Eye candy

Lutein and Zeaxanthin are natural yellow-pigmented nutrients belonging to the carotenoid family. Carotenoids are the red, yellow, and orange pigments found in yellow-orange fruits and vegetables, dark green, leafy vegetables and corn.

But Lutein and Zeaxanthin do more than give plants their pretty colours. These two compounds form the macular pigments and are found in large amounts in the lens and retina of our eyes. Here they function as antioxidants to potentially help protect our eyes by filtering high-energy blue light. By filtering blue light, the pigments protect underlying cell layers from potential light damage.

Many studies have shown that Lutein and Zeaxanthin reduce the risk of chronic eye diseases, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts. AMD and cataract incidence are growing. Worldwide, more than 25 million people are affected by age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. AMD is the leading cause of blindness in people over age 55 in the Western world and the incidence is expected to triple by 2025.

Adding Lutein and Zeaxanthin to your diet
Both Lutein and Zeaxanthin can protect our eyes only if we obtain enough of them from our diets. Studies show that a diet that has sufficient amounts of Lutein and Zeaxanthin from fruits and vegetables could help protect our eyes from damage in different ways, such as potentially helping prevent common eye diseases such as macular degeneration and cataracts.

Studies also show that failing to get enough of those fruits and vegetables in our diets may place us at greater risk for developing macular degeneration and cataracts.

The body does not make Lutein or Zeaxanthin, so it is important to include both in your diet. Food sources of Lutein and Zeaxanthin include spinach, collard greens, kale, broccoli, green peas, cabbage, carrots, green peppers, pumpkin, squash, tomatoes, goji berry, cantaloupe, honeydew, kiwi, mangoes, peaches, apricots, tangerines, corn, and egg yolks.

One of the richest sources of Lutein and Zeaxanthin is marigold flower.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin in the eye
Of the more than 600 plant pigments called carotenoids found in nature, only two carotenoids, Zeaxanthin and Lutein, selectively accumulate in the retina, macular and lens. Zeaxanthin is the dominant component in the centre of the macular, while Lutein dominates at the outer edges.

The eye is selective and preferentially places Zeaxanthin in the very centre of the macular, the most critical area for central vision with the greatest need for protection.

Concentrated in the lenses and retina, these two carotenoids fulfil two essential functions:

  • Shield the eyes from damaging ultraviolet (UV) light. Acting as a filter to shield against harmful UV-blue light, both Lutein and Zeaxanthin help to reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataract.
  • Act as antioxidants to protect the lenses, retina and macula against free radical damage due to exposure to sunrays, computer screens and other harmful form of lights.

Both Lutein and Zeaxanthin absorb the very high-energy and most damaging portions of the light spectrum (ultraviolet blue). The absorption of the high-energy light spectrum is critical for the protection of the lens, retina and macula portions of the eye. High-energy blue light also generates “free radicals” that cause damage to the tissues of the eye.

Consuming adequate amounts of Lutein and especially Zeaxanthin through food can be particularly difficult, as it requires many servings a day of certain fruits and vegetables. (Note: Zeaxanthin is 10 to 20 times less common than Lutein in the average diet.)

The other option is to take concentrated supplemental Lutein as well as Zeaxanthin from standardised marigold flower extract. Ensure the eye supplement contains at least 6mg, but preferably 10mg of standardised Lutein. Many Lutein and Zeaxanthin supplements contain only very small amounts of Zeaxanthin – in the micrograms (mcg), whereas studies have found that Zeaxanthin is beneficial only when their amounts are much higher, e.g. at least 5mg daily.

For convenience of dosing, it would make good sense to look for a formula with both concentrated Lutein and Zeaxanthin to protect eyes from the damaging effects of blue lights and UV rays and help keep age-related macular degeneration and cataract at bay.