Five Trends in 2020. The Eye-Brain Connection and Opportunities with Macular Carotenoids

Lutein and the macular carotenoids have rapidly grown in importance during the last couple of decades on the back of thousands of studies showing their importance for eye health. But there is also emerging science demonstrating their importance in benefit categories that are top-of-mind for consumers today and into the new year. Below are five trends where the macular carotenoids overlap with growing consumer trends and where formulators can help consumers optimize their health naturally.


1. High Energy Blue Light. From the Sun to Digital Devices, Protection in Paramount

Across age groups, people continue to spend long hours staring into their digital devices, which increases exposure to blue light. High-energy blue light is part of the visible spectrum of light that bombards our eyes daily. Primary sources include sunlight, electronic devices – such as smartphones and computers – and energy-efficient indoor lighting (CFL or LED). High-energy blue light reaches deep into the eye and can harm the macula – the region of the eye responsible for the highest visual acuity and sharpness – by promoting the production of free radicals.

Short-term effects can cause eye fatigue while long-term exposure can lead to a progressive loss of visual function. While we wear sunglasses to safeguard our eyes from the sun, most of us do little to nothing to protect them from high-energy blue light. Our increased dependence on digital devices and energy-efficient lighting further increases exposure to high-energy blue light and the potential to impact eye health. The macular carotenoids – lutein, RR-zeaxanthin and RS-zeaxanthin – are the only compounds preferentially deposited in the macula and act as primary filters of high-energy blue light. Protecting vision is no longer just the concern of the 50+ consumer. Providing nutrients essential for eye health – like lutein and zeaxanthin isomers – in the digital age is paramount.


  1. Stringham et al. 2017


2. Vision Performance and Expanding the Benefits of Eye Health

The eye health market has largely been built on disease prevention, like age-related macular degeneration. With an aging population and increases in chronic diseases, the lutein market is expected to grow from $276 million to $454 million by 2026 [Reports and Data 2019]. But the macular carotenoids play an equally important role in supporting vision – not just protection. The eyes are constantly compensating to maximize visual acuity and adjust to fluctuating brightness levels to help us navigate our environments. Macular carotenoids play a key role in supporting several aspects of visual performance, including:


  • Contrast sensitivity – The ability to discern and navigate around objects in your environment as well as supporting depth perception
  • Glare performance – The ability to recover from bright flashes of light or to see under different levels of bright and low light
  • Visual processing – An important component of reaction time, it’s the time it takes for visual information to reach the brain for processing


From active lifestyle consumers, children, e-gamers, sports nutrition to just about everyone, targeting visual performance provides new market opportunities for consumers both young and old.


  1. Stringham J, et al. 2016
  2. Stringham J, et al. 2017


3. Getting Smarter with Macular Carotenoids

Consumer demand for natural solutions to support cognitive function and performance continue to grow. This growth is fueled by both aging consumers concerned about preserving cognition and younger demographics who are determined to maximize their performance by improving alertness, focus and memory. A key component of cognitive health is brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is a protein found in the central nervous system that plays a role in supporting the growth and differentiation of neurons.

In the brain, BDNF is thought to play a vital role in learning and memory. And there is an accumulating body of science linking oxidative and inflammatory stress with reductions in neurotrophic factors like BDNF and cognitive function. Given the established antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capacity of the macular carotenoids in the eye, along with the fact that the eyes are an extension of neural tissue, recent research has examined how supplementation with Lutemax 2020 can impact BDNF and cognitive performance.

In this vein, supplementation with Lutemax 2020 demonstrated a significant increase in BDNF while enhancing several parameters of cognitive performance, including composite memory, verbal memory, sustained attention, psychomotor speed and processing speed. The significant relationships between Lutemax 2020 supplementation and BDNF lend credence to the idea that macular carotenoids play a vital role in both the eyes and brain to support healthy BDNF levels and cognitive performance.


  1. Stringham NT, et al. Physiology and Behavior, 2019


4. Building Better Multis for Children

A multivitamin is one of the best ways to ensure children get sufficient amounts of nutrients for proper development and growth. But oftentimes, these formulas lack other key “nutrients” important for development, including lutein. Children’s eyes are fragile in that they are not fully developed to protect against blue light.

Whereas anatomical development of the eye is complete early in childhood (4 years), visual development in children continues up to about 14 years. This pattern is mimicked in the brain – a great portion of a child’s brain development occurs by age 5 but other neural processes continues well beyond this age. And from here cognitive function continues to develop into adolescence and early adulthood.

Because neurodevelopment in the brain and retina occur after birth, macular carotenoids preferentially deposit in areas associated with learning and development. These areas of high metabolic activity are particularly vulnerable to increased oxidative stress. An increase in the lutein and zeaxanthin deposition in the eye correlates to increased levels in the brain and there is a positive correlation between increased concentration of macular carotenoids in the eye and memory performance. Despite their importance for protection and development, only 1 in 11 children reach the recommended level of macular carotenoids from the diet. Therefore, incorporating these important nutrients into multivitamins for children ensures healthy eye-brain development.


  1. Hassevoort KM, et al.2016
  2. Hassevoort KM, et al. 2017
  3. Viswanathan R et al 2014
  4. Stringham JA et al 2019
  5. Lieblein-Boff JC et al 2015


5. Less Stress. Don’t Worry, Be happy

Stress affects everyone, and for most of us unhealthy stress levels are part of our daily routine. Defined as “the body’s response to a stimulus that disrupts physical and mental balance,” stress is often associated with pressures at work, home or school, to name a few. Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone” and is released to help effectively mobilize energy and deal with a stressful situation. In the short-term, this is a very effective strategy, but after prolonged periods of stress high cortisol levels can affect health by lowering immunity, disrupting sleep and digestion, and contributing to “brain fog.” Managing stress levels is a top concern for adults, especially Millennials. Lutemax 2020 has been shown to significantly reduce cortisol levels and improved measures of emotional and physical health.


  1. Stringham J et al 2017