Lutein is an antioxidant often used in the treatment or prevention of eye diseases. Lutein is found in the retina, where it is thought to protect the eye from the harmful effects of sunlight and free radicals.
Lutein is naturally found in a number of fruits and vegetables, especially those with deep green, orange, and yellow coloring such as spinach, broccoli, carrots, and bell peppers. Egg yolks also contain high levels of lutein.
Lutein is also available in supplement form.
What Is Lutein?
Lutein is a natural pigment that belongs to a group of antioxidants called carotenoids. Carotenoids give egg yolks and certain fruits and vegetables their color.
Lutein is sometimes called the “eye vitamin” since it is found in the human eye, specifically within the macula and retina.
What Does Lutein Do?
Lutein supplements are typically used in alternative medicine for eye diseases, such as cataracts and macular degeneration.
Known to be found in the retina and lens of the eye, lutein is thought to protect the eye from injury induced by free radicals, chemical byproducts that have been shown to damage cells and contribute to the development of certain diseases. Lutein may also act as a filter for harmful blue light, helping prevent damage from the sun.
Some alternative medicine proponents claim that lutein supplements can also help prevent colon cancer, breast cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
To date, most of the studies on lutein’s health benefits have focused on dietary intake of lutein. Those studies suggest that dietary intake of lutein may help protect against atherosclerosis, age-related macular degeneration, and cataracts.
While few studies have examined the health effects of lutein supplements, there’s some evidence that lutein supplements may improve eye health. Here’s a look at a few study findings.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Lutein supplements may improve visual function in people with age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness.
One study that looked at more than 100,000 people from 1984 to 2010 found that a higher intake of bioavailable lutein and zeaxanthin was associated with a lower long-term risk of developing advanced age-related macular degeneration.
In a 2009 study of 37 healthy adults, researchers found that subjects who took lutein supplements for 12 weeks experienced improvements in visual function.
The study’s findings also suggest that lutein supplements may help treat vision problems brought on by long-term exposure to light from computer screens. However other studies have not proven damage from blue light from prolonged computer use.
Eye Health Benefits
A 2018 review of research concluded that there are many studies supporting lutein’s beneficial effects on eye health.
The researchers suggested that not only should a diet rich in fruits and vegetables containing lutein be encouraged, but they also suggested that supplementation could be beneficial, particularly in populations at high risk of certain conditions, such as the elderly.
Dosage and Preparation
Consuming 6.9 to 11.7 milligrams (mg) of lutein per day in your diet appears to be safe.
In research, lutein supplements have been used safely in doses up to 15 mg daily for up to two years. Additionally, health experts note that taking up to 20 mg of lutein both from the diet and supplements seems to be safe.
High doses of lutein may cause a condition called carotenemia, or yellowing of the skin, which is harmless.