“The screen time era”: Modern life gives new opportunities for industry to address eye health
06 Apr 2023 --- Increased exposure to blue light through screen time has increased the need to ensure good eye health for increasingly younger age groups. As experts emphasize the need to change dietary patterns, industry players are highlighting the need to bring nutritional supplements into the eye health space.
NutritionInsight speaks with experts from Algatechnologies, AB-Biotics, Unibar Corporation and Pharmalinea about nutritional deficiencies and the rising concerns of screens and eye health.
“Vision impairment and eye disease are significant health issues worldwide linked to higher rates of sickness and death, as well as reduced quality of life,” says Liat Shemesh, marketing manager at Algatechnologies.
“Although the occurrence of vision loss generally rises with age, there is now a growing worry for younger individuals due to the increasing use of digital devices and the growth of e-sports,” she adds.
Blue light woes
Shemesh stresses that many young people experience symptoms like blurred vision, eyestrain and headaches due to excessive screen time.
“Consequently, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of maintaining good eye health, and many are searching for supplements to tackle these problems, which are appropriate for all age groups, from children to adults,” she says.
“As the pandemic dramatically increased screen time, Google searches for ‘blue light’ grew by more than 15% during that period. The consumer interest has not stopped since then – the searches for the same keyword grew another 25% in the past two years,” details Matevž Ambrožič, marketing & PR director at PharmaLinea.
“Pharma companies are capitalizing on the increased awareness and are driving further education. Seven out of ten consumers who have heard of blue light are concerned about its negative effects on their eye health,” he adds.
Shemesh says that the nutrition industry needs to address several issues that concern the population across generations, such as digital eye strain, which is becoming increasingly common due to the widespread use of digital devices like computers, smartphones and tablets. This can lead to eye strain, headaches and dry eyes, which can cause long-term vision problems if not addressed.
“Age-related eye diseases such as cataracts, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration pose a significant risk to individuals as they age and may require medical intervention to prevent vision loss.”
Increased need for treatments
Miquel Bonachera, executive director and co-founder of AB-BIOTICS, details that one of the most common ophthalmology diagnosi\es – dry eyes – is a chronic condition that, despite not being significantly debilitating, will accompany the patient for life.
“However, treatment consensus on dry eyes differs by region, and it is hard for ophthalmologists to find the right solution for each patient since it is a condition tough to eradicate and difficult to find its cause. This is primarily because there are multiple organic and environmental factors,” he notes.
He further details that, as of today, most physicians recommend food supplements for dry eye in particular situations, mainly for women over 50 and these often take the form of vitamins.
“New developments are needed, not only in food supplements but also in medical devices such as eye drops. As the demand for effective solutions to dry eye disease increases due to risks in current treatments such as cataract development and ocular burning, we are investigating the effect of postbiotics to evaluate if they can tackle these issues, with promising preliminary results,” Bonachera underscores.
Antioxidants for eyes
Shemesh highlights antioxidants as among the most popular supplement ingredients, noting that they are gaining more attention as potential solutions for various vision-related issues.
She says that oxidative stress is one of the most harmful factors affecting our eyes. The eye is particularly vulnerable to this type of stress due to its exposure to light, the high metabolic rate of photoreceptors and rich mitochondria content.
“Astaxanthin, a natural antioxidant of the carotenoid family, is one of the most powerful antioxidants known,” she underscores.
Shemesh continues: “It can cross the retinal blood barrier and protect the eye from damage caused by UV radiation, blue light, and other environmental and internal stressors. Studies have demonstrated that astaxanthin can help alleviate eye fatigue, prevent age-related macular degeneration and improve visual acuity.”
Sevanti Mehta, President at Unibar Corporation, adds that more and more optometrists understand nutrition plays a critical role in eye health.
“Eye health specialists are continually learning about new technologies, treatments and developing research for eye care and have increasingly recommended eye health supplementation. The global eye health supplement market is estimated to be valued at $2.4 billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 6.1% since 2020,” says Mehta.
He adds that lutein and zeaxanthin are two carotenoids that have “ruled the eye health market for AMD (Age-related Macular Degeneration) and blue light.”
“The product formulations haven’t changed drastically. Mostly we see differences in product positioning. The latter has evolved from AMD to include claims addressing eye strain, blue light and dry eyes moisturizing,” Maja Orešnik, science & research director at PharmaLinea.
Orešnik further notes that ingredients with recognized benefits remain essential for vision products.
“These are lutein, zeaxanthin, DHA and essential vitamins and minerals. Apart from the most researched and well-known carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, there’s also a growing support and recognition for carotenoids from other sources, like saffron or algae.”
Products from the industry
Mehta stresses the need for suppliers to meet an aging population and has noticed an increased consumer awareness of the impact of high energy light on eyesight, and the potential side effects of increased screen time.
“Consumers need a supplement that can address eye health holistically,” he notes.
Furthermore, he adds that corneal inflammation can cause vision impairment, Mehta says, “it is vital due to its commonality amongst those with hereditary eye health issues, past eye surgeries and eye irritation related to the use of contacts.”
Semesh further notes nutrient deficiencies, particularly those related to vitamins, can also lead to vision problems and eye diseases.
“By addressing these issues and developing products that support eye health, the nutrition industry can help individuals maintain optimal vision and reduce their risk of developing long-term eye problems,” she says.
Mehta adds that the eyes are a direct connection to the brain and the body as a whole.
“Thus, nutrients that are good for the body are good for the eyes. Diseases such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy are all significant sight-threatening diseases and the risk increases with age, he details. “However, being proactive and increasing eye-specific nutrients in the younger population could help with these issues in the long run.”
Continuing research shows how specific nutrients support eye health in general. Yet, vitamins and minerals are designed to work “together,” as they are when found in food, so a whole spectrum supplement is most often the best option for eye health, argues Mehta.
Meanwhile, Orešnik stresses the promotion of balanced diets and supplementation with products to safeguard vision.
“Supplementation with a combination of high-quality lutein and zeaxanthin, which are rarely obtained in sufficient quantities from the diet, even if it is rich in vegetables and selected vitamins and minerals, would be best suited,” she underscores.
Calling for the industry to respond
Bonachera adds that the industry needs alternative options to corticoids or antibiotics commonly used to treat dry eye inflammation. Topical postbiotic products, for example, are considered more natural options that are entirely safe and can also be used long-term,” says Bonachera.
“Adjacent to the nutrition industry, eye drops are an important therapy that can potentially address issues concerning eye health. They can be personalized, which is beneficial for physicians dealing with various eye issues.”
The effectiveness and functionality of dietary supplements heavily rely on their delivery systems, stresses Shemesh.
“This has led to the development of new technologies that optimize the delivery of active ingredients, including targeted release, sustained delivery and improved absorption. These advancements encompass various supplements, such as capsules, tablets, and liquids, as well as additional techniques that enhance their delivery,” she says.
Shemesh details that lipid delivery systems can protect active ingredients by encapsulating them within a lipid bilayer, shielding them from degradation in the gut and increasing their absorption into the bloodstream.
“As more attention is given to optimizing the delivery system of dietary supplements, we can expect to see an increase in the development of new technologies in this field,” Shemesh concludes.
Mehta adds that, as with most modern medicine, technology makes the tasks of diagnosis and treatment more efficient.
“For example, measurements of nutrient levels in the retina (called macular pigment) have shown a direct correlation with the development of macular degeneration. New tests to measure corneal inflammation lead to better treatments, including nutrition, for dry eye,” he concludes.
By Beatrice Wihlander
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