This visionary carotenoid is present in the eye's macula and lens, as well as in the skin, where it filters high-energy blue wavelengths of visible light from both natural sunlight and indoor light. Lutein also quenches free radicals that can damage cells in human tissues. For these reasons, it is much heralded as an eye-health and skin-health ingredient.
Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in the United States, and usually affects people older than 50. The macula is a yellowish pigment in the area of the eyeball called the retina, and scientists have discovered that lutein accumulates in the macula. Research has borne out that eating foods rich in lutein, such as spinach, broccoli and kale, tends to increase the density of the macula to the point where it does not degenerate as quickly, thus delaying or eliminating the risk of these conditions.
“Current evidence supports the hypothesis that the carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin are readily bioavailable and will effectively increase macular pigment levels,” said renowned eye researcher John Landrum, Ph.D., at Florida International University. “Individuals at risk of macular degeneration or cataracts may now ensure a reasonable level of intake by supplementation.”
In one human study, 91 percent of people supplementing with lutein for six months experienced raised blood levels of lutein, and 63 percent showed a significant thickening of the macula – great news for those concerned about macular degeneration. The people responding positively to the lutein tended to be women and also those who were worse off at the start of the study – lower blood levels of lutein and zeaxanthin, a thinner macula, a thicker retina.1
The biggest study to date is the Age-Related Eye Disease Study, or AREDS. A total of 4,519 participants aged 60 to 80 years old enrolled in the study, which found that the more lutein and its carotenoid cousin zeaxanthin participants consumed led to a decreased chance of getting age-related macular degeneration – the leading cause of blindness in the elderly.
And you don’t even have to take supplements to get your lutein. In 2006 researchers in the plant sciences department at the University of Tennessee made sure human study subjects ate spinach five days a week for 12 weeks, and found those who ate the most spinach experienced thicker maculas by the study’s end.2
Among the most obvious beneficiaries of lutein are likely to be outdoor and recreational sports enthusiasts, such as skiers, golfers, cyclists and pilots. Additionally, and vastly more sizable is the range of persons who will appreciate relief from everyday eye irritations such as the glare of headlights while driving, and the strain of staring at computer monitors for long periods of time.
“We're actually at the tipping point right now where many more people are on the verge of learning just how significant lutein's contribution is not just to eye and skin health, but also to improving visual function,” said Andy Martin, marketing director for Kemin Global, which supplies the FloraGLO brand lutein to food and supplement manufacturers.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this forum is a public service of WellWise.org, and should not in any way substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional and is not intended to constitute personal medical advice.