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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Lutein and Zeaxanthin: Carotenoids for Life

By Michael McBurney

Out of  ~600 carotenoids found in nature, ~50 are found in the diet, 14 are detected in human blood, and only 2 – lutein and  zeaxanthin – are selectively deposited in the retina and lens of the eye. Zeaxanthin is concentrated in the macula of the retina whereas lutein is in the periphery. These carotenoids serve as antioxidants, protecting photoreceptor cells against damaging blue light.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are not made in the body so they have to be obtained from the diet. Major sources for both are eggs and corn. Lutein comes primarily from leafy green vegetables, squash, peas and zucchini.  Zeaxanthin is found mainly in orange peppers and scallions. Lutein and zeaxanthin are often consumed in a ratio of 4:1 to 6:1.

Higher dietary intake and higher concentrations of lutein are associated with better cardiometabolic health. This is the conclusion within a systematic review of 71 studies with 387,569 participants.

If you don’t eat many lots of carotenoid-rich vegetables or use a dietary supplement containing these antioxidant nutrients,  your lutein and zeaxanthin intake is likely to be low. This can be deduced from research showing the prevalence of daily vegetable consumption by adolescents to be low (30-45%). One estimate finds US adults eating only ~3 servings of vegetables daily, an intake far below recommendations. The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC, 1992-2010) reports Europeans having a median vegetable intake of 173g/d which equates to  1.1 baked potato or less than one serving of TGI Friday’s french fries.

When lutein intake increases, blood lutein concentrations rise. By increasing lutein intake, breast-feeding mothers can increase lutein concentrations in nursing babies. The impact of lutein supplementation is strongest in individuals with low retinal lutein concentrations (measured by macular pigment optical density, MPOD).

While the main citation focuses on cardiometabolic health, lutein and zeaxanthin play an important role in maintaining visual and cognitive function. Make certain you included lutein- and zeaxanthin-rich foods in your diet. Use supplements with these nutrients if you don’t.

Main Citations

Leermakers ETM, Darweesh SKL, Baena CP, Moreira EM, van Lent DM, Tielemans MJ, Muka T, Vitezova A, Chowdhury R, Bramer WM, Kiefte-de Jong JC, Felix JF, Franco OH. The health effects of lutein on cardiometabolic health across the life course: a systematic review and meta-analysis. 2016 Am J Clin Nutr doi: 10.2945/ajcn.115.120931

Johnson EJ. Role of lutein and zeaxanthin in visual and cognitive function throughout the lifespan. 2014 Nutr Rev doi: 10.1111/nure.12133

Other Citations

Vereecken C, Pedersen TP, Ojala K, Krolner R, Dzielska A, Ahuluwalia N, Giacchi M, Kelly C. Fruit and vegetable consumption trends among adolescents from 2002 to 2010 in 33 countries. 2015 Eur J Publ Health doi: 10.1093/eurpub/ckv012

Bertola ML, Mukamal KJ, Cahill LE, Hou T, Ludwig DS, Mozaffarian D, Willett WC, Hu FB, Rimm EB. Changes in fruits and vegetables and weight change in United States men and women followed for up to 24 years: Analysis from three prospective cohort studies. 2015 PLoS MED doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001878

Perry A, Rasmussen H, Johnson EJ. Xanthophyll (lutein, zeaxanthin) content in fruits, vegetables and corn and egg products. J Food Comp Anal doi: 10.1016/j.jfca.2008.07.006

Sherry CL, Oliver JS, Renzi LM, Marriage BJ. Lutein supplementation increases breast milk and plasma lutein concentrations in lactating women and infant plasma concentrations but does not affect other carotenoids. 2014 J Nutr doi: 10.3945/jn.114.192914

Obana A, Tanito M, Gohto Y, Okazaki S, Gellermann W, Bernstein PS. Changes in macular pigment density and serum lutein concentrations in Japanese subjects taking two different lutein supplements. 2016 PLoSONE doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0139267