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Some of my retina colleagues have been talking about Lutein today, and it is worth learning about this carotenoid molecule. Lutein is typically found in green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale and swiss chard and has been implicated in promoting macular function in the retina. Historically, lutein was used in chicken feed to color chicken skin and egg yolks yellow.
In plants, lutein and other xanthophylls absorb light energy and this is why it can act as an antioxidant in your eye. Lutein’s ability to absorb blue light helps it to absorb free radicals and other elements in the oxidation process.
Oxidation has been implicated in macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in elderly Americans, so lutein (and other antioxidants like Omega-3 fatty acids) are currently being studied by the National Eye Institute in the Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2. The dose being studied is 10 mg daily.
Oxidation has also been implicated in cataract progression and some studies have shown that increased lutein intake is associated with less cataracts.
Lastly, there is some evidence that photophobia (increased light sensitivity) can be decreased with lutein supplementation.
Should you take lutein?
The jury is still out. With no Class 1 scientific evidence to prove that lutein is definitely beneficial, a definite recommendation to take lutein cannot be made. There is enough anecdotal evidence to support its use, however. One word of caution if you decide to start taking lutein: as a health supplement, lutein product quality is not as tightly regulated as medications are. So please make sure that the lutein product you buy actually has the full amount of lutein it claims to have and is free of contaminants.
(Note: I have no financial relationship to the products described and depicted here)