Lutein is a naturally-occurring carotenoid that is abundant in fruits and vegetables (especially dark, leafy green ones such as spinach and kale) and egg yolks. It is highly concentrated in the macula of the eye, with smaller amounts found in the retina, lens, and optic nerve. Together with other high-potency antioxidants, lutein helps block out visible blue light, one of the major causes of light-induced damage to the eyes.
Lutein Benefits for Eye Health
This powerful carotenoid also helps ward off vision loss—and more specifically helps to prevent macular degeneration—by increasing the thickness of the macula. Research has also shown that lutein can lower risk of cataracts. One study found that older women who had the highest levels of lutein (and zeaxanthin, another nutrient that is critical for vision health) were about a third less likely to have cataracts.
Other lutein benefits for eyes include:
- Helping to reduce eye fatigue and glare sensitivity
- Promoting normal visual function and proper lens density
- Strengthening eye tissue
- Supporting visual acuity
Lutein for Your Heart
Lutein also reduces chronic low-level inflammation, which is a feature of cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions. In a study, Swedish researchers found that in patients with coronary artery disease, the higher the blood concentration of lutein, the lower the level of IL-6 (a marker of inflammation).
Lutein for Brain Health
Lutein plays a role in brain health as well—from infancy (it is present in breast milk and advanced baby formulas) through old age. Lutein is the dominant carotenoid in the brain, where it influences visual processing and other neural functions. Significantly lower concentrations of lutein have been detected in the brains of older people with mild cognitive impairment, compared to those with normal function.
And placebo-controlled clinical trials found that supplemental lutein improved scores on tests of cognitive function. In a study of older women who took lutein every day, with or without 800 mg of DHA, verbal recall scores significantly improved.
And because it enhances visual processing speed, which tends to slow down with age, one of the other brain health benefits of lutein is boosting overall brain efficiency.
You Need to Supplement Lutein
Unfortunately, as we age, our levels of lutein decrease because the body can’t produce it. Smokers, blue-eyed folks, and postmenopausal women have also been found to have lower levels of lutein. Fortunately, you can replenish lutein in your blood, and ultimately your eyes and brain, through diet and nutritional supplementation.
Research has shown that taking 20–40 mg of lutein daily provides the best protection. However most people don’t eat enough dark, leafy green vegetables and egg yolks, which are the main foods rich in lutein. (The average intake of lutein via diet is 2 mg per day.) Therefore, it is critical to also take lutein supplements.
You can find lutein at most drugstores and health food stores, and it is usually included in formulas geared toward eye health.