What is Lutein?
Lutein is an organic yellow pigment that is exclusively created by plants. It is found in high quantities in green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, and yellow carrots. Animals obtain lutein either directly or indirectly from plants. Egg yolks, animal fat, and the macula of the eye all contain the pigment- causing their yellow hue. Animals use it as an antioxidant and light absorber.
What is Lutein’s Role in the Human Eye?
Lutein, along with other antioxidants, helps block out visible blue light, one of the major causes of light-induced damage to the eyes. Blue light emanating from the sun’s rays is very toxic to the retina. The antioxidant helps ward off vision loss, but more specifically aids in the prevention of macular degeneration- a medical condition which may result in blurred or no vision in the center of the visual field due to damage to the macula and retina. Ongoing research also indicates that this pigment may inhibit the development of cataracts, or a clouding of the lens in the eye. This disease affects more than half of all Americans. Other eye benefits of lutein include: reduced eye fatigue and glare sensitivity, normal vision function and proper lens density, strong eye tissue, and improved visual acuity.
Am I Eating/Absorbing Enough Lutein?
Unfortunately, as we get older, our levels of the protective pigment decrease due to the body’s inability to produce it. Smokers, blue-eyed individuals, and postmenopausal women have been found to have lower levels of this antioxidant. Research has shown that consuming 15-40 mg each day provides the best protection. As far as food goes, spinach and kale are two of the most accessible and rich sources of the antioxidant. Since most people neglect to consume enough dark, leafy green vegetables and egg yolks, it may be necessary to take supplements that contain lutein. The average intake via diet is a mere 2mg per day. Consult a physician or registered dietitian to find out how you can make sure you are receiving the optimal amount of this important antioxidant.