Essential Nutrients Lutein and Zeaxanthin Support Vision Health

BroccoliLutein and zeaxanthin. Perhaps you have heard of them? These are really strange sounding nutrients that are important for eye health. As we touched upon in a previous post about phase 2 of the Age Related Eye Disease study (AREDS2), the addition of these nutrients to the AREDS supplement formulation was beneficial for those who did not obtain enough of these nutrients in their diet. Even if you are getting enough lutein and zeaxanthin in your diet, it’s interesting to understand the important role that these two nutrients have for eye health.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are xanthophylls which are yellow pigments present in fruits and vegetables. These are one class of carotenoids, which also provide the red and orange colors of produce.  In the human eye, these compounds are found in the retina. The macula, the center of the retina, contains higher concentrations of zeaxanthin and lower of lutein, whereas in the rest of the retina the opposite balance exists.

These compounds appear to filter light and help to protect the eye from photo damage. They may also protect from oxidation, a common cause of damage associated with aging. Recent research has shown improvement in night vision as well as visual acuity in older adults with adequate daily zeaxanthin intake. Preliminary studies have indicated that lutein appears to play a role in blood flow and oxygen supply to the eye which may help protect the retina from damage. It also has been noted to have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may be beneficial for retinal cells.

Your body cannot produce these nutrients; therefore, you must obtain them from your diet or supplements for optimal eye health. These nutrients appear to be absorbed best when consumed along with a source of fat (for example, a spinach salad with an oil-based vinaigrette dressing). Foods rich in lutein and zeaxanthin include:

  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Collards
  • Peas
  • Corn
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Eggs

While no recommended daily allowance for these nutrients has been set, the American Optometric Association recommends 10 mg/day of lutein and 2 mg/day for zeaxanthin for eye health. While most people who eat a healthful, well-balanced diet obtain enough of these nutrients, supplements may also be used to reach these recommended intake levels. As with any supplement, it is important to consult your eye-care provider or physician to prevent any adverse interactions with other medications you may be taking and to avoid exacerbating existing health conditions.