Can a Lutein Supplement Save Your Eyes?

Why you're better off getting it from food.


“Lutein and its twin, zeaxan­thin, are the only carot­enoids that are found in the lens and in the macula, which is the central part of the retina and therefore most vulnerable to light damage,” says Tufts Univer­sity’s Elizabeth Johnson.

“They absorb harmful visi­ble light from the sun, which protects the lens, retina, and other eye tissues.”

So should you take a lutein supplement to help preserve your vision? Some key evidence:

Cataracts. In studies that track the eating habits of thousands of men and women, people with higher levels of lutein plus zeaxanthin in their diets have a lower risk of cataracts.

But in the only good study that tested supple­ments, people with macular degeneration who were given 10 milligrams of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin every day for five years had nolower risk of cata­racts.

The exception: supplement takers who got the least lutein plus zeaxanthin from their diets had a 30 percent lower risk of cataracts.

Detecting contrasts. “Having sufficient lutein and zeaxanthin in the eye has long been suspected of enhancing vision,” says the University of Wisconsin’s Julie Mares.

“Several studies suggest that lutein supplements improve the ability to detect contrasts between colors or intensities, which can be especially difficult in dim lighting.”

But Mares stops short of recommending that people take lutein. “Getting lutein and zeaxanthin from a plant-rich diet with lots of green leafy vege­tables is one of the best ways to preserve your eye health,”she notes. “It’s probably those carotenoids in combination with other components of the foods that are protective, so you’re likely better off getting them from food, not pills.”

Since lutein and zeaxanthin are fat-soluble, make sure your meal includes some vegetable oil or a food with fat, adds Johnson.

Here are some of the best food sources of lutein:

Sources: Arch. Ophthalmol. 126: 102, 2008; JAMA Ophthalmol. 131: 843, 2013; 3 Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 55: 8583, 2014.

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