Nutrition

Lutein and Zeaxanthin: Benefits for Skin and Eye Health

Lutein and zeaxanthin are antioxidants that support clear vision. Additionally, these nutrients foster skin health, and lutein benefits brain function and cognition.

SUMMARY

Lutein and zeaxanthin are two antioxidants that share a very similar structure. There are advantages of taking zeaxanthin and lutein for eyes, and these nutrients support health in other ways as well. Along with zeaxanthin, lutein benefits your skin. And studies show that by taking a lutein supplement, you may be able to sharpen your cognition. 

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If you’ve ever eaten a brightly colored fruit or vegetable, you’ve had experience with lutein and zeaxanthin. 

These nutrients are antioxidants that are present in fruits and vegetables, as well as other food sources. They’re responsible for the vibrant hues seen in plants such as bell peppers, oranges, melons and grapes. 

Lutein benefits eye health, and so does zeaxanthin. For example, they can both reduce your risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

And they also support wellness in other ways. For example, these nutrients can help protect your skin from harsh ultraviolet rays. And they support the brain in ways that can boost cognition. 

What is lutein good for, and what is zeaxanthin capable of doing for your health journey?

In this article, we will: 

  • List critical facts regarding lutein and zeaxanthin
  • Discuss zeaxanthin and lutein benefits
  • List nutritious lutein foods and nourishing zeaxanthin foods
  • Find out whether there are zeaxanthin and lutein side effects
  • List zeaxanthin and lutein dosage

What is lutein?

Lutein is an antioxidant as well as a type of vitamin called a carotenoid. It’s related to beta carotene and vitamin A. 

Whether you choose lutein foods or a lutein supplement, this nutrient is a potent antioxidant. Antioxidants support wellness via their relationship with free radicals. 

Free radicals are compounds that can cause harm if their numbers aren’t controlled. In excess, free radicals can speed up the aging process and contribute to heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. 

Antioxidants help maintain a healthy balance of free radicals in the body. As an antioxidant, lutein benefits health by doing its part to help keep free radicals under control. 

Lutein is naturally found as a pigment in the human eye, in both the macula and the retina. It protects the eyes by working as a light filter, shielding sensitive eye tissues from harmful UV rays. Lutein also plays a role in enhancing visual performance. 

Many eye health professionals recommend lutein intake of at least 10 mg per day. However, estimates show most Americans get just 1 to 2 mg of lutein daily. That means many of us would benefit from increasing our lutein intake. 

What is zeaxanthin?

Like lutein, zeaxanthin is an antioxidant and a carotenoid. Structurally, zeaxanthin is almost identical to lutein. However, these carotenoids differ slightly in the arrangement of their atoms. 

Zeaxanthin is bright yellow, and it’s found at the center of the macula. It helps protect the eyes from oxidation and damage caused by light. 

Zeaxanthin is similar to lutein in that it’s present in a wide range of plant foods and some that are animal-based. You’ll find zeaxanthin in orange and yellow fruits, as well as egg yolks. And it’s zeaxanthin’s yellow pigment that gives paprika and corn their recognizable colors. 

Additionally, dark-green vegetables such as kale and spinach are rich in zeaxanthin. The green chlorophyll found in these vegetables dominates; this is why their color doesn’t reflect zeaxanthin’s yellow hue. 

Lutein and zeaxanthin are often joined by a third carotenoid known as meso-zeaxanthin. These three carotenoids are the only ones that accumulate in the retina. Because they’re present in large quantities in the macula, they’re known as macular pigments. 

Zeaxanthin and lutein benefits

You can choose to ramp up your well-being with lutein foods or a lutein supplement. Likewise, zeaxanthin foods or a zeaxanthin supplement both work well to support your health. 

So, what is lutein capable of doing for your health? And what is zeaxanthin good for on the road to improved wellness?

Here are some essential zeaxanthin and lutein benefits:  

Lutein and zeaxanthin benefit #1: Protection against age-related macular degeneration 

Age-related macular degeneration is an eye disease that can result in blurred vision. The macula is the part of the eye that governs straight-ahead vision. According to the National Eye Institute, aging can cause the macula to become damaged; when this happens, the condition is called age-related macular degeneration. This condition can make it harder to drive, read, recognize faces and perform everyday tasks around the house. 

Studies show lutein benefits those with macular degeneration, and zeaxanthin provides similar support. 

2003 study looked at 380 men and women aged 66 to 75 years. The study found that the risk of age-related macular degeneration was highest in those with lower plasma concentrations of zeaxanthin. 

And a 1994 study looked at the impact dietary carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin have on eye health. The research found that increased carotenoid intake was linked with a decreased risk of advanced or exudative AMD. Advanced or exudative AMD is the most visually disabling form of macular degeneration affecting older people. 

Lutein and zeaxanthin benefit #2: Cataract prevention

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, a cataract is a condition that occurs when the natural lens of your eye becomes cloudy. It happens when proteins in the lens break down. The protein breakdown causes vision to become blurred and hazy. It can also cause the objects you see to appear less colorful. 

The most common cause of this condition is aging. However, cataracts can also be caused by eye injury, sun exposure and medical problems such as diabetes. 

Research shows that lutein benefits cataract prevention, and so does zeaxanthin. A 2006 study found an inverse association between the prevalence of cataracts and high dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin.

And another 2006 study found that zeaxanthin had particular value as protection against cataract formation. 

Lutein and zeaxanthin benefit #3: Heart health support

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. About 655,000 Americans die from this ailment every year. 

Research shows carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin support heart health. They can minimize cardiovascular risk by lowering blood pressure and reducing markers of inflammation. In particular, the data shows lutein benefits heart health by exerting a cardioprotective effect. And studies show that zeaxanthin benefits arterial health. 

Lutein and zeaxanthin benefit #4: Skin support

Exposure to the sun’s rays can speed up the aging process and cause inflammation. Research shows lutein and zeaxanthin can protect the skin from the harmful effects of the sun. 

2003 animal study looked at the effect that lutein and zeaxanthin have on inflammation caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays. The research showed that oral supplementation of lutein and zeaxanthin reduced the effect of this radiation by diminishing the acute inflammatory responses that it triggered. 

And a 2006 study looked at the impact zeaxanthin and lutein supplements have on overall skin tone; the trial involved 46 people with skin that ranged from mildly dry to moderately dry. Compared to the control group, those who received 10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin noted significant improvements in skin tone. 

Lutein and zeaxanthin benefit #5: Improved cognition

Lutein and zeaxanthin aren’t just found in the eyes; these carotenoids are also present in the brain. So, it’s not surprising that they’ve both been linked with brain health and cognition. 

2008 clinical trial looked at the effect a lutein supplement and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) had on cognition in older women. Those who supplemented with lutein and DHA showed improved verbal fluency and improved memory scores. They also showed improvements in their rate of learning. 

And a 2017 study looked at the effect that lutein and zeaxanthin supplementation had on cognition in healthy young adults. Again, the data showed that supplementation with these nutrients improved cognitive function. 

Lutein foods and zeaxanthin foods

These foods are good sources of lutein and zeaxanthin:

  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • Turnip greens
  • Mustard greens
  • Collards
  • Kale
  • Green peas
  • Summer squash
  • Pumpkin 
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Broccoli 
  • Asparagus 
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Carrots 
  • Zucchini
  • Leeks
  • Corn
  • Arugula
  • Butterhead lettuce
  • Okra 
  • Celery 
  • Red cabbage
  • Tomatoes
  • Bell peppers
  • Pistachios
  • Persimmons 
  • Avocados
  • Oranges
  • Jackfruit
  • Egg yolk
  • Blueberries
  • Grapes

Zeaxanthin and lutein side effects and precautions

Lutein and zeaxanthin are generally considered safe and come with minimal side effects. 

However, in some cases, people with very light complexions may develop yellowing of the skin if they take very high doses that exceed recommended amounts. This skin yellowing is not considered harmful. 

Zeaxanthin and lutein dosage 

Eye care professionals recommend 10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin per day for eye health, based on the results of clinical trials.

And studies show that 10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin per day can help improve skin tone, reduce fine lines and improve skin elasticity.  

Still, the amount that’s ideal for you will depend on your overall health situation. For example, people who smoke may need more lutein and zeaxanthin than the amounts listed above. This is because smokers tend to have lower levels of carotenoids than non-smokers. 

Finally, when taking lutein and zeaxanthin, always consume these nutrients with a healthy fat such as olive oil. This is because lutein and zeaxanthin are both fat-soluble. They’re best absorbed by the body when eaten with fatty food. 

Next steps

What is lutein good for on your healing journey? And how can zeaxanthin support your health? Find out by adding these supplements to your daily regimen. You can also opt to up your intake of foods that contain these nutrients. 

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