How lutein protects eye health

Lutein is a micronutrient, used by the body to protect eye health and preserve eyesight. It is a carotenoid that is used to create the protective macular pigment, along with zeaxanthin, in the macula lutea. It protects the eyes from harmful blue light, emitted from the sun, artificial lighting and digital devices.

Often known as the body’s own ‘internal sunglasses’ – lutein provides a defence against oxidative stress caused by exposure to blue light. This, in turn, protects the eyes from conditions like age-related macular degeneration.

It is expected that there will be 92 million more global cases of AMD between 2020 and 2040, so it is more important than ever for those at risk to maintain their levels of lutein for good eye health. Because of this, it is vital to educate patients on the importance of maintaining their lutein levels, particularly as they age.

Explaining lutein and zeaxanthin to patients

When explaining the role of lutein and zeaxanthin to patients, it is also important to educate them about blue light. Blue light is everywhere and unavoidable – it is emitted from the sun (natural light), from artificial lighting (CFLs) and from digital devices like TVs, computers and smartphones. Your patients will be exposed to all or some of these daily, for several hours at a time, which can cause lasting damage to the eye.

This repeated, long-term exposure can cause oxidative stress in the macula, reducing MPOD and leading to an increased risk of AMD.

Good levels of lutein and zeaxanthin can protect against blue light damage, but it doesn’t end here. Patients should also be mindful of their lifestyle – do they have a poor diet or are they a smoker? This can increase the risk of low MPOD and age-related macular degeneration. Family history and age are also risk factors, particularly the latter, as lutein and zeaxanthin levels decrease in the eye as we age.

Lutein in the diet

Lutein and zeaxanthin have an anti-oxidant effect on the eye – they ‘mop up’ free radicals which cause cell damage. Reduced levels of these free radicals prevent macula damage, which will guard against disease or sight loss.

These micronutrients aren’t produced by the body, and so can only be obtained through diet or supplementation. Lutein is found in foods like eggs, dark leafy greens and corn. These foods are accessible, but the challenge is eating enough of them keep your lutein levels topped up. This infographic by Kemin demonstrates how to get your 10mg recommended intake of lutein per day:

As you can see it is hard to get enough lutein from food alone – research shows the typical US diet only contains 1-3mg of lutein per day. The body needs 10mg of lutein and 2mg zeaxanthin a day, so supplementation is the most efficient source. A supplement like FloraGLO can be taken by all adults to keep their levels topped up but is particularly beneficial for those who have been identified as being at-risk of AMD.

Reducing AMD risk with lutein and zeaxanthin supplementation

Low macular pigment optical density is a major risk factor for AMD, and this density is maintained by lutein and zeaxanthin. AMD is caused by oxidative stress which can occur as a result of exposure to blue light. People are also at risk if they have a family history of AMD, if they smoke or if they have a poor diet.

AMD is symptomless in its initial stages, so it is very important to measure MPOD regularly as people reach old age, to predict if the disease will develop. A patient will not have any symptoms in the earliest stages of AMD, and the condition can be harder to treat once sight is affected.

If a patient is identified as having low MPOD it is prudent to increase their daily levels of lutein and zeaxanthin through supplementation. This can increase falling or low levels of both carotenoids and help the macular pigment continue protecting the macula from damage.

This can be a very effective treatment for many patients, as taking a single supplement, each day is easy to achieve. Regular screening to monitor the effectiveness of the supplementation helps measure the patient’s ongoing risk of developing AMD.

Low MPOD, lutein AMD

A large body of clinical evidence points to low MPOD as a potential biomarker for AMD, and alongside this, there is research to support lutein as a protection against low MPOD.

Use of lutein and zeaxanthin, alongside a screening programme using the MPS II, is a strong, preventative strategy for combating AMD. Check out some clinical data to learn more about this approach, and how it could work for your practice.

Further reading

The threat of AMD looms large, 288 million people are expected to have it by 2040, but this can be mitigated with the right approach. Lutein and zeaxanthin offer a barrier against low MPOD levels and AMD risk, and it is important for eye health professionals to educate patients about it.

By encouraging regular eye screening alongside fostering an interest in eye health, we can help patients take care of their sight into old age. Read more about AMD and diet in our related blog post or download our free whitepaper about the dangers of blue light.

For further information on lutein and zeaxanthin, visit Kemin’s website.