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What does Lutein do for your eyes?

September 2016

Vision can decline with age for a lot of reasons, and after a visit to an optician, we may well be told about supplements to help maximise the health of our eyes. These supplements are usually based around three chemical compounds, lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin, but what do they actually do?

Lutein is made by plants to absorb blue light. It is a yellow compound that is produced to help utilise sunlight during photosynthesis.

Zeathantin is very similar to lutein and plant based. The third important compound meso- zeaxanthin can only be made in the body from lutein although it is found in some fish. For supplements it can sometimes be obtained by processing marigold extracts.

Sounds complex? It is.

But tests and trials have shown that boosting our intake of these complex sounding compounds can offer some protection to the macula in our eyes. The macula is a very small area, less than a quarter of an inch, lying right in the centre of the retina at the back of the eye and is responsible for sharp, clear central vision plus gives us the ability to see colour.

Results have also shown increasing our intake of lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin in the macula really can assist our vision and help to protect our eyes from further damage. They seem to work by blocking blue light from reaching the underlying structures of the retina. This can help reduce the risk of light-induced oxidative damage – something that can lead to macular degeneration.

In a report published in the journal Optometry, a group of people in a test who consumed 8 mg a day of zeaxanthin for a year showed definite improving in their visual acuity and in their night driving.

Interestingly, there are no recommended dietary intakes for lutein or zeaxanthin. Some experts say we should be taking at least 6 mgs of lutein a day to gain real benefit. However, most commercial supplements available to the general public today only offer 4 mg in their daily tablets and Laterlife has been unable to find results of studies on this amount of daily intake.

So a good way to boost intake of these vital compounds is not only by taking supplements but also by diet. Kale and spinach are two of the best natural foods offering lutein and zeanthin; and generally from the table below you can see it is mainly the green vegetables that offer good sources of these compounds.

One additional benefit from increasing your levels of lutein and zeaxanthin is that they also appear to have important antioxidant functions; helping to guard us against the damaging effects of free radicals which play such a leading role in many common diseases. There is also some evidence that lutein may help to give protection against atherosclerosis, something that could be of real benefit in our age group.

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