The foods you eat can have a big impact on your physical health, including the health of your eyes. Lutein (LOO-teen) and zeaxanthin (zee-ah-ZAN-thin) are two nutrients that are especially important to your vision.
One of the key characteristic of lutein and zeaxanthin is their color. Both are compounds known as carotenoids which are mainly orange or red. Lutein and zeaxanthin are actually yellow pigments, but they can appear orange in high concentrations. They are found in green leafy vegetables, eggs, and other food sources. Both lutein and zeanxanthin have the ability to absorb high-energy light rays from the sun which are known as blue light. This ability helps protect the plants they are in from damage from sunlight.
Why Lutein and Zeaxanthin are used
Lutein and zeaxanthin are also found in the macula of the eye. The macula is located in the center of the retina which is the lining on the inside of the eye. When light enters the eye, it is focused on the retina. The retina converts the light energy of the image into electrical signals that are sent through the optic nerve to the brain. The macula is the center part of the retina which is responsible for clear, sharp vision needed for focusing on a page in a book or seeing clearly to drive a car.
Macular degeneration is a condition that damages the macula in the eye. This creates a “hole” in the vision where the cells in the macula have stopped working and are not able to send vision signals to the brain. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the primary cause of blindness in people who are over age 65. Approximately 1.75 million people in the U.S. have AMD.
The retinas contain high concentrations of lutein. Scientists believe these compounds in the macula and retina help block or prevent damage from blue light, which may lower the risk of AMD or cataracts. Lutein may also slow down the progression of AMD in people who already have it.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are also known to be antioxidants which can neutralize free radicals. Free radicals are particles in the body that can cause damage to cells, including the cells in the lens of the eye.