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Learn More About Lutein’s Health Benefits

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carrots rich in lutein

Story at-a-glance -

  • Roughly 15 to 47 percent of the total carotenoid content in dark green leafy vegetables is composed of lutein
  • Lutein is most known for improving your vision and assisting in fighting age-related eye diseases like cataracts and age-related macular degeneration
  • Research has also linked lutein to benefits for your heart, brain and lungs

Your body needs antioxidants from foods and high-quality supplements to retain overall health and protect against infections and diseases. There are different types of antioxidants, each with its own functions and benefits. One is lutein, a carotenoid antioxidant, whose name is derived from the Latin word “luteus,” meaning “yellow.”1

While lutein is heralded for its possible effects on your eyesight, research has yielded information stating that it can have other purposes too. Discover how lutein can benefit you, and what the studies say about this antioxidant’s efficiency.

What Is Lutein?

Lutein is a plant pigment most known for its vision-enhancing and antioxidant abilities that can help protect cells against damage.2 You can find high amounts of lutein and another antioxidant called zeaxanthin in your eyes, particularly in the retinas.3 If you want to increase your levels of this carotenoid, you preferably should eat foods with high amounts of it or consider taking a lutein supplement, since your body isn’t able to produce it naturally.

Foods That Are High in Lutein

Green leafy vegetables are abundant in this antioxidant, with lutein comprising 15 to 47 percent of their total carotenoid content.4 However, you can also find lutein in orange-, yellow- and red-colored fruits and vegetables.5 Examples of lutein-rich foods to include in your meals are:6,7

  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Turnip greens
  • Swiss chard
  • Mustard greens
  • Watercress
  • Free-range, pastured egg yolks8
  • Red peppers
  • Avocados
  • Raspberries
  • Paprika

Ideally, purchase organically grown and GMO-free fruits and vegetables. Try to consume them raw or close to it, as lutein and other carotenoids can be damaged when exposed to heat.

Health Benefits of Lutein

Lutein is known to help enhance your vision and protect against age-related eye diseases like cataracts and macular degeneration.9,10 When this carotenoid works with another antioxidant called zeaxanthin, they may absorb excess photon energy and eradicate free radicals, which can trigger lipid membrane damage. Lutein may also help:

Improve lung function — A study found that lutein and zeaxanthin, when taken with vitamin E, helped promote respiratory health.11

Improve resistance against oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and reduce risk of DNA damage — This may be achieved when you consume foods rich in carotenoids like lutein, beta-carotene and lycopene, mainly because they have higher plasma concentrations.12

Decrease severity of congestive heart failure — Because lutein has high plasma levels, this carotenoid may help alleviate symptoms of congestive heart failure and aid people with this condition.13

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Other Studies on Lutein Show Other Potential Benefits

Some of lutein’s benefits mentioned earlier were concluded from older studies. However, given the amount of potential lutein has when it comes to delivering other benefits, several recent studies have revealed additional ways that this carotenoid may promote optimal well-being:

Helps improve cognitive function in young adults — Authors of this Nutrients study discovered that young and healthy adults exhibited better brain function after taking lutein and zeaxanthin supplements.14

Helps improve brain structure — An Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology study confirmed that lutein and zeaxanthin assisted in maintaining the integrity of your brain’s white matter. This action may be crucial if some parts of your brain may be at risk for age-related decline.15

May increase youthful neural responses — This Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience article showed that a healthy diet loaded with lutein-rich foods helped promote better neural responses.16,17,18

May protect human retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells — According to this study published in Antioxidants, lutein and lycopene helped enhance eye health by reducing risk for oxidative stress-caused RPE cell loss and inhibiting the cell growth in undifferentiated RPE cells.19

Promote autophagy — This article in The American Journal of Chinese Medicine suggested that lutein may induce autophagy and help shield your body against certain stresses.20

Optimized bone health — A study published in Foods highlighted that enhanced levels of macular pigment optical density (MPOD) have a role in promoting better bone health. Carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin greatly aid in improving eye health, especially your MPOD, and may induce bone-beneficial abilities.21

Excessive Lutein Intake May Lead to Certain Side Effects

People don't often experience side effects when they consume lutein-rich foods or use moderate quantities of lutein supplements. However, excessive amounts of lutein can cause carotenodermia, an unusual yellow skin discoloration.22 While it can be bothersome and embarrassing,23 your skin will return to its natural color once the amounts of lutein and other carotenoids in your blood decrease.24

Before taking any lutein supplement, discuss it with your doctor since it may not be appropriate for people with certain conditions. Although studies have shown no adverse events for those who take 26 mg of lutein a day, it is still advisable to consult your doctor before taking it.25

Another precaution is, if you have cystic fibrosis, carotenoids like lutein from foods or high-quality supplements may not be absorbed well by your body. This can result in low blood levels of lutein.26

Research has shown that pregnant women may benefit from increasing their consumption of lutein and other carotenoids.27,28 However, it’s best for pregnant women to incorporate foods rich in this antioxidant into your diet, and to only consider supplementation if your physician has approved it.

Additionally, while no interactions with other medicines were recorded after using a lutein supplement,29 talk to your doctor about other drugs you’ll be taking alongside it. Don’t forget to check for potential reactions too. If you develop side effects after taking a lutein supplement, stop and seek medical attention immediately.

Lutein’s Potential Benefits Are Worth Recognizing

Increasing your body's levels of carotenoid antioxidants like lutein may help maintain overall health and lower your disease risk. This antioxidant’s benefits toward your eyes, brain, lungs and heart can aid people who still want to enjoy the best that life has to offer, even as they age.

If you’re interested in taking a lutein supplement, talk to your doctor to determine how much your ideal dosage should be. Remember that lutein supplements shouldn’t be your first choice when it comes to maintaining optimal lutein levels, since they’re only a complement to a diet mainly composed of organic fruits and vegetables rich in this carotenoid antioxidant.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Lutein

Q: What is lutein good for?

A: Lutein offers benefits for your eyes, particularly in helping promote optimal central vision and lower your risk for cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.30,31 Studies have also revealed that lutein can be helpful in enhancing lung32 and brain function, combating oxidation of bad LDL cholesterol,33 and alleviating congestive heart failure symptoms.34

Q: Which foods are known to contain lutein?

A: Green leafy vegetables35 and yellow-, red- and orange-colored fruits and vegetables36 are your best sources of lutein. Spinach, kale, free-range and pastured egg yolks, avocados, red peppers and spices like paprika are other lutein-rich foods you can try.37,38

+ Sources and References