What do spinach and the marigold flower have in common with our eyes?
The answer is: the vital carotenoid pigments lutein and zeaxanthin.
In recent years, there has been much talk of lutein and zeaxanthin by both the general public, as well as healthcare professionals. Even healthcare practitioners are seeing the light where these carotenoids are concerned.
Today, research on how these carotenoids can help support eyesight is throwing new light on the matter.
Lutein and zeaxanthin’s roles in the eyes remain a mystery to most people. Here are some common questions that will help increase awareness of the benefits of lutein and zeaxanthin.
How do lutein and zeaxanthin protect the eyes?
Lutein and zeaxanthin are powerful, natural antioxidants that protect the eyes against excessive free radical damage due to ultraviolet (UV) rays and harmful blue light throughout the ageing process. Such damage can lead to symptoms such as blurry images, poor night-time vision, difficulty in reading, and eye fatigue due to overstraining.
Do we need both lutein and zeaxanthin in the eyes, or can we just take one?
Both are important as they are concentrated in different parts of the eyes. Zeaxanthin, the main component of the macular pigment, is preferentially deposited over lutein in the centre of the macula, the most important area for central vision and visual acuity (sharpness); lutein, on the other hand, is critically important for the outer area of the retina and lens for the prevention of cataracts.
Can one be deficient in lutein and zeaxanthin even if you eat a healthy diet?
Well, there is no such thing as lutein or zeaxanthin deficiency, like how you can be deficient in say, vitamin A or C, for example. You will not go blind, but you’d be putting yourself at a much higher risk for diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts later in life (according to published studies).
Most people do not get enough lutein and zeaxanthin in their diet, and it is thus advisable for additional supplementation of these two carotenoids.
How much lutein and zeaxanthin do I need?
It is recommended that you get at least 6-10mg of lutein per day to help maintain proper eye health.
Since your body doesn’t make lutein, you must constantly replace it through the foods you eat. Dark, leafy green vegetables like spinach or kale are especially good sources. But you’d have to eat over two bowls of raw spinach every day to get the recommended daily dose of 6mg of lutein.
Various studies have found that a typical intake of zeaxanthin is less than 0.5mg a day. The adequate amount, however, for the body to reap the benefits of zeaxanthin is between 2mg and 4mg. The need to supplement daily dietary intake is even greater for adults over the age of 50, when carotenoid consumption is significantly lower.
Can taking sufficient zeaxanthin and lutein cut down the effects of ‘glare’?
Supplementation with a minimum of 24mg of zeaxanthin and 10mg of lutein results in an increase in the macular pigment, which is directly related to improvements in glare disability and photo stress recovery times.
Supplemented subjects could tolerate 58% more intense glaring light before losing their ability to detect a central target. They also had, on average, 14% faster recovery to photo stress (Macular Pigment and Visual Performance Under Glare Conditions. Optom Vis Sci 2008;85:82–88).
Who would benefit from taking lutein and zeaxanthin eye supplements?
- Those looking at the computer and television for long hours will benefit from taking this synergistic combination, as lutein and zeaxanthin helps shield the eyes from the damaging blue light emitted from these screens.
- Those wearing spectacles and contact lenses.
- Golfers and those who love the outdoors, but dislikes wearing sunglasses, are definitely advised to take lutein and zeaxanthin supplements, as both of these carotenoids help shield the eyes from harmful UV light.
- Ageing adults – as we grow older, the concentration of lutein and zeaxanthin in our eyes decline. Unfortunately, our bodies cannot make them, and hence, taking a lutein and zeaxanthin eye supplement helps to increase the concentration of lutein and zeaxanthin in the lens, retina and macula, leading to healthier eye sight.
If zeaxanthin is so important for eye health, why is it that most eye supplements only have such small amounts – in the micrograms?
Well, the reason is simple. Zeaxanthin is very expensive due to its scarcity in nature. It is 20 times less abundant than lutein in our diet.
If you look at most eye supplement label facts, you would find that most eye formulas contain only about 6mg of lutein and 320mcg of zeaxanthin, which is extracted simultaneously with the lutein.
These minute amounts of zeaxanthin, according to studies, will not allow you to reap its potential eye health benefits.
Look for an eye formula which uses standardised extracts of marigold flower containing at least 4-5mg of zeaxanthin per dose. You may see the same extract appearing twice – once for the lutein and another for the zeaxanthin content.
What are the two things to check when buying a lutein and zeaxanthin supplement?
- Standardised marigold flower (Tagates erecta) containing minimum 15% lutein esters and 40% zeaxanthin to ensure every capsule contains the exact amount of active ingredients as stated on the label.
- Concentrated lutein and zeaxanthin is used. Ensure the eye supplement contains at least 6mg, but preferably 10mg, of standardised lutein. Studies have found that zeaxanthin is beneficial only when their amounts are much higher, eg 4-5mg daily.
For convenience of dosing, it would make sense to look for a two-in-one formula with concentrated lutein and zeaxanthin to protect the eyes from age-related macular degeneration and cataracts, as well as promote sharper vision and healthier eyes.