Lutein is a vitamin classified as a carotenoid and apparently with anti-inflammatory characteristics. It has often been referred to as “the eye vitamin” for its ability to prevent or at least slow the progress of eye-related diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts.
How Does Lutein Work?
Per webmd.com, lutein is one of two carotenoids – zeaxanthin is the other – that comprises a color pigment in your eyes, from where it is believed to act as a light filter, guarding the tissues in your eyes from the potential damage of sunlight.
Carotenoids are nutrients available in a wide variety of foods, mostly fruits and vegetables, and which appear to possess antioxidant characteristics, per National Institutes of Health (NIH). Foods that are rich in lutein include egg yolks, broccoli, spinach, kale, corn, orange pepper, kiwi fruit, grapes, organic juiced, zucchini, and squash. So, eat up! Your body can not synthesize lutein on its own, which means you must acquire lutein from your food diet or through nutritional supplements.
Per draxe.com, it is believed that the lutein you consume, whether through foods or supplements, is quite easily transported throughout your body, most notably to the eyes’ macula and lens. It is estimated that there are more then 600 assorted types of carotenoids that exist in nature, of which only about 20 eventually make their way into your eyes. And of those 20, only lutein and zeaxanthin get deposited into the macular area of your eyes in abundant quantities.
Lutein’s Health Benefits
Thanks to its antioxidant abilities, lutein can help thwart the free-radical damage caused by blue light or exposure to the sun, a poor diet, or other factors that boost the chances of developing age-related vision loss or disorders. This is important to know for the estimated 25 million people worldwide who suffer from AMD and/or cataracts, with AMD being the most frequent cause of blindness among older adults. This is especially true for adults over the age of 55 and living in industrialized Western nations – such as America.
Let’s take a closer look (no pun intended) at lutein’s various health benefits:
- Eye health. We’ve already discussed how maintaining sufficient levels of lutein can help guard against AMD and cataracts; but lutein can also play a role in reducing eye fatigue and light sensitivity, strengthen eye tissue, and assist in promoting enhanced acuteness in your vision, per draxe.com. Also, per verywellhealth.com, a 2009 study of 37 healthy adults found that 12 weeks of lutein supplementation produced overall improvement in visual function.
- Skin health. Lutein works to filter out high-energy wavelengths of visible light, tamping down the rate of oxidative stress affecting skin health. Studies with animals have also shown that the vitamin can provide major protection for the skin against light-induced damage, likely reducing signs of aging and perhaps even holding off skin cancer.
- Cognitive function. Per NIH, plenty of research has been performed in investigating whether lutein has the potential to slow down age-related cognitive decline, given that there is lutein present in your brain. In fact, lutein has demonstrated an important role in maintaining neural efficiency. Studies with older adults have also shown that those subjects with high lutein levels demonstrated better cognitive performance.
- Cardiovascular (CV) health. CV health in part is dependent on the activation of inflammatory cytokines, meaning that nutrients – such as lutein – that can favorably influence the cytokine cascade, per NIH, could do well guarding against CV damage. A study in which guinea pigs were fed foods enriched with lutein showed a reduction in LDL (bad) cholesterol, aortic cholesterol, and oxidized LDL.
- Diabetes. High levels of carotenoids within the blood of tested animals, presumably to include lutein, have been associated with fewer issues in terms of regulating blood sugar, per draxe.com, accompanied by a reduced risk for diabetes or related complications. Furthermore, a 2009 study with diabetic rats showed that supplementation with lutein and an omega-3 fatty acid known as DHA aided in normalizing diabetes-induced biochemical modifications.