Lutein is a natural plant compound found in yellow fruits as well as leafy vegetables. Some foods high in lutein are kale, spinach, corn, zucchini, mangoes, melons, and broccoli.
What is Lutein?
Lutein is a yellow-coloured pigment synthesized by many plants. It belongs to a broad category of nutrients called carotenoids and has many health benefits.
There is another plant pigment which is very similar in chemical composition, structure, and properties called zeaxanthin. Lutein and zeaxanthin can be interconverted in our bodies. Together, lutein and zeaxanthin are called xanthophylls.
While lutein is a carotenoid, it cannot be converted into vitamin A inside the body and so its health benefits are different from those of carotenes.
Health Benefits of Lutein
Eye Retina Health
Lutein and zeaxanthin are yellow in colour because they absorb blue rays. Lutein and zeaxanthin are stored in the macula, which is the central part of the eye retina. In fact, they are in such high concentration in the macula that it is yellow in colour.
The blue rays have the highest energy among the visible rays that enter our eyes. They can cause light-induced oxidative damage to the delicate retinal cells. Lutein and zeaxanthin in the macula can absorb as much as 90% of the energy of the blue rays, protecting the retina.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration or ARMD
With old age, the levels of lutein and zeaxanthin in our retina drop down. This increases oxidative damage in the retinal cells leading to a condition called age-related macular degeneration or ARMD, which can cause a loss of vision. Increasing the intake of lutein and zeaxanthin through food or supplements helps protect against ARMD. Read on this website: Macular degeneration: Can Lutein help?
The light that enters our eyeballs gets scattered inside. The blue rays scatter the most. This results in our eyes perceiving lesser contrast in the visuals it sees. In young individuals, lutein and zeaxanthin improve the image contrast seen by the eye.
When one sees a light glare, it lowers the image contrast sensitivity. It also causes eyesight fatigue and reduces the ability of the eye to recover from the glare of lights. In healthy youngsters, lutein and zeaxanthin improved glare-induced disability and light-stress recovery.
Lutein and Computer Use
If you use computer screens for an extended duration every day, you should consider taking a lutein supplement. It was found to improve the visual acuity and contrast sensitivity of computer users.
Due to high blood glucose levels prevalent in diabetes, the retina can develop a condition called diabetic retinopathy, in which one gradually loses eyesight. Some preliminary studies show that lutein and zeaxanthin may help in protecting the retina in diabetic retinopathy.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are the only carotenoids found to be present in the eye lens. High levels of dietary intake of these two xanthophylls are associated with a reduced incidence of cataracts.
In a condition called dry eye syndrome, your eyes are not able to make tears to provide lubrication to the eyes. This can lead to red, burning eyes and blurry vision. Lutein can reduce the symptoms of dry eyes.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are very powerful antioxidants. While they primarily help reduce light-induced oxidative stress, they can also lower damage caused by free radicals, which are unstable chemical molecules that can destroy cell DNAs and lead to many degenerative disorders. The antioxidant protection of lutein and zeaxanthin can reduce inflammation in the eye and lead to a sharper vision.
A recent study found that high levels of lutein in the blood reduced the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Daily Requirements of Lutein
There are no established recommended dietary allowances or RDA for lutein. However, experts advise taking 6 to 12 mg a day of lutein plus zeaxanthin.
Lutein Intake from Food
A cup or 75 g of spinach, kale, turnips, or collards a day will be a good way to get your xanthophyll intake. These will give you 10 to 12 mg of lutein and zeaxanthin.
Cook your Plants
Lutein and zeaxanthin in fruits and vegetables are bound rigidly in the plant fibres. For them to be absorbed in the intestines, they need to be released from the fibrous mass. Cutting and cooking such vegetables can improve the absorption of lutein.
Egg yolk has 30 to 50 times less lutein than that kale and spinach. However, it is far more easily absorbable in the intestines, making egg yolk an excellent source of lutein and zeaxanthin.
Carotenoids are fat-soluble compounds and are better absorbed if consumed with fats. Even a few grams of fat during a meal can increase lutein absorption in the intestines.
Lutein Intake from Supplements
Lutein and zeaxanthin supplements are convenient for people who may not be eating adequate amounts of colourful, leafy vegetables. A typical supplement tablet contains 5 mg of lutein and 1 mg of zeaxanthin. Take one each twice a day with meals.
Toxic Levels of Lutein
The recommended safe levels for lutein are 20 mg per day. However, much higher doses have not been found to cause any side effects.
To Read More
- Healthline: Can Lutein Benefit Your Vision and Eye Health?
- Verywellhealth: The Health Benefits of Lutein
- All About Vision: Lutein and zeaxanthin: Eye and vision benefits
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First published on: 30th June 2022
Image credit: Nicole Köhler from Pixabay