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Lutein and Zeaxanthin for Vision: Foods and Supplements

Lutein and zeaxanthin are natural xanthophyll carotenoids, which protect against excess inflammation and reduce the risk of age-related vision issues.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin

Lutein and zeaxanthin are potent antioxidants, and they protect from the damage that free radicals cause in your body.

A daily intake between 2 mg and 10 mg seems to offer a range of notable health benefits. 

What Are Lutein and Zeaxanthin?

Lutein and zeaxanthin are naturally occurring xanthophyll carotenoids. Carotenoids are organic pigments produced by plants that give vegetables and fruits a yellow to a reddish hue.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin are isomers, meaning they have the same molecular formula but with slightly different atomic arrangements. These compounds are potent antioxidants that offer notable health benefits, especially for your eyes.

Benefits of Lutein and Zeaxanthin

Lutein and zeaxanthin are potent antioxidants. Antioxidants offer protection against damage that free radicals cause in your body.

It is this damage that contributes to many chronic diseases and inflammation. Lutein and zeaxanthin are beneficial in reducing the risk for and progression of chronic eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, retinopathy and uveitis.

Lutein and zeaxanthin also help protect your eyes from light damage caused by blue light. Blue light is a contributory factor to macular degeneration and chromatic aberration.

Lutein and zeaxanthin have also been found to reduce the risk for irreversible blindness and potentially improve cognitive function in elderly persons.

How They Work

Your eyes are exposed to light and oxygen, which promote the production of harmful free radicals. Lutein and zeaxanthin protect your eye tissue against damage from singlet oxygen and lipid peroxide.

Antioxidant protection reduces as you age, leaving you susceptible to a range of diseases. This anti-oxidative action may help reduce your risk of developing chronic eye diseases and inflammation.

Lutein and zeaxanthin accumulate in your retina, and particularly your macula region, situated at the back of your eye. Since you can find these dietary carotenoids in high concentrations in the macula, they are often referred to as macular pigments. 

Lutein and zeaxanthin have high light absorption abilities. As such, the compounds form an effective filter for harmful blue light that penetrates to the back of your eye.

Lutein and zeaxanthin block blue-light before it reaches the delicate eye structures such as your photoreceptors, retain pigment epithelium, and choriocapillaris (an innermost structure that nourishes your photoreceptors and retinal pigment epithelium).

Research indicates that a reduction in the intensity of blue light reduces oxidative stress on your retina. This can account for the role of macular carotenoids in reducing the risk of macular degeneration.

Recommended Daily Amount

Currently, there is no official recommended daily amount (RDA) has been set for lutein and zeaxanthin. Researchers have suggested an intake of 6 mg of lutein and zeaxanthin per day for optimal health benefits.

Current research indicates that the daily dietary intake for most people is less than the recommended amount. However, other studies have found health benefits with daily intakes considerably less than 6 mg per day. 

Overall, a daily intake of these carotenoids ranging between 2 mg and 10 mg seems to offer a range of notable health benefits.  Further research is necessary to determine the appropriate RDA, especially for people with a high risk of eye diseases.

Foods with Lutein and Zeaxanthin

Below are some of the foods that have the highest concentrations of lutein and zeaxanthin:

Dark Leafy Greens

Dark leafy greens including spinach, Swiss chard, mustard greens, collards, turnip green, garden cress, broccoli, and kale are the foods highest in lutein and zeaxanthin with up to 11 mg per 100 grams.

Pistachios

Pistachio nuts contain about 3 mg of lutein and zeaxanthin per 100 grams and are the nuts with the highest amounts of these carotenoids.

Green Peas

Green peas have a lutein and zeaxanthin content of 2.6 mg per 100 grams.

Summer Squash

Summer squash has a lutein and zeaxanthin concentration of 2.2 mg per 100 grams.

Romaine Lettuce

The lutein and zeaxanthin content in Romaine lettuce is 2.3 mg per 100 grams. 

Pumpkin

Pumpkins have a lutein and zeaxanthin concentration of 1 mg per 100 grams.

Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts, which is a variety of cabbage, have a lutein and zeaxanthin content of 1.2 mg per 100 grams.

Other notable foods that have a high lutein and zeaxanthin content include carrots, asparagus, parsley, orange juice, beet greens, red peppers, corn, grapes and egg yolk.

Supplements for Lutein and Zeaxanthin

Lutein and zeaxanthin supplementation is important, especially as you get older or if you are at higher risk of chronic eye diseases. The lutein in most lutein supplements is sourced from marigold flowers and zeaxanthin from red peppers. 

Many nutritional companies include these carotenoids in their multi-vitamin formulas. Below are some of the top lutein and zeaxanthin supplements and links to where you can purchase them:

Potential Risks

There are few adverse side effects associated with lutein and zeaxanthin supplementation with minimal reports of side effects. A recent safety assessment of these two carotenoids observed no adverse effects in high dosages. Note that a largely harmless yellow skin discoloration may occur at high doses.

Can You Take Too Much?

Most of the studies conducted on the safety of lutein and zeaxanthin supplementation report minimal to no adverse side effects. As such, researchers state a daily intake of 20 mg of lutein and zeaxanthin should be safe

This figure is well above the suggested daily intake of 6 mg. As such, it is very unlikely t overdose. Nonetheless, very large doses of lutein and zeaxanthin supplements can cause your skin to have a yellow-orange discoloration. This condition is referred to as carotenoderma and is considered not harmful. 

References

  1. Lutein, Zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin: The Basic and Clinical Science Underlying Carotenoid-based Nutritional Interventions against Ocular Disease. (November 2015). Progress in retinal and eye research.

  2. Carotenoids: potential allies of cardiovascular health? (February 2015). Food and Nutrition Research.

  3. Biologic mechanisms of the protective role of lutein and zeaxanthin in the eye. (February 2003). Annual Review of Nutrition.

  4. The Photobiology of Lutein and Zeaxanthin in the Eye. (December 2015). Journal of Ophthalmology.

  5. Secondary outcomes in a clinical trial of carotenoids with coantioxidants versus placebo in early age-related macular degeneration. (March 2013). Ophthalmology.

  6. A possible role for lutein and zeaxanthin in cognitive function in the elderly. (November 2012). National Center for Biotechnology Information.

  7. Lutein and Zeaxanthin – Food Sources, Bioavailability and Dietary Variety in Age-Related Macular Degeneration Protection. (February 2017). Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute.

  8. Top 10 Foods Highest in Lutein and Zeaxanthin. (July 2021). U.S. Department of Agriculture Nutrition Data.

  9. Safety assessment of lutein and zeaxanthin (Lutemax 2020): subchronic toxicity and mutagenicity studies. (November 2011). Food Chemical Toxicology.

  10. Safety and Benefits of Lutein. National Capital Poison Center.

  11. Carotenodermia in men with elevated carotenoid intake from foods and beta-carotene supplements (October 1988). American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Last Updated April 20, 2022

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