Lutein is a yellow-to-orange pigment found mostly in plants. It's a carotenoid
and is related to vitamin A. Other carotenoids include beta carotene, alpha carotene
Lutein is concentrated in the retinas of your eyes, so it's a necessary component of normal vision. It also works as an antioxidant to reduce the damage done by free radical
s. Eating a diet with lots of colorful fruits and vegetables that contain lutein may also decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease. One study in Los Angeles found that people who had higher levels of lutein and other antioxidants in their blood also had healthier blood vessels. Of course, there are other healthy lifestyle factors that go along with eating a lutein-rich diet, so it's difficult to know how much (if any) of the effect was due to lutein alone.
Plant sources of lutein include kale
, spinach, carrots, corn, squash and other deep green, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables. There is one animal source of lutein available -- you'll find lutein in egg yolks. If you eat a diet with a sufficient amount of colorful fruits and vegetables, you should get ample amounts of lutein. Since it's a fat-soluble compound like vitamin A and the other carotenoids, you may absorb more lutein when you eat a little fat with your colorful vegetables.
Lutein is also available as a dietary supplement
. You can buy it in supermarkets, health foods stores, pharmacies, and online -- but are they of any benefit? There probably isn't any benefit for your heart or blood vessels, so for cardiovascular disease prevention you're better off getting your lutein from fruits and vegetables. However, lutein supplements may protect your vision.
Researchers studied lutein as part of the supplement formula used in the The Age Related Eye Disease study. They used Twin Lab's Ocuvite. They found that large doses of lutein, combined with the dietary mineral zinc, vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and copper. The combination of these antioxidants may help slow down the progression of macular degeneration (MD) and preserve vision in people who have early MD. Unfortunately, lutein doesn't appear to have any effect on prevention or progression of cataracts, which is a condition where the lens of one or both eyes becomes cloudy.
National Institutes of Health, National Eye institute. "Facts About Cataract." Accessed February 3, 2012. http://www.nei.nih.gov/health/cataract/cataract_facts.asp.
National Institutes of Health, National Eye Institute. "Age-Related Eye Disease Study--Results." Accessed May 17, 2011. http://www.nei.nih.gov/amd/.
Dwyer JH, Paul-Labrador MJ, Fan J, Shircore AM, Merz CN, Dwyer KM. "Progression of carotid intima-media thickness and plasma antioxidants: the Los Angeles Atherosclerosis Study." Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2004 Feb;24(2):313-9.