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Lutein

Health Benefits of Lutein

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Updated May 19, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Often used in treatment or prevention of eye diseases, lutein supplements contain a natural substance classified as a carotenoid (a group of plant pigments with antioxidant effects). Sometimes referred to as xanthophyll, lutein is naturally found in a number of fruits and vegetables (especially those with deep green, orange, and yellow coloring). Lutein supplements provide a more concentrated supply of this antioxidant.

Uses for Lutein Supplements

Lutein supplements are typically used to treat or prevent eye diseases, such as cataracts and macular degeneration. Known to build up in the retina and lens of the eye, lutein is thought to protect the eye from injury induced by free radicals (chemical byproducts shown to damage cells and contribute to the development of certain diseases).

Some proponents claim that lutein supplements can also help prevent colon cancer, breast cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

Health Benefits of Lutein Supplements

To date, most of the studies on lutein's health benefits have focused on dietary intake of lutein. Those studies suggest that dietary intake of lutein may help protect against atherosclerosis, age-related macular degeneration, and cataracts. While few studies have examined the health effects of lutein supplements, there's some evidence that lutein supplements may improve eye health. Here's a look at two study findings:

1) Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Lutein supplements may improve visual function in people with age-related macular degeneration (a leading cause of blindness), according to a 2004 study. For 12 months, 90 people with age-related macular degeneration took either lutein supplements, supplements containing lutein and other antioxidants and minerals, or a placebo. Results showed that both supplement groups had significant improvement in visual function, while the placebo group showed no such improvement.

2) Visual Function

In a 2009 study of 37 healthy adults, researchers found that subjects who took lutein supplements for 12 weeks experienced improvements in visual function. The study's findings also suggest that lutein supplements may help treat vision problems brought on by long-term exposure to light from computer screens.

Safety

Although lutein supplements are generally considered safe, it's important to consult your physician before taking any type of dietary supplement on a long-term basis.

Using Lutein Supplements

While lutein supplements may be of some benefit in the treatment or prevention of certain health problems, self-treating with the supplements is not recommended. If you're considering the use of lutein supplements, talk to your doctor about selecting a supplement and daily dosage that suit your health needs.

To increase your lutein intake without the use of lutein supplements, include lutein-rich foods like kale, spinach, cabbage, green beans, mangoes, and papayas in your daily diet.

Sources:

Dwyer JH, Navab M, Dwyer KM, Hassan K, Sun P, Shircore A, Hama-Levy S, Hough G, Wang X, Drake T, Merz CN, Fogelman AM. "Oxygenated carotenoid lutein and progression of early atherosclerosis: the Los Angeles atherosclerosis study." Circulation. 2001 19;103(24):2922-7.

Ma L, Lin XM, Zou ZY, Xu XR, Li Y, Xu R. "A 12-week lutein supplementation improves visual function in Chinese people with long-term computer display light exposure." Br J Nutr. 2009 102(2):186-90.

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, "About Herbs: Lutein". February 2010.

Moeller SM, Voland R, Tinker L, Blodi BA, Klein ML, Gehrs KM, Johnson EJ, Snodderly DM, Wallace RB, Chappell RJ, Parekh N, Ritenbaugh C, Mares JA; CAREDS Study Group; Women's Helath Initiative. "Associations between age-related nuclear cataract and lutein and zeaxanthin in the diet and serum in the Carotenoids in the Age-Related Eye Disease Study, an Ancillary Study of the Women's Health Initiative." Arch Ophthalmol. 2008 126(3):354-64.

Richer S, Stiles W, Statkute L, Pulido J, Frankowski J, Rudy D, Pei K, Tsipursky M, Nyland J. "Double-masked, placebo-controlled, randomized trial of lutein and antioxidant supplementation in the intervention of atrophic age-related macular degeneration: the Veterans LAST study (Lutein Antioxidant Supplementation Trial)." Optometry. 2004 75(4):216-30.

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