While it might not have provided X-ray vision to manufacturers, the scientific community gave the $424 million vision-health market a powerful boost this year. The NIH’s National Eye Institute announced long-awaited results from its Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS2) in May. The research explored the effects of tweaking the previously recommended formula of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene zinc and copper for vision health.
Researchers added omega-3 fatty acids, as well as the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, in the same family of nutrients as beta-carotene, which prior studies had associated with an increased risk of lung cancer in smokers. The study found that lutein and zeaxanthin together appeared to be a safe and effective alternative to beta-carotene. We asked Abhijit Bhattacharya, chief operating officer of OmniActive in Morristown, New Jersey, to talk about the study and the market overall.
Fi: What are the biggest takeaways from the AREDS 2 results?
AB: The findings further affirmed the safety and positive vision- and eye-health benefits associated with lutein and zeaxanthin supplementation. In particular:
• It was positive to see that over a five-year supplementation period, individuals taking the AREDS formula without beta-carotene and with lutein and zeaxanthin showed a 10 percent decrease in the risk of progression to age-related macular degeneration [AMD], and established beyond doubt the safety of lutein for a senior, at-risk population.
• We are also pleased to see clear evidence in the secondary analysis comparing lutein and zeaxanthin plus AREDS without beta-carotene and AREDS with beta-carotene (the old formula from the 2001 study) that the presence of lutein plus zeaxanthin resulted in an 18 percent reduction in the risk of progression to advanced age-related macular degeneration [AAMD] and a 22 percent reduction in the risk of progression to neovascular AMD.
• The JAMA Ophthalmology paper on cataracts, a component of the AREDS2 study, states that in general, the presence of lutein and zeaxanthin did not have a positive impact. However, when the participants were ranked based on their dietary intakes of lutein/zeaxanthin, it was observed that the supplementation with lutein/zeaxanthin appeared to have a significant effect in participants with the lowest dietary levels. Within that group, lutein/zeaxanthin was significantly associated with a 32 percent reduction in progression to cataract surgery. A significant reduction in any cataract and severe cataracts were also observed with supplementation in participants with low dietary intakes of lutein/zeaxanthin.
Fi: Where do you see emerging opportunities in this sector?
AB: Traditionally, the demographic that purchase eye health products are the 50-plus age group, as well as people already suffering from some sort of advancing vision impairment. However, there has been recent, compelling new science emerging from the scientific and medical communities that point to the importance of early supplementation.
Consumers of all ages are becoming savvier about preventative treatments and being more proactive with their own health. Formulators have been taking notice of this new need in the market and are including eye-health ingredients such as lutein and zeaxanthin in supplements, as well as functional food and beverages aimed at all age demographics. They have even been included in products for children and babies such as gummies and formula. Growth in products targeting a younger population represents one of the largest areas of opportunities in the eye-health market.
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