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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Glaring Problem: Lack of Lutein and Zeaxanthin

By Michael McBurney

With dark wet roads, nighttime driving becomes more difficult. Headlights glare, waterdrops reflect, and it is challenging to see. Two new reports suggest that following mother’s advice “eat your vegetables” plays an important role in eye health and vision.

In the Practice Strategies section of Optometry – Journal of the American Optometric Association, Elliott and Williams summarize the importance of lutein and zeaxanthin in maintaining visual performance. They note that 81% of adults experience eye discomfort from glare or fatigue while driving at night. Thirty-nine percent have the same complaint while driving or riding in the car during day.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids found in vegetables. The macula of the eye absorbs only these two xanthophylls, out of over 200 carotenoids in the diet. They are concentrated in the retina at 10,000 times levels found in blood. The blue light absorption properties of lutein and zeaxanthin helps reduce sensitivity to glare and enhances contrast sensitivity. Six month supplementation with 10 mg lutein and 2 mg zeaxanthin significantly reduced glare disability and improved photostress recovery time.

second November study in 60 adults, average age 75 years, reports that lutein and zeaxanthin supplementation improves visual performance. Zeaxanthin was found in cone cells of the retina whereas lutein was associated with rod cells. These cells are the visual receptors to light entering the eye.

The AREDS2 study is testing the benefits of supplementation, including 10 mg lutein and 2 mg zeaxanthin daily, on the progression of advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

The USDA National Nutrient Database reports that spinach, kale, turnip greens, collards, and squash aregood food sources of lutein and zeaxanthin. A cup of these contains 10 to 20 mg of lutein and zeaxanthin. However, fewer than 1 in 10 people consume the recommended amount of vegetables, and the predominant vegetable consumed is potato, often fried.

With the limited amount of vegetables that most people eat, it isn’t surprising that vision can be improved with higher intakes of lutein and zeaxanthin.