Lutein and zeaxanthin are to your eyes what glucosamine and chondroitin are to your joints. Both are naturally occurring compounds found within your body. Both are difficult to pronounce (and spell). And as dietary supplements, both have become synonymous with healthy aging, as both support key functions that tend to decline with age—joint health and vision health.
Today, we’re focusing on vision health and the two antioxidants known as lutein and zeaxanthin. Thanks to landmark scientific studies like the AREDS and AREDS 2 studies sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, lutein and zeaxanthin have joined the ranks of beta-carotene and zinc as proven nutritional support for combating the natural effects of aging when it comes to vision and eye health.
What is Lutein?
Lutein is known as a carotenoid vitamin, one of the two major carotenoids that act as a color pigment in the macula and retina of your eye. It’s similar to other carotenoids like beta-carotene and vitamin A. If vitamin D is the “sunshine vitamin,” you can think of lutein as the “vision vitamin.”
Scientists believe that lutein acts as a sort of natural light filter for your eye, helping to protect your vision from potential damage caused by ultraviolet sunlight, digital blue light from too much screen time and even a poor diet. Natural sources of lutein include brightly colored fruits and vegetables, including broccoli, spinach, kale, corn, peppers, kiwi, grapes, oranges, zucchini and squash.
What is Zeaxanthin?
Zeaxanthin is the dominant component within the very center of your macula. It is the other main carotenoid, along with lutein, that provides pigmentation in your eyes. These two antioxidants are highly concentrated in your eyes compared to the rest of your body.
Zeaxanthin is the dominant compound found in the center of your macula, whereas lutein is found in higher concentrations in the surrounding retina. Interestingly, research suggests that the more pigment you have in your eyes (i.e. the more lutein and zeaxanthin), the less likely you are to deal with the negative effects aging often has on your vision.
Lutein + Zeaxanthin: Stronger Together
Both lutein and zeaxanthin act as filters for your eyes, blocking out harmful UV rays and other high-energy wavelengths. As antioxidants, they also help fight the damage caused by free radicals and oxidative stress. They’re also the only two carotenoids (out of about 600 total) found in such significant quantities in your eyes.
The lens of your eye acts like the focusing lens of a telescope. It collects and focuses the light onto your retina. Just as a foggy or smudged telescope lens can’t produce a clear image, a foggy eye lens can’t either. You need your lenses to remain clear, and oxidative stress is your main enemy.
Oxidation leads to the formation of free radicals, cloudy lenses and retinal damage. Antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin fight back against those free radicals, helping to neutralize those unstable molecules before they cause any damage.
The challenge is getting enough lutein and zeaxanthin to support healthy vision, and to do that, you must rely on proper diet and/or supplementation. The good news is these two antioxidants are abundant (together) in many delicious fruits and vegetables that also happen to be quite versatile for even the most novice home cook. Below is a list of foods that feature lutein and zeaxanthin that you can add to your regular diet in order to naturally protect your eyes and vision health as you age.
Eat Your Way to Healthy Eyes: Foods High in Lutein & Zeaxanthin
Fruits and vegetables are the most significant source of natural lutein and zeaxanthin. These foods, rich in so many essential vitamins and minerals, should already be the foundation of your healthy diet, but if they’re not, you now have another reason to hit the farmer’s market and stock up on fresh produce. For the sake of your eyes, add these items to your grocery list:
- Turnip Greens
- Collard Greens
- Romaine Lettuce
- Brussels Sprouts
- Green Beans
- Tangerines and Oranges
Do you get lutein or zeaxanthin through foods or supplements?