vision over a lifetime, just as more nerve cells in the brain contribute to improvements in lifelong memory. Insufficient choline, especially for the developing fetus and infant, means vision will be less than optimal as an adult and throughout the aging process. Choline truly is an example of a nutrient that impacts one’s entire life in important ways, making it essential that adequate levels be present in a pregnant woman’s body. AMA clearly got this right.
Unfortunately, there is ample evidence that most people are not getting enough choline. In 1998, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) established a Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) of 450 mg for pregnant women and 550 mg for adults in general. However, the most recent data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) indicates women aged 20 years and above are getting just 278 mg of choline, which is far below the recommended levels. Another recent study showed that, of the top 25 prenatal vitamins, only eight contain choline and none provide more than 55 mg per daily dose, an anemic 12 percent of the DRI for pregnant women.
Consumer awareness of choline remains modest, but growing. Last year, FDA set 550 mg of choline as the recommended daily intake for adults. With the abundance of scientific backing and the recognition of government and regulatory bodies, consumer interest in choline is on the rise. Since it can be hard to obtain through diet, people need information to encourage dietary patterns that include choline-containing foods and supplements. We see that as an opportunity for, and responsibility of, the supplements industry.
Tom Druke is director of VitaCholine brand development at Balchem Human Nutrition and Pharma. A seasoned veteran of the consumer packaged goods sector, Druke has more than 20 years of experience working in both the corporate and non-profit sectors. He began his product management career with packaged goods powerhouse Reckitt Benckiser, working on the Airwick and Finish brands. He has also worked in the consumer health care sector with Pfizer Consumer Healthcare and held product management roles on major dietary supplement brands, including Caltrate and Centrum. Druke currently oversees all strategic marketing initiatives to develop and expand the commercial market for the VitaCholine product line.