Lutein and Zeaxanthin in a nutshell
Lutein and Zeaxanthin are important in good eye health. Found in the macula of the eye, they help mop up free radicals from the UV radiation entering the eye.
Best source of Lutein and Zeaxanthin for Juicers
Lutein and Zeaxanthin can be obtained from dark green vegetables like Swiss Chard, spinach, dandelion greens, Brussel sprouts & Kale.
What Are Lutein and Zeaxanthin?
Lutein (pronounced loo-tee-in) and zeaxanthin (pronounced zee-ah-zan-thin) are two important nutrients for eye health. The fat-soluble molecules are chemically identical except that they have an unsaturated chemical bond at different locations in their molecular structures. Lutein and zeaxanthin are so similar chemically that chemists measure them together and list nutrient levels in terms of “lutein + zeaxanthin.” Both plant nutrients, however, are essential for eye health.
Alternative names: Lutein and zeaxanthin.
Lutein gets its name from the Latin word luteus, meaning “yellow.” Although lutein is a yellow to orange-red pigment, it is most common in dark green leafy plants. In plants, lutein's job is to recycle chlorophyll from an “excited” state back to a form that produces oxygen at a rate the plant's natural antioxidants can manage.
Zeaxanthin gets its name from the Greek word xanthos, also meaning yellow. It gives corn its characteristic yellow color. It is also responsible for the yellow color of saffron. In plants, zeaxanthin acts as a kind of natural sunblock that prevents damage from overproduction of oxygen.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are equally important in plant, animal, and human health, but lutein is much better known in industry. Just in the USA, over US $190,000,000 in lutein is used every year to make pet foods, fish food, and cosmetics. Sales of zeaxanthin run about US $3,000,000 a year. Zeaxanthin is used as a natural alternative to synthetic yellow dyes in food. Both lutein and zeaxanthin are extracted from chrysanthemum petals for making dyes and nutritional supplements.
What Do Lutein and Zeaxanthin Do in the Human Body?
There are over 450 different brands of supplements that contain lutein, but only about 15 that contain zeaxanthin. The reason for this disparity is that one of the major manufacturers of lutein put out a story that the human body could transform lutein into zeaxanthin (and therefore there was no reason to buy their competitors' product). It turns out that the human body actually cannot convert lutein into zeaxanthin and we need them in a ratio of approximately 4 units of lutein to 1 unit of zeaxanthin.
In the human eye, lutein is concentrated in the macula, the center of the retina at the back of the eye. The macula is exposed to the greatest amount of ultraviolet radiation. Lutein helps quench free radicals of oxygen generated by UV exposure in the eye in the same way that it helps quench free radicals of oxygen generated by UV exposure in the leaves of green plants.
There are at least 20 other related plant compounds that absorb ultraviolet light as well as lutein and zeaxanthin. Beta-carotene and lycopene also protect the inner cells of the retina.
What makes lutein and zeaxanthin important to eye health than all the others is that molecules of both lutein and zeaxanthin line up in an array perpendicular to the surface of the retina. This helps them scatter light away from the retina and protects the optic nerve from overexposure to all kinds of light. Since lutein and zeaxanthin cling to the surface of the retina, they also help “detoxify” the liquid vitreous humor of the eye while they are protecting the macula from UV light.
Neither lutein nor zeaxanthin is soluble in water, so they both have to “hitch a ride” on HDL cholesterol to reach the eye. Extremely low levels of HDL cholesterol are unhealthy for the eyes as well as for the heart because of the need for cholesterol to transport fat-soluble nutrients to the eye.
What Happens When We Don't Get Enough Lutein and Zeaxanthin?
The best known consequence of imbalances of cholesterol and antioxidants in the eye is a condition known as macular degeneration. This is essentially a condition that causes the formation of a hole in the middle of the retina. The reason the macula degenerates is that cholesterol—which is absolutely essential to the function of the eye—interacts with too many “rigid” antioxidant molecules. The retina becomes stiff and pulls away from the center, causing a tiny area of blindness in the middle of the field of vision that expands as the condition gets worse.
While people who get macular degeneration experience the condition as blindness in the centers of their fields of vision, at a molecular level the problem is really millions and then billions of tiny tears that are more frequent in the middle of the field of vision. A molecule of cholesterol on the surface of the retina is “repelled” by beta-carotene and lutein. It is “attracted” to lutein and zeaxanthin. The degeneration of the macula in the middle of the retina is really an accumulation of molecular-level degeneration between cholesterol and “rigid” antioxidant molecules like beta-carotene. The solution to the problem is not to get less cholesterol or less beta-carotene, but to get more lutein and zeaxanthin to keep the retina flexible.
Are You at Risk of a Deficiency of Lutein and Zeaxanthin?
There is no official recommended daily intake of lutein and zeaxanthin, but epidemiologists have found that eating more foods that contain lutein and zeaxanthin (more about them in a moment) reduces the risk of age-related macular degeneration. Just eating more carrots to get more beta-carotene or keeping your cholesterol in check aren't enough to stop the stiffening of the retina that can lead to macular degeneration. On the other hand, getting at least 2,000 mg of omega-3 essential fatty acids and avoiding deficiencies of zinc and vitamin D helps prevent UV damage to the center of the retina even when lutein and zeaxanthin levels are low.
How You Can Be Sure You Get Enough Lutein and Zeaxanthin
Scientists who have examined eyes of people who did not get age-related macular degeneration have found that people who consume 2.5 to 10 mg of lutein and zeaxanthin daily almost never develop the disease. You can make sure you get both lutein and zeaxanthin by taking a lutein supplement PLUS a zeaxanthin supplement called EZ Eyes, which is currently the only US Food and Drug Administration approved zeaxanthin supplement and the only supplement that is approved by the EU, HealthCanada, and the Australian nutritional supplement regulators. EZ Eyes uses zeaxanthin from marigold that is exactly the form the body needs.
However, you can also get 2.5 to 10 mg of lutein and zeaxanthin from food:
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of raw kale contains a little under 40 mg of a combination of lutein and zeaxanthin.
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of boiled kale contains a little under 20 mg of a combination of lutein and zeaxanthin.
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of boiled spinach contains 16 mg of a combination of lutein and zeaxanthin.
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of boiled dandelion greens contains 13 of a combination of lutein and zeaxanthin.
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of raw turnip greens contains 13 of a combination of lutein and zeaxanthin.
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of boiled turnip greens contains 12 of a combination of lutein and zeaxanthin.
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of boiled Swiss chard (silverbeet) contains 12 of a combination of lutein and zeaxanthin.
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of boiled dandelion greens contains 10 of a combination of lutein and zeaxanthin.
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of arugula, spinach pasta, spinach souffle, green peas (raw or boiled), yellow squash, or zucchini contains between 2 and 3 of a combination of lutein and zeaxanthin.
- A 3-1/2 ounce (100 gram) serving of boiled Brussel sprouts, canned English peas, boiled peas and carrots, egg yolks, raw broccoli, air-popped popcorn, hominy grits, boiled bitter melon, boiled peas and onions, canned sweet corn, or boiled asparagus contains between 1 and 2 of a combination of lutein and zeaxanthin.
Just 1 to 2 servings per day of any one of these foods will provide all the lutein and zeaxanthin your body needs for eye health. Just a little oil or butter, as little as one teaspoon (5 g) per serving, helps the small intestine absorb them.
Using Lutein and Zeaxanthin to Treat Disease
Lutein and zeaxanthin are very important to treating disease. Unfortunately, once eye disease has occurred, it may be too late to use them to support recovery. The most reasonable expectation after disease has occurred is that lutein and zeaxanthin may help slow down or halt progression of the condition.
There are experimental protocols using lutein and zeaxanthin as part of a program of treatment for Alzheimer's disease. Even if they are proved to work, in fact, especially if they are proved to work, they should be used with extreme caution. Small improvements in Alzheimer's disease often result in increased risk of injury with improvements in mobility and consciousness of surroundings.