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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!

Where do our nutrients come from?

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.

Healthy eating and vitamin supplementation

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).

Know your sensitivities

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 components

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.

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!

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, zeaxanthin, and 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.

What do lutein and zeaxanthin do in nature?

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

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

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MacularDegeneration.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Len Smith
    2 days ago

    Andrea, one more comment on lutein and zeaxanthin. I was at a conference on carotenoids a few years at Tufts University, and they can actually measure the amount of L & Z in our macula, and it’s called Macular Optical Pigment Density, or MPOD as they call it. (I had mine measured and it was very good). But in addition to the need for L & Z for our eyes, it’s also VERY important for our brain’s health. For mothers who breastfed, you’ll remember in the first two weeks your milk with the colostrum was light yellow, and that yellow was an overload of L & Z, but for the brain. And L & Z are in Mother’s milk the whole time they’re breast feeding. And while L & Z are about 12% of the carotenoids we eat, they make up almost 75% of the carotenoids in the brain.

  • Len Smith
    2 days ago

    Andrea, thanks for an excellent and much needed article. I was diagnosed with AMD in October 1994 at the age of 50, the first of the 4th generation to get AMD. The following month an article appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association about lutein and zeaxanthin (hereafter L and/or Z) reducing the incidence of AMD. So I decided if they could reduce the incidence, it was worth a try eating the veggies with high amounts of L & Z in them to see if my AMD could be reversed. And I dug into the best veggies to eat to get those carotenoids (I forget exactly when I found these veggies to be best, but what I’ve been eating since then are arugula, kale, spinach, and collard greens (mustard greens are also good but harder to find at the time so I never used them). Two or 3 years later, my ophthalmologist, Dr.C, said for the first time out of many exams that “the spot” (aka my AMD) was getting smaller. (And 7 or 8 years later I went to Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, one of the top eye hospitals in the US, for another eye problem, and they confirmed my AMD). And when L & Z supplements came out, I started taking those. (A word of caution on L & Z supplements—I take 4 mg (milligrams or 1,000 of a gram) of Z and 10 mg of L EVERY DAY! But there are L & Z supplements that have a certain number of milligrams of L and then 400 mcg of Z. Wow, why would I take only 4 mg’s? “Mcg” means millionths of a gram, and while it looks impressive at 400, it’s only 0.4 mg’s, or one-tenth of a mg. Ripoff city!!! Back to me, in December 2009, Dr. C said my spot was gone. (While drastically reduced, the waviness looking at the Amsler grid didn’t go away until 2011). But I have been AMD free ever since (and no wavy lines on the Amsler grid), and ecstatic as I had 3 uncles and an aunt who died blind from AMD. BTW, of the 6 cousins whose parents had AMD that I can track, I sent them over the years what I was doing. The youngest is 73 and the oldest is 85, and none of them have AMD. (As an aside, when I learned about blue light, I asked about sunglasses that reduce blue light also. They’re called “blue blockers”, and I’m a BIG believer in those also.)

  • Andrea Junge moderator author
    2 days ago

    Yes, I am younger than many who have macular degeneration. I have many of the same symptoms, mine just isn’t age related. Exercise is so important to our overall health, which is important to our eye health. I wrote an article about this one too (I’m a huge believer in healthy living) https://maculardegeneration.net/living/exercise-eye-health/. -Andrea, MacularDegeneration.net Team Member

  • Andrea Junge moderator author
    2 days ago

    Thank you for taking the time to read my article and comment on it, @lensmith. I really enjoy hearing success stories like yours and learning new information! I focus most of my research on nutrition for eye health so I didn’t know how important L and Z are to our brains. Now I really want to know my MPOD. I hope it would be ‘normal/good’ because I eat a lot of veggies and caretnoids as well as L and Z supplements. It’s also interesting that you mention blue light blocking glasses. I just yesterday recorded a video for our facebook page about my blue light blocking glasses as well as turning the blue light off on our electronic devices. Your info and comments are much appreciated! Wishing you well. -Andrea, MacularDegeneration.net Team Member

  • Len Smith
    2 days ago

    Andrea, thanks for the thanks. Putting 2 & 2 together, you were 9 when I started my AMD journey. But my eye conditions go back to when I was 10 and started wearing glasses. By 8th Grade I had to be 7 feet from a 20/400 figure to almost identify it. (I say almost because I said it was a horse, but in reality it was a zebra and I couldn’t see the stripes). But I’ve always felt fortunate that I’m correctable to 20/20. But another little interesting tidbit on blue light—it has the highest energy of any light in the visible spectrum, which is most likely why it can damage our eyes. And finally another thought about what changed for me in 1994 just before I got the AMD slap in the face. I have run distance since I was in high school, and my legs got injured easily. So in September 1994 I took up bicycling and did about 7,000 miles a year starting in 1995. Loved it. But I really think that exercise had a big hand in my AMD success.

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