Lutein and Zeaxanthin

Amanda Filipowicz, CNP, BES
Lutein and Zeaxanthin containing vegetables

Lutein is an organic pigment that belongs to the family of carotenoids – which are known to have powerful antioxidant properties. It is also one of the primary pigments present in the macula of the eye. Lutein for eyes is extremely beneficial as it has powerful antioxidant properties and acts as a natural sunblock, protecting the eyes from macular degeneration and cataracts. Lutein is found in dark green and leafy vegetables. Macular degeneration is an eye disorder that results in loss of central vision. It affects mostly people above 65 years old and can result in irreversible blindness. The factors which can increase the risk of macular denigration are exposure to UV rays, smoking, and alcohol intake.

How Does Lutein Protect the Eyes?

Lutein benefits in neutralizing free radicals. The free radicals are molecules that can damage the cells, affect the immune system, and can lead to degenerative diseases. Lutein acts as an antioxidant and protects the eyes from the action of free radicals. Sun damage can also cause degenerative eye disease. Lutein acts as a natural eyeshade and absorbs the harmful blue light from the sun. Thus, the intake of lutein for eyes is recommended as it plays an important role in protecting the eyes from disease. Several studies show that dietary intake of lutein decreases the risk of age-related eye disorders.

A study conducted by the American Optometrist Association showed that lutein intake decreases the risk of macular degeneration. Other studies show that an increase in lutein intake helps the patients to recover from early signs of degenerative disease. Lutein taken in the diet is the best way to prevent eye diseases. Spinach, peas, leeks, lettuce, kale and egg yolk are some of the sources of lutein. You can also take lutein injections & supplements to protect your eyes. Lutein along with zeaxanthin, a co-nutrient, can keep being extremely beneficial to the eyes.


There are two carotenoids that are found in the retina, zeaxanthin is one of them. Zeaxanthin is a yellow colored pigment that is mostly found in the plants. It has several strong antioxidant properties. The main function of zeaxanthin in the retina is to protect the eyes from harmful blue light. It acts as a shield and filter to this light to protect its harmful effect on the eyes. Zeaxanthin also protects the eyes from macular degeneration, age-related cataracts, and other leading causes which could result in blindness over the age of 60 years. The main sources of zeaxanthin are collard greens, spinach, corn, and kale. 

Lutein and Zeaxanthin are Isomers

The carotenoids Lutein and Zeaxanthin are found in the retina. Zeaxanthin is dominant in the center of the macula which is about 75% of the total retinal space. Lutein is found at the periphery of the retina and predominates with 67% sometimes more. The concentration of both these carotenoids is very less in the human tissues. The increase in the macular pigments is made through dietary supplements. Some studies have proved the correlation between the pigment density of macular and the reduction in age-related macular degeneration risks. It has been found that the more the quantity of pigment will be there the less will be the chances of macular degeneration. Actually, with the growing age, the amount of pigment in the retina also decreases which results in macular degeneration.

Food Sources of Lutein

The list of food sources which carry lutein and zeaxanthin in significant quantities

  • Sweet yellow corn
  • Whole kernel
  • Raw spinach
  • Drained, cooked or boiled collards
  • Raw lettuce
  • Drained, green beans.
  • Drained, cooked or boiled broccoli
  • Drained, cooked or boiled celery
  • Raw peaches
  • Raw baby carrots
  • Raw celery
  • Kale
  • Swiss chard

Health Considerations

Carotenoids may play a role in the treatment and/or prevention of the following health conditions:

  • Age-related macular degeneration
  • Angina pectoris
  • Asthma
  • Cataracts
  • Cervical cancer
  • Cervical dysplasia
  • Heart disease
  • Laryngeal cancer 
  • Lung cancer
  • Male and female infertility
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Photosensitivity
  • Pneumonia
  • Prostate cancer
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Skin cancer
  • Vaginal candidiasis


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Hammond, B.R., Miller, L.S., Bello, M.O., Lindbergh, C.A., Mewborn, C., Renzi-Hammond, L.M. (2017). Effects of Lutein, zeaxanthin supplementation on the Cognitive Function of Community-Dwelling Older Adults: A Randomized, Double-Masked Front. Ageing Neuroscience. 

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Lindbergh, C., Mewborn, C., Hammond, B., Renzi-Hammond, L., Curran-Celentano, J., & Miller, L. (2017). Relationship of Lutein and Zeaxanthin Levels to Neurocognitive Functioning: An fMRI Study of Older Adults. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 23(1), 11-22. doi:10.1017/S1355617716000850

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