An aging population, increased screen usage and unhealthy lifestyle choices set the stage for a growing vision support supplement market.
Staring at screens, smoking, an unhealthy diet and even obesity all take their toll on our eyesight. But along with taking on a healthier lifestyle, there are other natural ways to help protect vision, and consumers are catching on. In fact, according to SPINS, the market for vision health supplements grew by 8.9 percent to $203 MM in 2014 (SPINS Natural Health, Mainstream Food/Drug/Mass Combo [excludes Wal-Mart] compared to 2012).
“The most exciting thing for MaxiVision is that consumers are becoming more aware of ocular health and the need to protect their eyes as they age,” said Brenda Gaulin, marketing director with MedOp Health in Florida, creator of the supplement brand. “Our eyes are constantly being bombarded by the sun and blue light from our computer, cell phones and tablets. Proper diet and supplementation with high-quality carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin can increase macular pigment optical density (MPOD) and help reduce the risk of age-related eye conditions.”
Most Americans only get about 10 percent of the lutein and zeaxanthin needed each day from dietary sources, according to Center for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Health Statistics. This means that supplementation is needed for most people to meet the recommended levels to support ocular health.
Manufacturers are reporting widening interest in eye support products. Dr. Gerald Cysewski, chief scientific officer at Cyanotech Corp. in Hawaii, said eye supplements traditionally are popular amongst an older demographic, but the company has seen younger consumers making purchases to help prevent future damage and maintain their eye health.
Darren Landis (new product development) with Missouri-based Hyalogic LLC agreed. The market is growing tremendously, and what is impacting the market is fear, he said. “People can stand a slight ache and pain but they are scared to death to lose their eyesight. Along with the aging population, more and more younger aged people are taking supplements to protect their eyes for the future.”
Bob Kearns, vice president consumer sales and marketing with Missouri-based EyePromise eye vitamin supplements, said the company’s products appeal to consumers who want to maintain and protect their vision particularly as they age. “We have seen this consumer group widen in last few years as awareness of importance of healthy vision impact more consumers. This has become more apparent as consumer spend more time using electronic devices and experience issues around tired and dry eyes as well as protecting against the harmful blue light that these devices emit,” he said.
“After all,” added Cheryl Myers, chief of education and scientific affairs at Wisconsin-based EuroPharma, Inc., “you have a lot of people using computers, tablets, smart phones and other electronic screens. Plus, there are many people who need additional nutrients—some that they may have missed out on during a lifetime of dietary choices—to protect the tear ducts, blood vessels, focusing ability and other aspects of healthy vision. And, we can’t forget about the fact that for anyone struggling with diabetic neuropathy, eye health is an increasingly critical aspect of managing the disease. So, I think there are a lot of factors at work here.”
When research shows family history is a risk factor for developing eye conditions, younger adults also value ocular supplements, noted Gaulin. “This is further validated by research that has shown that the FloraGLO Lutein found in MaxiVision supports ocular health and healthy skin in people of all ages.”
Research and Vision Health
At EyePromise, there are a couple of areas of research the company sees impacting consumers. “First is around the protection of our eyes as we get older and the impact that can have on our lives as we age,” Kearns said. “Also increasing consumer awareness around steps that they can take to help mitigate some of the issues they will experience through nutritional supplementation. Second is the issue of dry eye for consumers. Today more than 40 million consumers suffer from dry eye and work with optometrists to help find relief to this problem on an ongoing basis.”
Also of interest are advances in natural eye health regarding black currant extract, said Myers. “It’s a bit of departure, because bilberry is typically the botanical that most people think of regarding eye health.”
She explained that black currant extract provides anthocyanin compounds that are unique to the berry and pass through blood-retinal and blood-aqueous barriers intact. “That gives them a particularly strong ability to fight inflammatory damage, strengthen blood vessels, and prevent oxidative damage in the eyes,” she said. “And, since these compounds are not found in bilberry extracts, it gives black currant a distinct advantage.”
It should come as no surprise that AREDS2 (Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2), the multi-center randomized trial designed to assess the effects of oral supplementation of high doses of macular xanthophylls (lutein and zeaxanthin) and/or omega-3 LCPUFAs (DHA and EPA) for the treatment of AMD (age-related macular degeneration) and cataract, would be of interest to supplement suppliers. MaxiVision products contain the same ingredients studied.
“The AREDS2 ocular health study showed that supplementing with this specific combination of vitamins, minerals and carotenoids can reduce the progression of age-related eye conditions by 25 percent,” Gaulin noted. “In light of this research, it has become standard of care for eye doctors and physicians to recommend an AREDS2-based supplement for patients with age-related eye conditions. Additionally, new research points to how, in the near future, genetic testing may play a larger role in identifying these conditions so that interventions may be made.”
Straight in the Eye
There’s been a lot of discussion about one delivery form outperforming another, and in some rare cases, with specific ingredients (glutathione, for example), it is true, said Myers. However, for plant-based compounds, standard capsules, tablets and soft gels have all been used successfully in clinical trials and medical applications, she said.
Kearns noted that one of the areas where the company has found that consumers would like help is in solving the need to take multiple soft gels on a daily basis. “The newest formula that we have developed (viZual EDGE) is a one soft gel per-day formula. Additionally, we just introduced a new one-a-day formula in a chewable format that is easier to take.”
The traditional delivery method for MaxiVision has been a vegetable capsule, although recently, MedOp Health introduced a citrus-flavored powder that can mix with water, juice or into a smoothie. “Many people like the convenience of taking the drink mix just once a day, and enjoy the departure from sameness of taking the capsules every day,” Gaulin noted. “Some people have trouble taking capsules so the drink mix is a great option for this group as well. Doctors like this option because anything that makes it easier to consume daily vitamins can increase patients’ compliance in taking supplements intended to support their vision and health.”
Retailer, Jeff Wittman, owner of Jeff’s Health & Nutrition in Leesburg, FL, said over many years of selling MaxiVision, he has yet to see a product on the market with the blend of great nutrients for eye health to match it. “And with feedback from consumers and eye doctors, I feel it should be in the No. 1 position in any store.”
EyePromise developed eBooks for various subjects that consumers can download on various eye health subjects. The company also provides materials to help consumers understand what to expect from supplementation (when they expect to see improvements in quality of their vision). The company also provides materials for consumers to learn which eye supplement is right for them.
MedOp Health provides free literature and brochures, samples, in-person and phone training for retailers and doctors, Gaulin. “Doctors recommend patients use MaxiVision and refer them to nearby health stores,” she added. Steven Newman, OD, CNS, said his advice to patients is to watch the nutritional value of the food they prepare, “and for those days that they can’t get all the nutrition healthy eyes need, supplement with a high quality eye vitamin like MaxiVision.”
MedOp hosts symposium presentations at major conferences as well. Recently, for example, Dr. Kimberley Reed spoke on the science behind ocular supplements. In addition, many consumers already understand the importance for using ocular health supplements, and there is growing awareness throughout the marketplace of the AREDS2 research.
And, according to Myers, one of the things that retailers can rely on from EuroPharma/Terry Naturally is being able to provide valuable education to its retailer partners. That takes many forms: product webinars for store staff, ingredient information to share with customers, and in-store presentations. The company provides promotional materials that clearly explain the benefits of its products, and are readily available to answer retailer questions, she said. “We want people to be healthy. After all, our shared goal in this field—researchers, practitioners, manufacturers and retailers—is to help create a more aware and healthier country.” VR