If eyes are the windows to the soul then it pays to keep those windows squeaky clean. Good nutrition is important to keep eyes healthy and functioning their best throughout our lifetime. Two very important eye nutrients that may reduce the risk for age-related macular degeneration and cataracts have names you may not be familiar with: lutein and zeaxanthin; both of these antioxidants can be found in Lester’s Oil.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are compounds called xanthophylls, which are yellow pigments that occur naturally in many plants and vegetables. Xanthophylls belong to a class of organic compounds called carotenoids, which also includes orange and red plant pigments; so it is not just an old wives tale that carrots will help you see in the dark!. Though lutein is considered a yellow pigment, in high concentrations it appears orange-red.
The best natural food sources of lutein and zeaxanthin are green leafy vegetables and other green or yellow vegetables. Foods that contain lutein and zeaxanthin include:
- Turnip greens
- Green Peas
- Romaine lettuce
- Green beans
In addition to being found in many green leafy plants and colorful fruits and vegetables, lutein and zeaxanthin are found in high concentrations in the macula the oval-shaped highly pigmented yellow spot near the center of the retina of the human eye.
Recent research has discovered a third xanthophyll in the macula. Called meso-zeaxanthin, this carotenoid is not found in food sources and appears to be created in the retina from ingested lutein.
In nature, lutein and zeaxanthin appear to absorb excess light energy to prevent damage to plants from too much sunlight, especially from high-energy light rays called blue light.
In the eye it is believed that lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin act like natural sunglasses, physically helping to filter out harmful blue light and stopping it from reaching and damaging the back of the retina. At least one study has shown that lutein and zeaxanthin may also play a role in preventing cataracts.
Lutein and zeaxanthin appear to have important antioxidant functions in the body. Along with other natural antioxidants, including vitamin C, beta carotene and vitamin E, these xanthophylls guard the body from damaging effects of free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can destroy cells and play a role in many diseases.
In a recent November 2011 study, zeaxanthin improved vision in elderly subjects. The Zeaxanthin and Visual Function Study found that zeaxanthin can improve vision in night driving and recognition of fine detail. The study was of 60 veterans with early age-related macular degeneration who consumed 8 mg per day of dietary zeaxanthin for a year. The subjects improved in their night driving, and a number of their blind spots disappeared. Also, their fine detail recognition improved on average by 1.5 lines or 8.5 letters on an eye chart.
There are no known toxic side effects of taking too much lutein or zeaxanthin. In some cases, people who eat large amounts of carrots or yellow and green citrus fruits can develop a harmless yellowing of the skin called carotenemia. Though the appearance of the condition can be somewhat alarming and may be confused with jaundice, the yellow discoloration disappears by cutting back on consumption of these carotenoid-rich foods. The source of lutein in many lutein supplements is marigold flowers, while for zeaxanthin it is often red peppers.
In addition to important eye and vision benefits, lutein may help protect against atherosclerosis (buildup of fatty deposits in arteries), the disease that leads to most heart attacks.