Ingredient spotlight: Lutein

Monday, February 2, 2009
Image: Getty
The eyes have it. Lutein is linked with more youthful visual sensitivity and helping slow down the effects of oxidative damage, writes naturopath Siobhan Jordan.

Where it is found?
Lutein is part of the carotenoid family, which contains more than 600 compounds made in nature (by fruits and vegetables, for example). Carotenoids give many of our foods their vibrant colours — such as the rich orange hues of carrots and pumpkins [1]. The more familiar betacarotene is also a member of the carotenoid family.

Lutein also resides in different bodily tissues, including in the retina of the eye, and is especially concentrated in the macular region of the retina. Here it plays a strong, protective role in eye health.

What does it do?
Studies have highlighted lutein's benefit to those at risk of, or suffering from macular degeneration (MD) [1]. Epidemiological studies have suggested a correlation between higher dietary intakes of lutein and zeaxanthin, another carotenoid, and a lower risk of developing age-related MD (AMD) [1].

Risk factors for MD include smoking, being aged 50 or over, and a family history of MD [4]. Other factors are poor antioxidant status and possibly light exposure [3].

Oxidative stress and free-radical damage caused by physiological stresses on the body may be associated with the risk of developing MD [3]. Evidence suggests lutein may protect the macula by acting as an antioxidant, thereby assisting in the management of oxidative stress [2 and 3]. Lutein is also thought to protect the eyes against blue light — a cause of oxidative damage [1 and 2].

How to give your eyes a lutein lift

  • Go green — focus on dark green vegetables including spinach, kale, broccoli, collards and turnip greens [1]
  • Eat corn and pumpkin regularly as these are also good sources of lutein [1]
  • When you're eating vegetables such as a salad with spinach, corn and pumpkin, have it with a dressing containing oil (eg. olive oil) as carotenoids such as lutein are best absorbed when eaten with some fats [1]

1. Higdon, Jane. An evidence-based approach to dietary phytochemicals. New York: Thieme, 2007.
2. Eperjesi, Frank and Beatty, Stephen (editors). Nutrition and the eye: a practical approach. Philadelphia: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann, 2006.
3. Packer, Lester; Obermuller-Jevic, Ute; Kraemer, Klaus and Sies, Helmet (editors). Carotenoids and retinoids: molecular aspects and health issues, Champaign, Illinois: AOCS Press, 2005 4. The Macular Degeneration Foundation. Risk factors. (Accessed 6 March 2008)

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