As the baby boomer generation moves into its bifocal years, your customers’ eyes are commanding attention. Vision ranks as a top medical concern for all adults, just behind cancer and heart disease, says a 2009 report from Chicago-based research company Mintel. According to the National Eye Institute, 3.3 million Americans age 40 or older suffer from low vision or blindness, and that number is expected to hit 5.5 million by 2020.
Yet the $13.8 billion eyeglasses and contacts market is slowing down as consumers opt out of expensive lenses, contacts and corrective eye surgery, according to Mintel. The firm predicts these new spending habits may last beyond any economic recovery, and has reduced its 2008 to 2012 eyewear industry forecasts from a 31 percent sales increase to a much more modest 4 percent increase.
Some consumers may turn to natural remedies as alternatives to costly vision products and surgeries or as a way to help prevent vision problems from developing. That could add fuel to a vision-supplement market that, according to Nutrition Business Journal, reached $331 million in 2008.
To point these customers in the right direction, check out the latest info on promising vision supplements.
Top 3 promising vision supplements
There’s a reason World War II British fighter pilots ate spoonfuls of jam made from bilberries, a European relative of blueberries, to improve their night vision, says Mona Morstein, ND, chairwoman of nutrition at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, Ariz. “You can’t go wrong with the berries,” she says, noting that bilberries and blueberries are rich sources of flavonoids, the compounds responsible for dark pigments in plants that also play a major protective role in the eyes.
Flavonoids, also referred to as bioflavonoids or vitamin P, strengthen the capillaries in the eye necessary for vision, says Tucson, Ariz.-based Margot Longenecker, ND. They are also powerful antioxidants, which help protect eye cells from damage from free radicals—unstable and debilitating compounds triggered by chemicals in the environment, human metabolism and sunlight. It’s not surprising, then, that the Age-Related Eye Disease Study, a major National Eye Institute trial involving 4,757 participants, found that the flavonoid beta-carotene, combined with other antioxidants, could reduce the risk of advanced age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of vision loss.
Flavonoid supplements for eyes abound, and include anthocyanins from blue-spectrum vegetable matter such as bilberries and blueberries; lutein and zeaxanthin from yellow and dark-green sources such as eggs, kale and spinach; and quercetin from red-hued plants like apples, red onions and wine. It’s best to get a balance of favonoids from different-colored sources, says Paul Anderson, ND, a professor of naturopathic medicine at Bastyr University in Seattle. “Beyond balance, it doesn’t matter which specific ones you take. Just getting the flavonoid makes the biggest difference.”
The Age-Related Eye Disease Study also concluded that zinc supplementation can help reduce age-related macular degeneration. The mineral helps the nerves in the eye transmit signals to the brain, making it integral to the chemical process of seeing, says Katie Baker, ND, owner of Stone Turtle Health, a naturopathic family medicine practice in Seattle.
Because zinc can compete with copper for absorption in the body, Baker has her patients take supplemental copper concurrently with zinc.
Chromium, says Anderson, can help stave off high blood sugar, a condition that can wreak havoc on the sensitive cells in the retina. High blood sugar, or glucose, can lead to oxidative damage, cell breakdown and scarring on the retina—the causes of diabetes-related vision loss. Anderson says chromium may turn the table by helping cells bind with insulin, the hormone that allows the cells to absorb harmful sugar out of the blood. A 2004 literature review published in the journal Diabetes Education agrees, concluding that daily chromium supplements improve blood-glucose control.