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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Driving at Night? Lutein and Zeaxanthin to Support Visual-Motor Function

By Michael McBurney

The days are getting shorter in the northern hemisphere. Streetlights turn on earlier. Headlights are essential to drive. Couple this darkness with rain, or heaven forbid snow, and night-time glare from oncoming headlights and reflections makes driving more difficult for many. The ‘perfect storm’ of events may bring to mind the old adage ‘carrots help you see in the dark’.  (click here for an interesting perspective on the history of the phrase).

Carrots provide a rich source of beta-carotene, a source of vitamin A. As MedlinePlus, a service of the US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health writes, “Vitamin A promotes good vision, especially in low light.

The eye needs nutrients beyond vitamin A for vision. Lutein and zeaxanthin are the dominant carotenoids in the central retina. As these carotenoids are deposited in the retina, the macular pigment optical density (MPOD) increases. Lutein is also the primary carotenoid in the brain. To test the hypothesis that MPOD plays a role in visual-motor function, Renzi and colleagues measured balance ability and reaction time in 106 young adults (mean age of 23y).  They report that MPOD is significantly related to performance in these individuals. Johnson reported in older individuals that lutein and omega-3 fatty acid supplementation increases cognitive functioning scores. Minor improvements in visual processing speeds can have benefits on performance, even in young professional athletes (Hammond and Fletcher, 2012).

Given that the majority of US adult are not consuming the recommended 5 servings of fruit and vegetables daily, it is not suprising the average MPOD is approximately 0.2, well below the optimal 0.4. MPOD can be increased by consuming more lutein and zeaxanthin. A higher MPOD is associated with better focus and faster recovery times after light exposure.

Don’t be overcome by glare and blue light sensitivity. Invest in your eyes.  Fill your plate with carotenoid-rich foods or use a dietary supplement with lutein and zeaxanthin.

Main citation

Renzi LM, Bovier ER, Hammond BR. A role for the macular carotenoids in visual motor response. 2013 Nutr Neurosci doi:10.1179/1476830513Y.000000054

Other citations

Johnson E. A possible role for lutein and zeaxanthin in cognitive function in the elderly. 2012 AJCN doi:10.3945/ajcn.112.034611

Hammond BR, Fletcher LM. Influence of the dietary carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin on visual performance: application to baseball. 2012 Am J Clin Nutr doi:10.3945/ajcn.112.034876

Hammond BR, Caruso-Avery M. Macular pigment optical density in a Southwestern sample. 2000 Invest Opthalmol Vis Sci 41:1492

Stringham JM, Hammond BR. Macular pigment and visual performance under glare conditions. 2008 Opt Vis Sci doi:10.1097/OPX.0b013e318162266e