The article in the February issue of Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin, published by Which?, reviewed scientific literature on the effects of dietary supplements for eye health.
It concluded that only a very small number of supplements on the market - those containing the AREDS formulation of antioxidants and zinc - are of benefit to consumers, and then only to people who have advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in one eye.
The three products on the UK market using the AREDs formula are VisiVite Original Formula, Viteyes AREDS formula and Ocuvite Preservision.
The AREDS (age-related eye disease) formula consists of vitamins A, C and E, and minerals zinc and copper. It was used in a 10-year study of the same name, which concluded that the formula can slow the progression of AMD, a progressive eye disease which affects the central macula of the eye, leaving sufferers with only peripheral vision.
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.
These products cater to the anxiety of ageing consumers, who wish to preserve their vision in old age for as long as possible.
The DTB article is sure to meet with a fierce response from the supplements industry, not least because it does not support the role of these carotenoids in preventing the disease in people who do not yet have AMD.
Last year the Dietary Supplement Education Alliance in the US commissioned a study from the Lewin Group that examined the potential health care savings of Americans taking 6-10mg of lutein with zeaxanthin per day.
The Lewin Group calculated that the supplements could prevent around 98,219 Americans becoming dependent on community or nursing facility support, with a saving of around $2.5 billion over the next five years. Further savings could come from prevention of other health conditions, to which vision loss can contribute; for example, 18 percent of hip fractures are attributed to age-related vision loss.
"With healthcare costs for Americans 65 and older expected to reach $16 trillion by the year 2030, the need for innovative and preventative healthcare solutions is clearer than ever," said Elliott Balbert, DSEA president.
Despite finding evidence to support the efficacy of the Viteyes product, the DTB authors took issue with the claim made in marketing materials, that it can 'slow macular degeneration'.
Editor Dr Ike Iheanacho told NutraIngredients.com: "Nutritional supplements like Viteyes are not classed as medicines and cannot make medicinal claims, whatever the findings in terms of trials."
DTB has reported this claim to the UK's Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
"In our view, the fact that [Viteyes] is making a claim at the very least needs investigation," added Iheanacho.
James Sutton, owner of Butterfly Healthcare which markets Viteyes in the UK told NutraIngredients.com that the company is in the process of changing its marketing materials to comply with UK regulations.
He said that the problem came about because the supplements were imported from the US, and there was an oversight of the subtle differences in the two countries' regulations.
As for the DTB article, Sutton said that he agrees with much of it. But he said: "The AREDS formula has been the only thing shown to have any benefit, so for some people it is the best change they have."
While nothing has undergone the same rigorous testing as AREDS, he drew attention to studies supporting the benefits of lutein. Moreover AREDS II has recently got underway looking specifically at the role of lutein and omega-3 in eye health.
The upshot could be that the original AREDS formula is fine-tuned to include lutein and/or omega-3. In the meantime, there is also a Viteyes with lutein formula on the market.
According to Sutton, many optometrists recommend this over the straight AREDS formula on the grounds that lutein will not do any harm, but it may turn out to do good.
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