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What is lutein? Why do we need it?

Lutein is a yellow-colored pigment that belongs to the carotenoid family. In humans, it is found in the eyes, in the central area of the retina called the macula, where a person’s visual perception is most acute.

Lutein reduces age-related macular degeneration and helps filter out damaging light. One study conducted in 1994 found that adults with the highest dietary intake of lutein had a 57% decreased risk of macular degeneration compared to people with the lowest intake. A similar trial conducted in 1992 found a link between intake of lutein and an increased risk of cataracts.

Lutein also functions as an antioxidant. Anecdotal evidence suggests it helps protect skin cells against ultraviolet radiation and may fight several forms of cancer, including those that affect the colon, rectum, breast, lungs and prostate.

How much lutein should I take?

People whose eyes appear to be better protected from macular degeneration have taken a minimum of 6mg per day. Many practitioners recommend that lutein supplements be taken with food to improve absorption.

What are some good sources of lutein? What forms are available?

Black currant fruit; collard greens; egg yolks; kale; leeks; peas; romaine lettuce; and spinach are all excellent sources of lutein. In addition to food sources, lutein is also available as a dietary supplement in capsule or tablet form.

What can happen if I don't get enough lutein? What can happen if I take too much? Are there any side-effects I should be aware of?

Deficiency and toxicity levels have yet to be established for lutein; however, studies show that people who eat more lutein-containing foods are at a decreased risk of macular degeneration. No adverse effects from lutein have been reported; there is currently no evidence of drug interactions with lutein.

Other Resources :

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  • Dagnelie G, et al. Lutein improves visual function in some patients with retinal degeneration: a pilot study via the Internet. Optometry 2000;71(3).
  • Hankinson SE, Stampfer MJ, Saddon JM, et al. Nutrient intake and cataract extraction in women. A prospective study. Br Med J 1992;305:335-9.
  • Johnson CC, Gorell JM, Rybicki BA, Sanders K, Peterson EL. Adult nutrient intake as a risk factor for Parkinson's disease. Int J Epidemiol Dec 1999;28(6):1102-9.
  • Seddon JM, Ajani UA, Sperduto RD, et al. Dietary carotenoids, vitamins A, C, and E, and advanced age-related macular degeneration. JAMA 1994;272:1413-20.
  • Sujak A, et al. Lutein and zeaxanthin as protectors of lipid membranes against oxidative damage: the structural aspects. Arch Biochem Biophys 1999;371(2):301-307.

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