What are lutein and zeaxanthin? Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids that are found in high levels in the retina and macula of the eye. Both have a yellow-orange pigment and are known for their antioxidant capabilities.
What is their function in the body? Both lutein and zeaxanthin work to filter harmful blue light in the eye and prevent the production of free radicals. Over time, these antioxidants may help reduce the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, which can lead to blurred vision and even blindness. Preliminary research also suggests that lutein and zeaxanthin may be protective against different types of cancer, coronary heart disease, and stroke.
What are common food sources? Eggs! One egg yolk contains small amounts of both lutein and zeaxanthin (an average of 0.29mg of lutein and 0.21mg of zeaxanthin). Other common sources include spinach, kale, collard greens, peas, broccoli, onions and corn.
What makes eggs special? Carotenoids that are part of a lipid matrix, such as the lutein and zeaxanthin naturally found in eggs, have been found to have increased bioavailability. In one recent study, Chung et al observed that after consuming the same total amount of lutein from multiple sources, serum lutein levels were highest after consumption of eggs compared to supplements and spinach, suggesting that these nutrients may be more bioavailable in eggs than some sources with higher content.
How much do we need? There is no consensus on daily recommendations for lutein and zeaxanthin intake. The American Optometric Association does, however, recommend 10 mg lutein and 2 mg zeaxanthin per day for healthy eyes.
Try whipping up some scrambled eggs and adding plenty of chopped spinach or kale for an extra boost of lutein and zeaxanthin! Check out the ENC website for additional research articles related to lutein and zeaxanthin.
Handelman GJ, Nightingale ZD, Lichtenstein AH, Schaefer EJ, and Blumberg JB. Lutein and zeaxanthin concentrations in plasma after dietary supplementation with egg yolk. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1999; 70: 247-51.
Ribaya-Mercado JD, Blumberg JB. Lutein and Zeaxanthin and Their Potential Roles in Disease Prevention. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 2004;23(6):567S-587S.