A colorful rainbow with different fruits and veggies spilling out the bottom.

What Are Lutein and Zeaxanthin?

As a child, I was always told to eat my fruits and veggies. As a mom, I spend a lot of time (and money) trying to get my children to eat theirs too. We all know that we should eat our fruits and veggies, but different types provide different nutrients and that matters!

Eye healthy nutrients

Some nutrients are produced naturally in our bodies, some are ingested through food, and others are supplemented with vitamins. Now that I have been diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease, I find great importance in understanding which specific nutrients I need from fruits and veggies and whether or not I need to supplement my diet with vitamins.

Lutein and zeaxanthin supplements

The subject of healthy eating and vitamin supplementation is of huge popularity in the macular world. In the online support groups that I am a member of, this topic, by far, comes up more than any other. That being said, it is impossible for me to discuss all of the ins and outs of this in one article. Because of this, I have chosen to try to make sense of two specific nutrients found to be ‘eye-healthy’– lutein (LOO-teen) and zeaxanthin (zee-ah-ZAN-thin).

Is zinc bad for macular degeneration?

It’s up to each of us individually to know which nutrients are best for our unique bodies, health needs, and life situations. For example, when researching which supplements I wanted to take for optimal eye health, I learned that the high levels of zinc in the vitamins I was taking was harmful to about 15% of people. Being only 33 years old at the time, I personally felt it was important to know if I was in that 15%. If zinc was hurting my eyes, I wouldn’t want to take it high amounts for the remainder of my life.

Genetic test for zinc sensitivity

Not only that but since the possible zinc issue and my eye disease are both genetic, I wanted to be sure I could make the best nutritional decisions for my two young children as well. After some simple genetic testing, I found out that I indeed was in that 15%. The zinc in my vitamin supplement was harming my eyes more than it was helping! I sure am glad to know that, and now take a new supplement without the high levels of zinc.

Do some research!

Quick Tip: I urge everyone battling any disease to do their own research and ask their physicians what would be best for their specific situation and needs. When I think of supplements, I try to view them as a way to help prevent or slow disease (not just macular disease), and not ways to cure disease. Knowledge is power!

What are carotenoids?

Lutein and zeaxanthin are two types of carotenoids that are found in high concentration in the macular region of the retina. Carotenoids are the bright colored pigments in many of the fruits and vegetables we eat. When I think of carotenoids, I think of carrots (hence the name), bright red tomatoes, dark green spinach, and yellow and orange bell peppers. These are my personal favorite carotenoids to eat daily.

What do lutein and zeaxanthin do?

The American Optometric Association explains that “Lutein and zeaxanthin filter harmful high-energy blue wavelengths of light and help protect and maintain healthy cells in the eyes. Of the 600 carotenoids found in nature, only these two are deposited in high quantities in the retina (macula) of the eye.“

Our bodies do not naturally produce lutein and zeaxanthin so if you decide to implement them into your diet, it is important to get these eye-healthy nutrients through the foods we eat (or through supplements).

Lutein and zeaxanthin for macular degeneration

Studies have found that lutein and zeaxanthin may either help prevent age-related macular degeneration (AMD) or can slow the progression of the disease. I, personally, have MMD (myopic macular degeneration), which mimics AMD but is not age-related. For this reason, I see this information as relative to my unique situation.

Lutein, zeaxanthin, and eye health

Interestingly, in nature, lutein and zeaxanthin appear to absorb excess light energy to prevent damage to plants from too much sunlight, especially from blue light. This is especially important when discussing eyes and vision and begs the question, “Could lutein and zeaxanthin help absorb excess light energy to prevent damage to the light receptors in my eyes like it does plants?”

Blue light eye protection

Blue light is found outside in the sun (one great reason to wear sunglasses for eye protection), as well as from digital screens such as TVs, computers, tablets, and smartphones. You can basically find blue light everywhere, especially in those electronic devices many of us (and our children) love and use frequently. Some blue light is good for us and some is not. Therefore, it is a good habit for anyone concerned for their eyes to protect them as much as possible.

Quick Tip: If you are interested in turning off the blue light on your electronic devices, that can be done easily through your device settings. Glasses are also available with lenses that help filter out blue light.

Empower yourself with knowledge,

Andrea Junge

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