Zeaxanthin on the eye health map

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Related tags: Lutein, Zeaxanthin, Carotenoid, Dietary supplement

As Prevent Blindness America observes AMD/Low Vision Awareness
month in February, Jess Halliday speaks to Manuel Pavon of
Chrysantis about the emerging role of zeaxanthin in eye health.

Chrysantis is engaged in efforts to educate the public about the benefits of zeaxanthin alongside lutein, and the company keeps its website​ up to date with details of the latest research.

"The publicity of the Lewin study has done a lot of good work for us in that respect,"​ Pavon told NutraIngredients-USA.com.

Commissioned by the Dietary Supplement Education Alliance, the study by The Lewin Group estimates a $2.5 billion net savings to the Medicare system over five years (2006-2010) from a reduction in the relative risk of ADM through daily intake of 6-10 mg of lutein with zeaxanthin.

It also concluded that taking lutein with zeaxathin could help more than 98,000 people retain their independence in old age over the five years.

AMD is a progressive eye disease that affects the central macula of the eye, leaving sufferers with only peripheral vision. It is the most common cause of blindness in the over-55s.

The implication from DTB is that other eye health supplements - many of which contain the antioxidant carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin - are ineffective in the prevention of AMD, the most common cause of blindness in over-55s.

"Now zeaxanthin is widely available it is mentioned side by side with lutein,"​ said Pavon. "Both substances are present in the eye, so it stands to reason that you need both in supplements to get maximum protection. We do not believe in touting one more than the other."

However lutein has been on the market for more than a decade and is contained in around 430 supplement products. Zeaxanthin, on the other hand, was not available until 2001 and is presently in only about 15. Even after 2001 the market was hampered by a long-running patent dispute between Roche Vitamins (DSM) and ZeaVision which was only resolved in 2004.

A third factor impeding acceptance of the benefits of zeaxanthin came from some lutein producers, who Pavon said claimed that the human body can convert lutein to zeaxanthin, so there is no need to take both.

However several studies have presented strong evidence that that is not the case. The most important of these was published last year, and looked at the effects of lutein or zeaxanthin supplementation on the adipose tissue and retina of xanthophylls-free monkeys (Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2005 Feb;46(2):692-702).

"Now were are only at the beginning,"​ said Pavon. "It took ten years for lutein to get where it is today."

With lutein, it was not only a matter of raising awareness of the ingredient. There was a much lower awareness of AMD, too.

Now, however, 75 percent of Americans are aware of the disease, according to a recent report from the National Marketing Institute. "Half the battle has been won."

As for the potential, he said there is no reason why all of the 430 lutein-containing products should not also contain zeaxanthin.

The ratio of lutein:zeaxanthin in the eye is 3:1, but because the patents on zeaxanthin limit the dose to 4g - first it was 6mg, then 10mg, and now some are using 20mg - the ratio in supplements tends to be more like 4:1 or 5:1.

For Chrysantis, 2005 was a landmark year. It first started talking about its EZ Eyes zeaxanthin at Nutracon in March, following the development of marigolds with carotenoid profiles ranging from 75 percent zeaxanthin and 5 percent lutein to 50 percent zeaxanthin and 50 percent lutein.

Most marigolds have a carotenoid profile of 80 percent lutein to 5 percent zeaxanthin.

At the end of July it received NDI approval for EZ Eyes. It also attended three trade shows last year: SupplySide West, SupplySide East and NNFA.

"We are well on our way to meeting our budget projections in sales,"​ he said. "We hope to double sales in the next twelve months."

Although that sounds aggressive, Pavon put this plan into perspective: the company is starting from a relatively small base.

The zeaxanthin market is estimated to be worth about $2m, whereas some reports have set lutein as high as $130m - although Pavon belives the true figure is likely to be between $100m and $120m.

While Chrysantis' zeaxanthin is a natural, marigold-derived ingredient, some of its competitors offer a synthetic version.

Although Pavon said it is most important to raise awareness of zeaxanthin, he does hope most formulators will go the natural route.

Since lutein is also derived from marigolds, it makes sense to mix two natural carotenoids, rather than one natural and one synthetic.

At this year's NNFA show in Las Vegas in July, Chrysantis will be sponsoring a talk on lutein and zeaxanthin by Dr John Landrum.

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