About the Author: Gary Heiting, OD, is senior editor of AllAboutVision.com. Dr. Heiting has more than 25 years of experience as an eye care provider, health educator and consultant to the eyewear industry. His special interests include contact lenses, nutrition and preventive vision care.
Shereen Jegtvig, Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS), also contributed to this article.
[Page updated December 2017]
Lutein And Zeaxanthin Supplements
Because of the apparent eye and cardiovascular benefits of lutein and zeaxanthin, many nutritional companies have added these carotenoids to their multiple vitamin formulas. Others have introduced special eye vitamins that are predominantly lutein and zeaxanthin supplements.
Foods Containing Lutein And Zeaxanthin
The best natural food sources of lutein and zeaxanthin are green leafy vegetables and other green or yellow vegetables. Among these, cooked kale and cooked spinach top the list, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Non-vegetarian sources of lutein and zeaxanthin include egg yolks. But if you have high cholesterol, you’re much better off getting most of these yellow nutrients from fruits and vegetables.
[Try these easy recipes — all contain lutein and zeaxanthin: sunset gazpacho, chicken chopped salad, after-workout tropical smoothie, broccoli rabe with tempeh and pine nuts.]
On this page: Eye benefits of lutein and zeaxanthin • Lutein and zeaxanthin foods • Supplements
Good nutrition is important to keep your eyes healthy and functioning their best throughout your lifetime. Two very important eye nutrients that may reduce your risk for macular degeneration and cataractshave names you may not be familiar with: lutein (LOO-teen) and zeaxanthin (zee-ah-ZAN-thin).
Lutein and zeaxanthin are two types of carotenoids (kuh-RAH-teh-noids), which are yellow to red pigments found widely in vegetables and other plants. Though lutein is considered a yellow pigment, in high concentrations it appears orange-red.
Cooked spinach is one of the best natural food sources of lutein and zeaxanthin.
In nature, lutein and zeaxanthin appear to absorb excess light energy to prevent damage to plants from too much sunlight, especially from high-energy light rays called blue light.
In addition to being found in many green leafy plants and colorful fruits and vegetables, lutein and zeaxanthin are found in high concentrations in the maculaof the human eye, giving the macula its yellowish color. In fact, the macula also is called the “macula lutea” (from the Latin macula, meaning “spot,” and lutea, meaning “yellow”).
Recent research has discovered a third carotenoid in the macula. Called meso-zeaxanthin, this pigment is not found in food sources and appears to be created in the retina from ingested lutein.
Lutein and zeaxanthin appear to have important antioxidant functions in the body. Along with other natural antioxidants, including vitamin C, beta-carotene and vitamin E, these important pigments guard the body from damaging effects of free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can destroy cells and play a role in many diseases.
In addition to important eye and vision benefits, lutein may help protect against atherosclerosis (buildup of fatty deposits in arteries), the disease that leads to most heart attacks.
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