Preventing vision loss is a common concern, especially as we age. I’ve told you before about the safe, natural, and effective nutrients and lifestyle changes that can help keep your eyes healthy and your vision sharp. Today, I want to focus on the benefits of lutein, which is one of my top recommended nutrients for vision health.
What Is Lutein?
Lutein is a naturally-occurring carotenoid that is abundant in fruits and vegetables (especially dark, leafy green ones such as spinach and kale) and egg yolks, and it is highly concentrated in the macula of the eye, with smaller amounts found in the retina, lens, and optic nerve. Together with other high-potency antioxidants, lutein helps block out visible blue light, one of the major causes of light-induced damage to the eyes.
Benefits of Lutein: Vision and Eye Health
This powerful carotenoid also helps ward off vision loss—and more specifically helps to prevent macular degeneration—by increasing the thickness of the macula. In one study, researchers gave 30 mg of lutein to two patients for 140 days, and found that their macular density increased by 21 percent and 39 percent.
Research has also shown that lutein can lower risk of cataracts. For example, one study found that older women who had the highest levels of lutein (and zeaxanthin, another nutrient that is critical for vision health) were about a third less likely to have cataracts.
Other eye health benefits of lutein include:
- Helping to reduce eye fatigue and glare sensitivity
- Promoting normal visual function and proper lens density
- Strengthening eye tissue
- Supporting visual acuity
Benefits of Lutein: Brain Health, Memory, and Learning
More recent research has shown that the benefits of lutein go beyond vision and eye health. Lutein also supports brain function and enhances memory and learning. This research reveals that lutein is the dominant carotenoid in the brain, where it influences visual processing and other neural functions. Individuals with mild cognitive impairment have been shown to have reduced lutein status, and boosting levels with supplements is associated with improvements in memory.
In a study of older women who took 12 mg of lutein per day, with or without 800 mg of DHA, verbal recall scores significantly improved. And because it enhances visual processing speed, which tends to slow down with age, one of the other brain health benefits of lutein is boosting overall brain efficiency.
Why Lutein Supplements Are Important
Unfortunately, as we age, our levels of lutein decrease because the body can’t produce it. Smokers, blue-eyed folks, and postmenopausal women have also been found to have lower levels of lutein. Fortunately, you can replenish the amount of lutein in your blood, and ultimately your eyes and brain, through diet and nutritional supplementation.
Research has shown that taking 15–40 mg of lutein daily provides the best protection. Since most people don’t eat enough dark, leafy green vegetables and egg yolks (the average intake of lutein via diet is 2 mg per day) I believe it is critical to also take supplements that contain lutein.
Now it’s your turn: Do you supplement with lutein?