Lutein? The eyes have it, but if they don’t have enough of it, our vision, as well as our eye health, can suffer.
Lutein is often referred to as “the eye vitamin,” although it’s not really a vitamin per se. It’s actually a carotenoid compound, per supplementsinreview.com, found in an assortment of plants. It not only guards our eyes against age-related disorders, such as macular degeneration and cataracts, but can also improve visual performance in healthy eyes.
Foods with Lutein
It would seem, therefore, that lutein offers eye and visual benefits for us all, young and old. It can be found in a variety of vegetables although, interestingly, carrots – long associated with eye health – is not at the top of that list. Again, per supplementsinreview.com, following are the top 10 veggies in terms of lutein content, in descending order (notice the emphasis on the color green and not so much orange [carrots and pumpkins]):
- Collard greens
- Turnip greens
- Mustard greens
- Summer squash
- Green Peas
Other foods that are rich in lutein include broccoli, orange pepper, kiwi fruit, grapes, orange juice and zucchini, per webmd.com, and it recommends that lutein be consumed accompanied by foods high in fat so as to help with absorption.
How Lutein Works
There are two key yellow carotenoids found in the human eye as a color pigment in the macula and retina – lutein as well as zeaxanthin. Most of us know what the retina is, but fewer are aware of the existence of the macula – unless you are among the unfortunate with a macular-related condition related to gradually worsening sight impairment. The macula is a yellow spot centered in the retina that helps provide sharp, central vision.
Although lutein is not manufactured by the human body and we must depend on a healthy diet to acquire it, our body seems to have a natural instinct knowing what to do with lutein once it gets ingested and digested. The retina selectively “gathers” the lutein, the natural accumulation of which reportedly assists us by nutritionally supporting clear, healthy vision, per supplementsinreview.com.
In comprising the macular pigment, lutein and zeaxanthin essentially work in tandem to help protect the eye from damage that could result from oxidative stress and exposure to sunlight. And it’s not just the sunlight in general that is at work here. You could even describe lutein as the “blue light” special when it comes to eye protection; it filters out the sun’s blue light, which is characterized by high energy and a short wavelength that can cause serious harm to the eye’s tissues, perhaps 30 times more dangerous than long wavelength light. These blue light waves are also a concern as they are emitted from our electronic devices like our phones, tablets and laptops, and they produce digital eyestrain.
Here’s a more complete rundown on the eye/vision benefits of lutein:
- Enhance vision in circumstances where light is low, such as with night driving.
- Bolster contrast sensitivity, which involves being able to distinguish minimal increments of light and dark.
- Reduce the time needed for our vision to return to normal after being exposed to bright light – which is known as photostress recovery.
- Decrease the potential for the onset of macular degeneration, cataracts, and retinitis pigmentosa, and even potentially improve sight-related issues for people already beset by such conditions.
- Assisting in alleviating eye fatigue, per drwhitaker.com.
- Strengthen eye tissue.
- Bolster the acuity of our vision.
A Lutein Bonus
Lutein also works as an antioxidant in the never-ending war against free radicals, which is particularly significant when it comes to the macula and the lens of the eye. This certainly is relevant to the health of our eyes because oxidative and photo-oxidative functions are linked to disorders of the eye, per supplementsinreview.com.
The benefits of lutein, which is readily available in supplement form, have been shown to extend beyond just our eyes and vision. Experts have found a connection between lutein and an improved memory and learning when it comes to brain function. Per drwhitaker.com, studies have shown that increasing lutein levels through supplementation in people with mild cognitive impairment can apparently improve memory.