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Lutein Health Benefits

Lutein is a yellow colored pigment which is present in certain foods. It is an antioxidant and is considered to be an important nutrient that is especially beneficial for healthy vision. Lutein is fat soluble and hence a deficiency may develop in case of problems in fat digestion. Lutein is classified as a carotene and hence related to the nutrients in the beta carotene family. Therefore the benefits of lutein are greater when taken in the form of a supplement which also includes beta carotene and other carotenes.

Information & Facts:

Here are some facts about lutein:

  • Lutein belongs to the carotenoid family which are fat soluble pigments found naturally in certain plants.
    Carotenoids are used to protect against oxidation and ultraviolet radiation. Studies show that lutein may offer protection from phototoxic damage in humans as well.
  • Lutein is present in the macula of the retina and in the crystalline lens. It is known to play a role in protecting against age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. The health benefits of lutein also include protection from certain types of cancer.
  • Lutein is also present in foods such as egg yolk, corn, broccoli, green peas, cabbage, spinach, kiwi and lettuce.
  • Some lutein supplements contain lutein esters which are obtained from dried marigold flowers.
  • Lutein supplements commonly list zeaxanthin as one of the ingredients. Zeaxanthin is another carotenoid with similar benefits as lutein.
  • The recommended dosage of lutein is between 6 and 12 miligrams per day.

Eyes Health:

  • Macular degeneration - Several studies on the use of lutein for macular degeneration indicate that eating foods rich in carotenoids reduces the risk of the disease. Macular degeneration is one of the most common causes of vision loss. Foods such as dark green, leady vegetables contain large amounts of carotenoids. Lutein in particular helps to prevent macular degeneration from worsening. It increases the density of the macular pigment layer and absorbs the ultraviolet radiation of the sun. Lutein also works by neutralizing the harmful effects of free radicals. Studies have shown that consuming 6grams of lutein per day is enough to reduce the worsening of macular degeneration by about 43 percent. Some researchers have also found that consuming foods high in carotenoids reduces the risk of advanced macular degeneration and wet macular degeneration. Lutein and zeaxanthin also help to treat other eye problems such as presbyopia, dry eyes and floaters.
  • Cataracts - Many doctors recommend lutein for cataracts treatment because it helps to slow down the progression of the condition and also prevents cataracts from occurring in the first place. Cataract is a progressive condition that results in vision changes. It can continue over a period of several years. In many cases, cataracts are detected only after they disrupt vision and interfere with normal functioning. Lutein, being antioxidant in nature, helps to reduce the disintegration of protein in the lens of the eye. If you have cataract, you can consume foods such as collard greens, kale and green peas which are rich in lutein. Your doctor may also prescribe lutein supplements. It is important to make dietary changes or take supplements only after consulting your doctor.
  • Glaucoma - Another common cause of blindness is glaucoma which causes damage to the optic nerve. Lutein helps to protect the nerve layer, which is composed of light-sensitive cells, from oxidative damage. An early sign of glaucoma may be reduced lutein levels in the nerve bundle which sends signals to the brain.
  • Retinitis pigmentosa – A recent study on the effects of lutein on retinitis pigmentosa revealed that individuals who took lutein supplementation experienced considerable improvement in visual acuity within just three weeks after starting the supplement. Retinitis pigmentosa is a class of diseases which lead to degeneration of the retina.

Lutein For Skin Care:

Lutein helps to improve skin hydration. Due to its antioxidant properties, it helps to protect the skin from oxidative damage and prevents peroxidation of the fats, lipids and oils. Many people take lutein supplements to improve skin elasticity and prevent common skin problems. Lutein is also added to topical applications for the skin such as ointments and creams. It may also help to protect the skin from environmental pollution and the adverse effects of the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

Some of the other beneficial uses of lutein include:

  • Regulation of blood sugar levels – Some studies have suggested that lutein may play a significant role in preventing diabetic encephalopathy, a condition which occurs in diabetic individuals and leads to brain swelling. Lutein may also prevent diabetic retinopathy when used alone or in conjunction with DHA, an essential fatty acid. The high glucose levels in diabetic individuals may put them at risk for oxidative stress. One study indicated that lutein supplements may help to prevent problems of the immune system.
  • Reduced risk of lung cancer – Due to its antioxidant properties, lutein may help to lower the risk of lung cancer. Lung cancer is a serious condition which can affect both men and women. It results in symptoms such as chest pain, wheezing and persistent coughing. Researchers have found that a higher intake of lutein through the diet may help to reduce the risk of developing lung cancer.

Side Effects Of Lutein

Currently there is no information available on the side effects of lutein. This does not mean that there are no negative effects; it just means that no side effects have been observed during clinical trials or in the course of preparing case reports. Possible side effects are also regulated by factors such as the age, gender and weight of the individual.
  • Health experts recommend a regular intake of lutein through the diet instead of taking supplements. However, there are some who prefer to take a lutein supplement daily. The disadvantage with artificial lutein is that the body stores all of it. This lutein gets deposited in the eyes and on the skin. An intake of natural lutein ensures that the nutrient is utilized by the body in a regulated manner. You can obtain lutein from foods such as green, leafy vegetables like spinach, turnip green and mustard greens. Orange vegetables such as winter squash and pumpkin also contain considerable amounts of lutein. Other foods sources of lutein include artichokes, asparagus, mango, oranges, peaches and egg yolks.
  • An excessive intake of lutein may result in two main negative consequences. The first is related to common generic side effects such as breathing difficulties, chest pain, cold and coughing. Lutein may also lead to effects on health such as irritation of the eyes and skin and dizziness. In rare cases, there may be such high levels of lutein in the body such as severe itching in the eyes and swelling of the facial skin.
  • Carotenosis may occur when carotenoids accumulate in the skin and lead to discoloration. As a result the skin may take on a yellowish color. This cannot be treated with any medication and may take some months to subside.
  • Lutein may interact with other medications and supplements and hence it must be taken in controlled doses. It is advisable to use lutein supplements only after consulting your doctor so that any possible minor or major side effects can be prevented.
Submitted on January 31, 2012