Lutein and Zeaxanthin: Carotenoids for Life
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.
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