This site uses cookies to store information on your computer. Learn more x


Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Are your Eyes (and Brain) Getting Enough Lutein and Zeaxanthin? Probably Not

By Michael McBurney

The National Eye Institute measured a 25% reduction in risk of progressing to advanced macular degeneration (AMD) and a 35% reduction over 10 years in participants supplementing with the Age-Related Eye Disease (AREDS) multivitamin and mineral formulation. AREDS2 confirmed this benefit and secondary analyses found that the addition of lutein and zeaxanthin to the formulation provided an additional 10% reduction in the risk of AMD.

Lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin are found in the retina of the eye. Lutein and zeaxanthin have to be consumed from the diet. Within our body, some lutein can be converted to meso-zeaxanthin but the latter is not found in foods. Meso-zeaxanthin has not been approved for dietary use. Many people do not consume recommended amounts of carotenoid-rich fruit, vegetables, and cereal grains. Low lutein and zeaxanthin intakes may compromise the normal function of the eye and brain.

In a new report, Olmedilla-Alonso and colleagues report serum lutein and zeaxanthin concentrations, dietary intake and macular pigment optical density (MPOD) in 108 healthy men and women (20-35y). They identified age and serum lutein as predictors of MPOD. On average, men consumed ~1.2 mg lutein and zeaxanthin daily. This is 1/10th of the amount used in AREDS II. The regression between serum lutein and MPOD was not statistically significant. This may have been due to low lutein and zeaxanthin intakes.

MPOD is correlated with serum and dietary levels of lutein and zeaxanthin. Supplementation with 20 mg lutein daily for 18-20 weeks increases mean baseline plasma lutein concentrations from 152-182 ng/mL to 1,077-1,110 ng/mL in older subjects with a corresponding ~40-50% increase in MPOD (from 0.24 to 0.31). Higher MPOD is strongly correlated with visual performance, especially under glare conditions, and probably brain function as well.

Most people do not consume recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables. Typically, lutein and zeaxanthin intake is <1 mg daily. AREDS and AREDS II found 12 mg daily helped prevent progression of AMD in persons with eye disease.

Some of the best dietary sources of lutein are parsley, spinach, kale, leek, corn tortilla, and corn chips (Abdel-Aal et al, 2014). Zeaxanthin is found predominantly corn tortilla, corn chips and red peppers (Abdel-Aal et al, 2014). Depending upon the chicken’s diet, eggs can be a good dietary source too. For the sake of your eyes and brain, consume more lutein and zeaxanthin.

Main Citation

Olmedilla-Alonso B, Beltran-de-Miguel B, Estevez-Santiago R, Cuadrado-Vivres C. Markers of lutein and zeaxanthin in two age-groups of men and women: dietary intake, serum concentrations, lipid profile and macular pigment optical density. 2014 Nutr J doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-13-52

Other Citations

The Age-Related Eye Disease Study2 (AREDS2) Research Group. Lutein + zeaxanthin and omega-3 fatty acids for age-related macular degeneration: The Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) randomized clinical trial. 2013 JAMA doi:  10.001/jama.2013.4997

Chew EY, Clemons TE, Agron E, Sperduto RD, SanGiovanni JP, Kurinj N, Davis MD. Long-term effects of vitamins C and E, β-carotene, and zinc: Age-related macular degeneration: AREDS Report 35 2013 Opthalmol doi: 10.1016/j.optha.2013.01.021

Bernstein PS, Johnson EJ, Neuringer M, Schalch W, Schierle J. Comment on: What is meso-zeaxanthin, and where does it come from? 2014 Eye doi: 10.1038/eye.2013.257

Abdel-Aal E-S M, Akhtar H, Zaheer K, Ali R. Dietary sources of lutein and zeaxanthin carotenods and their role in eye health. 2014 Nutrients doi: 10.23390/nu5041169

Beatty S, Nolan J, Kavanagh H, O’Donovan O. Macular pigment optical density and its relationship with serum and dietary levels of lutein and zeaxanthin. 2004 Arch Bioch Biophys doi: 10.1016/

Koh H-H, Murray IJ, Nolan D, Carden D, Feather J, Beatty S. Plasma and macular responses to lutein supplementation in subjects with and without age-related maculopathy: a pilot study. 2004 Exp Eye Res doi: 10.1016/j.exer.2004.03.001

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

Vishwanathan R, Neuringer, M, Schalch W, Johnson E. Lutein (L) and zeaxanthin (Z) levels in retina are related to levels in the brain. 2011 FASEB J 24:344.1