Lutein: Does it really help vision?

Updated on December 31st, 2020
Lutein for Eyes

Lutein is naturally found in several vegetables and fruits, notably those with orange, deep green, and yellow coloring. Lutein is a type of xanthophyll generally used in the prevention or treatment of eye diseases.

Lutein supplements have a natural substance classified as a carotenoid—a group of plant pigments with antioxidant properties. Lutein supplements give a more concentrated supply of this antioxidant.

What is lutein?

Lutein is a member of the carotenoid group of antioxidants. Carotenoids are a type of plant chemical or phytonutrient found in the cells of many kinds of plants [1]. Carotenoids handle the vibrant colors seen in several plants, such as the orange, bright red, and yellow hues of various vegetables and fruits.

While these pigments play an essential role in plant health, they also provide health benefits for individuals who eat foods that are an excellent source of this phytonutrient.

Along with lutein, zeaxanthin is another vital carotenoid that gives eye health benefits. It’s structurally identical to lutein, with just a slight difference in the composition of its atoms.

Zeaxanthin and lutein are the only dietary carotenoids present in our retina. They’re clustered predominantly in the macula region, located at the back of our eye, which is crucial for our vision. Because of where they’re focused, these two carotenoids are called macular pigments.

Lutein for Eyes

What’s known about the eye health advantages of lutein?

As potent antioxidants, zeaxanthin and lutein may protect the body and particularly our eyes in several ways. With regards to our eye health, studies suggest that these nutrients can help:

defend against free radicals and oxidative stress

  • suppress inflammation
  • improve your visual contrast sensitivity
  • enhance the sharpness of your vision
  • protect eye tissue from sunlight damage
  • reduce glare impairment
  • reduce cell death and loss related to eye disease
  • protect your eyes from harmful blue light

convert light signals into electrical signals in our retina and assist in the transmission of those signals to the visual cortex in our brain protect against myopia (nearsightedness) and protect pre-term infants against the effects of ROP (retinopathy of prematurity)

Lutein and eye conditions

Aside from the benefits listed here, there’s also proof that zeaxanthin and lutein may give benefits related to the following eye conditions:

1. AMD (Age-related macular degeneration)

In developed nations AMD is the major cause of permanent visual impairment and blindness. According to 2011 research, lutein and zeaxanthin may be protective against late-stage AMD progression to blindness.

2. Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy impacts about 1/3rd of people with diabetes. Although studies are limited, animal research has shown that zeaxanthin and lutein may help minimize oxidative stress markers that can lead to vision loss and eye damage [2].  

3. Cataracts

Cataracts are cloudy patches that form in the lens of the eye. According to 2006 research, individuals who consume a diet that’s low in zeaxanthin and lutein may be at a greater risk for having cataracts [3].

4. Dry eye disease

With dry eye disease, also called dry eye syndrome, our eyes don’t make enough lubrication to coat our eyes. This can cause itchy, red, temporary blurriness, burning eyes, and a feeling as if there’s sand in your eye. According to 2016 research, lutein may help minimize these symptoms [4].

[Read: Home Remedies for Dry Eyes]

How much lutein do you need?

Although there’s no prescribed dietary intake for lutein, it’s mostly considered to be safe, even in larger amounts. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) labels it as GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe).

It’s believed that many Americans only consume around 1–2 mg (milligrams) of lutein each day. But studies show that you likely need a higher intake of lutein to lessen the risk of developing Age-related macular degeneration.

Studies done for the large Age-Related Eye Disease Study found that 2 mg of zeaxanthin and 10 mg of lutein effectively decreased the progression to advanced age-related macular degeneration.

This research involved more than 4,200 participants over five years. No negative health effects were noted with this dosage, except for minor yellowing of the skin. Moreover, the CRN (Council for Responsible Nutrition) has noted that a daily dose of up to 20 milligrams of lutein is safe.

[Read: Home Remedies to Treat Red Eyes]

What foods are good sources of lutein?

An array of foods provide healthy doses of lutein. The highest amount of dietary lutein is present in leafy green vegetables, such as:

See Also
foods for eyesight

  • spinach
  • kale
  • lettuce
  • broccoli
  • basil
  • parsley
  • peas
  • leeks

Lutein can also be present in other foods, such as:

  • red pepper
  • egg yolks
  • durum wheat
  • corn
  • pistachios
  • einkorn wheat

Possible Side Effects

Lutein supplements and lutein are likely safe when taken by mouth in appropriate amounts. Certain patients, including those with cystic fibrosis or skin cancer, should be cautious when considering lutein supplements. It’s essential to consult your physician before taking any dietary supplement regularly.

It’s essential to remember that supplements haven’t been tested for safety and dietary supplements are mostly unregulated. In a few cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from each herb’s stipulated amount. In other instances, the product may be polluted with other substances such as metals.

Also, the safety of supplements in nursing mothers, pregnant women, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medicines has not been established. 

[Read: How to Cure Eye Infection]

Dosage and Preparation

Using 6.9-11.7 mg of lutein per day in the diet appears to be safe. In studies, lutein supplements have been used safely in doses up to 15 milligrams daily for up to 2 years. Furthermore, health professionals note that taking up to 20 milligrams of lutein both from the diet and supplements seems to be safe.  

Large doses of lutein may cause a condition called yellowing of the skin (carotenemia), which is harmless.

Bottom Line

To increase the lutein intake without using lutein supplements, include lutein-rich foods like spinach, kale, green beans, cabbage, papayas, and mangoes in your daily diet.

While lutein supplements may benefit from the treatment or prevention of specific health issues, self-treating with the supplements (and delaying or avoiding standard care) is not recommended.

If you’re considering using lutein supplements, talk to your physician about selecting a supplement and daily dosage that suit your health requirements

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