Glaucoma is one of the main causes of blindness, and is said to affect some 2.22m US citizens at the moment - with rates expected to rise to 3.6m by 2020. Its causes are manifold, but one of the biggest risk factors is understood to be intra-ocular hypertension (IOP).
The pressure builds up in the eye when more fluid rich in oxygen and nitrogen enters the eye than drains from it. It can go undetected for years, but the effect is destruction of the optic nerve over time, which results in blurred peripheral vision.
Researchers from the University of Chieti-Pescara in San Valentino, Italy, noted that reduction of pressure can result significantly lower the risk of developing glaucoma.
Led by Dr Robert Steigerwalt Jr, the researchers conducted their work on a group of 38 participants who suffered from IOP. The bilberry and pine bark product was Mirtogenol, a combination of Indena's Mirtoselect standardised bilberry extract and Horphag's Pycnogenol pine bark extract.
The study was funded by the companies, who are planning a commercial launch for Mirtogenol at the end of this year.
Twenty of the participants were given two Mirtogenol tablets a day, one in the morning and one in the evening. The dose was 40mg of Pycnogenol and 80mg of Mirtoselect. A control group of 18 received no tablets.
Both groups then had their IOP measured in the morning, using the standard Goldmann applanation tonometer. The results are published in the journal Molecular Vision.
IOP was also seen to be lowered in 19 of the 20 intervention patients, from an average of 25.2mmHg to 22.0mmHG. Only one of the control patients saw a drop in IOP.
The researchers also looked at the eyes' arteries using color Doppler imaging. They saw better flood flow in the intervention group, which was taken as an indication that fluids in the eye were being restored.
"Our study is the first demonstration showing that dietary intervention can help to control IOP and increase ocular blood flow in asymptomatic subjects and if taken in time, may prevent an evolution to higher pressure and symptomatic glaucoma," wrote Steigerwalt. "A clinical trial with a larger number of subjects should further assess the benefits of Mirtogenol for controlling IOP."
Science for the market
The two companies behind the nutritional supplement, both of which place a strong emphasis on science to support their ingredients, have welcomed the findings - even doing so far as to call it a "breakthrough in nutraceuticals for the eye health category".
This is because preventative nutritional approaches to other major risks to eye health, such as cataract, age-related macular degeneration, and retinopathy.
"The association between nutrition and glaucoma was the missing link," said Horphag CEO Victor Ferrari.
Strong scientific support for the new Mirtogenol product will be a strong boon in garnering attention in the marketplace.
Molecular Vision 2008; 14:1288-1292"Effects of Mirtogenolon ocular blood flow and intraocular hypertension in asymptomatic subjects"
Authors: Robert Steigerwalt Jr, Belcaro Gianni, Morazzoni Paolo, Ezio Bombardelli,2 Carolina Burki, Frank Schönlau