Celebrating 20 years of lutein research

DSM and Kemin recently hosted the 20th FloraGLO Lutein Anniversary Congress, bringing together the world’s leading experts on lutein and zeaxanthin to present revolutionary new research on visual performance and brain function

Manufactured by Kemin and formulated by DSM, FloraGLO Lutein is a naturally sourced, unesterified lutein. The introduction of FloraGLO Lutein to the global marketplace 20 years ago created a whole new product category, providing the foundation for the development and advancement of lutein for human eye health. Typically, though, lutein and zeaxanthin supplements have been aimed at older consumers suffering from age-related macular degeneration (AMD); however, new research demonstrates a positive effect on blue light filtration and glare resistance. These findings create a whole new market to target healthy individuals and younger generations.

The damaging effects of blue light on the eyes and the benefits of lutein and zeaxanthin in combating this growing health concern were highlighted at the congress by Stuart P. Richer and Billy R. Hammond Jr, presenting on the topic. Furthermore, during this unique half-day seminar, delegates learned how adequate dietary solutions can protect their eyes and discovered the importance of lutein for brain and cognitive health throughout our lifespan.

Following a welcome introduction from Pedro Vieira, Vice President Human Nutrition and Health, Europe and Latin America, Kemin, and Gareth Barker, Vice President Human Nutrition and Health, DSM Nutritional Products Europe Ltd, Christopher E. Nelson, President and CEO of Kemin Industries took to the podium to discuss 'FloraGLO Lutein: 20 Years and Beyond.'

Chris explained how the company took marigolds from feeding poultry to food colouring to vision health in the last two decades, commenting that although 2% of Americans claimed to have heard of lutein in 1994, he reckons they were fibbing! Nonetheless, Kemin launched FloraGLO in 1996. And now, around the world, 52 million people take a lutein supplement every day. What’s more, he added: 'Back in 1993, there were no scientific citations for lutein. In 2013, 100s of research papers are published each year. We've come a long way!'

But that wasn’t all. Looking ahead, Chris noted that, to date, FloraGLO is the only brand of lutein allowed for use in infant formula in the United Sates; he commented on FloraGLO’s role in cognitive health, the studies that have shown that lutein and zeaxanthin reduce the eye fatigue associated with prolonged exposure to blue light, and how it can help the 600 million individuals who will be affected by AMD by 2020.

The science of healthy vision

Marie-Bénédicte Rougier from the Hôpital Pellegrin in Bordeaux, France, had the unenviable task of following Chris, but gave a fascinating talk on 'Lutein and Zeaxanthin as Eye Protective Nutrients: An Update,' and highlighted the link between hyperglycaemia, oxidative stress and diabetic retinopathy. High levels of lutein and zeaxanthin protect against diabetic retinopathy, she observed, adding that very few papers have been published on the topic. Combined, they also function as a useful adjunct for vascular retinopathies, cataracts and retinitis pigments.

Next to present was Tos Berendschot from the University Eye Clinic, Maastricht, the Netherlands, who gave a presentation on 'Lutein, Inflammation and Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD).' Following an in-depth analysis of primary research and intervention studies on the topic, Dr Berendschot concluded that lutein supplementation significantly decreases circulating levels of certain complement factors — CFD, C5a and C3d and the final MAC — which might be mediated by adipocytes. Thus, in addition to lutein’s behaviour as a blue light filter, scavenger of free radicals and an inhibitor of inflammation, it offers a simple method to control the inflammatory pathway of the innate immune system in AMD. He concluded that independent confirmation is needed, but delivered a compelling case for the use of lutein as a preventive treatment for AMD.

After a well-earned coffee, Stuart Richer from the Captain James Lovell Veterans Naval Federal Health Care Facility (North Chicago, IL, USA), discussed 'Blue Light, Macular Pigment and Eye Health.' Stuart introduced four key concepts

  • the sun, modern indoor LED lighting, cellphone and computer displays all emit 'bad blue' radiation
  • ophthalmic lens manufacturers have embraced blue light protection with new spectacle products
  • dietary ocular carotenoids (lutein/zeaxanthin) also protect against 'bad blue'
  • dietary ocular carotenoids uniquely improve visual performance through non-optical biological mechanisms while protecting the desirable circadian rhythm-mediated 'good blue.'

He also explained that a 2010 study had revealed that children of 8–18 years old view electronic screens up to 7.5h/day. Ocular dietary carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin) can minimise 'bad blue' light and they influence visual function through both optical (contrast sensitivity and visual range, for example) and biological mechanisms (eyes + brain).

Why should we care? he asked. Well, children do not have the natural build-up of crystalline lens pigment that comes with age to help protect them; children also have a shorter working distance (they hold devices closer to their faces and, of course, the closer the light source to the face, the more intense it is); and some schools now use tablets instead of textbooks.

Given that the AREDS II showed us that 66% of advanced cases of AMD still convert, causing vision loss, said Stuart, the most practical advice we can give to the public, doctors and our industry partners is to prevent the disease in the first place by using modern detection and progression technology on younger consumers. Ocular dietary carotenoids (lutein/zeaxanthin) minimise 'bad blue' or energetic blue violet light, he added, so it’s imperative to individualise care and educate consumers/patients and emphasise that carotenoids protect against the modern blue light hazard while promoting visual performance and preserving the circadian rhythm … at any age.

Conceding that blue light does have 'some' beneficial effects, Stuart concluded by summarising the protective benefits of dietary carotenoids. Higher macular pigment levels protect against blue light: it provides robust internal protection, complementing immediate external blue light lens protection; it maintains our circadian rhythms and does not limit light transmission. Dietary lutein and zeaxanthin protect against AMD and cataracts, and enhance visual performance. Furthermore, they offer protection against skin cancer and cardiovascular disease, and play a role in superior cognitive function.

Tackling the issue of 'Blue Light Filtration, Macular Pigment and Visual Performance,' B. Randall Hammond, Vision Sciences, Brain and Behavioral Sciences, University of Georgia (Athens, GA, USA) highlighted the damaging effects of blue light and the benefits of lutein and zeaxanthin as a treatment. Concluding that increased macular pigment leads directly to improved glare disability and chromatic contrast, as well as faster recovery from photostress and increased visual range, he noted that it also has numerous other physiological benefits and that basic mechanisms such as absorbing scattered light have far reaching influences on visual function.

Cognitive applications

In the penultimate academic presentation, Dr Lisa Renzi-Hammond, also from the University of Georgia, discussed 'The Eye and Brain Connection: Visual Processing Speed and Cognitive Performance' Shining a spotlight on lifestyle factors and the link between carotenoids and cognitive health, low levels of macular xanthophylls relate to the increased use of compensatory processing mechanisms, says Lisa, adding that for age-related retinal and brain disease, prevention is key!

And, boosted by another coffee break, Elizabeth Johnson from the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Tufts University (Boston, MA, USA) described the 'Role of Lutein and Zeaxanthin in Visual and Cognitive Function Throughout the Lifespan.'

Using a dietary intervention study with avocados or eggs as an example, Elizabeth showed how increasing neural lutein levels could be an effective dietary strategy for cognitive health in older adults. Citing her 2008 Nutr. Neurosci. paper, 'Cognitive Findings of an Exploratory Trial of Docosahexaenoic Acid and Lutein Supplementation in Older Women,' she showed how a low dietary intake of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and/or foods rich in lutein may be associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline in the elderly.

The cognitive benefit of DHA and lutein in unimpaired elder women was explored in the context of a 4-month, double-blind, intervention trial of DHA and lutein supplementation for eye health. Forty nine women (aged 60-80) were randomized to receive DHA (800mg/day), lutein (12mg/day), a combination of DHA and lutein or a placebo. Subjects underwent cognitive tests measuring verbal fluency, memory, processing speed and accuracy, and submitted self-reports regarding mood.

Following supplementation, verbal fluency scores improved significantly in the DHA, lutein and combined treatment groups. Memory scores and rate of learning improved significantly in the combined treatment group, who also displayed a trend toward more efficient learning. Measures of mental processing speed, accuracy and mood were not affected by supplementation. In conclusion, the exploratory findings suggest that DHA and lutein supplementation may have cognitive benefits for older adults. Macular pigment density is related to brain levels of lutein and zeaxanthin, and cognitive performance, she summarised, suggesting that lipoproteins are transporters of lutein into neural tissue, which enhances cognition.

Concluding remarks

Kemin’s Pedro Vieira, stated: 'The impact of FloraGLO Lutein on eye health during the last two decades has been significant, as demonstrated by this global event. Today’s congress was not only an opportunity to highlight new science, but also to facilitate wider discussions that will shape future developments.' DSM’s Gareth Barker added: 'FloraGLO Lutein is the most clinically researched lutein brand in the world. The recent scientific findings allow us to offer FloraGLO Lutein to wider audiences than ever before. This is testimony to the ongoing success of both the product and our partnership with Kemin.'

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