An important carotenoid
Lutein is a carotenoid pigment found in spinach, kale,
amaranth, red paprika, collard and mustard greens and certain flowers. Lutein in
nutritional supplements is usually derived from marigold flower petals. Lutein is part of
the zanthophyll family of pigments, which also includes astaxanthin and canthaxanthin.
Because they do not have the pro-vitamin A activity of beta carotene, these
"other" carotenoids have been over-looked until recently.
Lutein acts as a yellow light filter in the eye,
accumulating in tiny amounts directly in front of the cones of the retina, in an area
called the macula. Macular disease patients experience a slow progressive loss of central
vision, a loss of color vision, and difficulty reading and recognizing faces. About 10
million senior Americans show signs of macular degeneration and about four million have
lost a significant amount of their central vision.
A 400-500% increased risk for macular
degeneration is also experienced by postmenopausal females. Eighty-three percent of
ophthalmologists recommend antioxidant supplements for their macular disease patients, but
until recently these were zinc-based formulas that did not include lutein. Now researchers
have found that adults who consume six milligrams of lutein daily from their diet
have a significant decrease in their risk of developing macular disease.
Researchers studying macular degeneration
as well as lung cancer are finding that supplementing with less beta-carotene and more
lutein gives better results. This could be explained in part by the fact that these
fat-soluble carotenoids compete for absorption and transportation. One answer might be to
take these two nutrients each day at different meals. Beta carotene remains an important
antioxidant nutrient. For instance, it may be more important in helping another eye
disorder, retinitis pigmentosa. This is characterized by a progressive loss of night
vision. Carotenoid blood levels of individuals with a diet high in fruits and vegetables
were 20% lutein, 20% lycopene, 10% beta carotene and 6% alpha carotene and the remainder
With any health program, it's important to include a small amount of
good oil in one's diet. All carotenoids require a small amount of dietary fat for
absorption. Even normal-sighted individuals who take lutein supplements report
reduced glare, a brighter view and sharper vision. This could be especially
helpful for anyone exposed to brilliant sunlight on a daily basis, such as lifeguards, air
traffic controllers, aircraft pilots, longhaul truck drivers and telephone linesmen,
particularly those individuals with blue eyes. And of course, those few of us who
look into cathode-ray tubes (computer and TV screens) all day and all night might also
benefit from supplementing with lutein!