There are multiple nutrients that your eyes need for optimal health. Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids that your eyes require to function normally. (Learn More)

Getting these nutrients from your diet is preferable to taking supplements.

If you choose the supplement route, it is imperative that you get the right dose for safety and efficacy. Adults should get 10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin per day. (Learn More)

Without adequate levels of these antioxidants, eye damage can occur over time. (Learn More)

What Are Lutein and Zeaxanthin?

Zeaxanthin and lutein are carotenoids. These are a type of pigment that gives the reddish or yellowish hue to different vegetables and fruits.

Both of these nutrients are chemically similar, with only a minor difference in the atom arrangement.

Since these carotenoids function as antioxidants, they are important to fighting free radicals, a type of unstable molecule. When free radicals are going to work in your body, it can contribute to a variety of negative effects, such as heart disease progression, cancer growth, or aging. By defending against free radicals, they help multiple body systems, including your eyes.

Both of these antioxidants help another important antioxidant known as glutathione. They work to recycle it, so you have enough to keep your body healthy. These nutrients also help to protect the body’s fats, DNA, and proteins from stressors.

Both of these carotenoids can work alone to protect against free radical damage. However, they appear to be more effective when you take them both at the same time.

How They Relate to Eye Health

These two nutrients are often discussed in relation to eye health. While they do protect the whole body, they are especially important when it comes to your eyes. They offer protective benefits against certain eye diseases and promote overall healthier vision.

In your eyes, the yellowish color of the macula is due to these nutrients. In this eye structure, both carotenoids are present in high concentrations.

Getting These Nutrients

assortment of vegetables

Both of these nutrients have different daily intake requirements. For lutein, adults should be getting 10 mg per day. For zeaxanthin, adults should be getting 2 mg per day.

A variety of foods contain these nutrients. The vegetable with the highest content of lutein is maize, and orange peppers have the highest zeaxanthin content. As for fruits, high levels of both nutrients are found in grapes, oranges, and kiwis.

The following foods are also high in both nutrients:

  • Kale
  • Collards
  • Spinach
  • Green peas
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Turnip greens
  • Broccoli
  • Eggs

Getting a mixture of these foods in your daily diet is the easiest way to get both nutrients. Since you do not need very high levels of either one, eating one or two of these foods daily is often sufficient. You can also add a supplement to your regimen to ensure you are getting enough of both.

In many cases, supplements contain both lutein and zeaxanthin.

Talk to your doctor, so they can recommend the proper dose. You also need to ensure that your chosen supplement is high in quality. Since supplements are not well regulated in the U.S., there is little guarantee that the dose on the label is actually in the supplement. Your doctor may recommend a particular brand.

couple both wearing sunglasses

How These Nutrients Impact Eye Health

In the retina, these dietary carotenoids are the only ones that accumulate, especially in the macula region. Due to this, they are often referred to as macular pigments.

If the levels of these antioxidants are not sufficient over time, it is believed that it could eventually impair the health of your eyes.

Without sufficient levels of both nutrients, free radicals may essentially overpower the available antioxidants and cause damage to your eyes.

Both nutrients also work like sunscreen for your eyes. They are able to absorb excess light energy. Due to this action, they provide protective benefits against blue light, which can cause harm.

The following are other eye issues that may benefit from sufficient levels of lutein and zeaxanthin:

  • Age-related macular degeneration: These nutrients may help to reduce the risk of this condition causing blindness.
  • Diabetic retinopathy: The oxidative stress markers that may cause eye damage appear to be reduced due to these nutrients.
  • Uveitis: The inflammatory process associated with this condition may be lessened by these nutrients.
  • Cataracts: Cataract formation may be slowed with sufficient levels of these nutrients.
  • Eye detachment: Lutein and zeaxanthin may help to lessen cell death with eye detachment.

It is important to note that not all studies back up the benefits of these nutrients. Further research is being done to get a better idea of how much these carotenoids benefit eye health.

Ensure that your diet has the right mixture of foods to provide you with these nutrients. A balanced diet is important for eye health as well as overall health.

References

Carotenoids: Potential Allies of Cardiovascular Health? (February 2015). Food and Nutrition Research.

Studies on the Singlet Oxygen Scavenging Mechanism of Human Macular Pigment. (December 2011). Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin. American Optometric Association.

Fruits and Vegetables That Are Sources for Lutein and Zeaxanthin: The Macular Pigment in Human Eyes. British Journal of Ophthalmology.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin – Food Sources, Bioavailability, and Dietary Variety in Age-Related Macular Degeneration Protection. (February 2017). Nutrients.

The Photobiology of Lutein and Zeaxanthin in the Eye. (December 2015). Journal of Ophthalmology.