Don’t gamble with your eye health: Place your bets on Lutein and Zeaxanthin

Healthy Vision Month is celebrated every year in May to stress the importance of promoting and maintaining the health of our eyes. In a previous blog, we talked about general tips for improving eye health, including some dietary recommendations ( Today, we’d like to focus on two particular nutrients that research suggests are emerging as healthy-vision winners: lutein and zeaxanthin.

What are they?
Lutein and zeaxanthin belong to a class of nutrients known as carotenoids, reported to have anti-inflammatory properties.

Lutein is a xanthophyll or an oxygen-containing carotenoid. Carotenoids are responsible for the naturally occurring yellow, orange, and red pigments found in foods. They are considered essential nutrients — since our bodies can’t make them, we must get them through food.

How do Lutein and Zeaxanthin benefit eye health?
These two carotenoids, which are highly concentrated in the macula of the eye, seem to filter out damaging radiation from sunlight. Both are also strong antioxidants that may help prevent the inflammation and oxidative stress related to eye conditions such as glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. According to the Mayo Clinic, accumulating evidence indicates that lutein and zeaxanthin may play important roles in preventing and reducing cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Studies have shown that a supplement containing lutein and zeaxanthin reduced the occurrence of advanced AMD by 25% over 5 years in people who already had AMD. In people without AMD, the supplement did not prevent or treat the condition.

Where can I get some?
Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in the highest levels in dark green leafy vegetables and herbs like spinach, kale, collard greens, mustard greens, Swiss chard, watercress, and parsley. Lutein-rich food sources also include orange bell peppers, egg yolks, red grapes, yellow corn, durum wheat, and peas. Because it’s a fat-soluble nutrient, you need to consume some fat to absorb the lutein you eat.

If you eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, your eyes should be getting all of the nutrients they need. It’s fine to take a daily vitamin and mineral supplement but remember that supplements aren’t a substitute for a healthy diet. Moreover, there may be potential health risks associated with high intakes of xanthophylls, so before adding lutein supplements to your diet, it’s best to talk with your doctor.