Lutein and Zeaxanthin: Benefits, Dosage and Food Sources
They’re Important Antioxidants
In excess, free radicals can damage your cells, contribute to aging and lead
to the progression of diseases like heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes
and Alzheimer’s disease (R).
Lutein and zeaxanthin also work to protect your eyes from free radical damage.
Your eyes are exposed to both oxygen and light, which in turn promote the
production of harmful oxygen free radicals. Lutein and zeaxanthin cancel out
these free radicals, so they’re no longer able to damage your eye cells
These carotenoids seem to work better together and can combat free radicals
more effectively when combined, even at the same concentration
Lutein and zeaxanthin are the only dietary carotenoids that accumulate in the retina, particularly the macula region, which is located at the back of your eye.
Because they’re found in concentrated amounts in the macula, they’re known
as macular pigments (
The macula is essential for vision. Lutein and zeaxanthin work as important
antioxidants in this area by protecting your eyes from harmful free
radicals. It’s thought that a reduction of these antioxidants over time can
impair eye health (
Lutein and zeaxanthin also act as a natural sunblock by absorbing excess
light energy. They’re thought to especially protect your eyes from harmful
blue light (
Below are some conditions with which lutein and zeaxanthin may help:
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD): Consumption of lutein and zeaxanthin may protect against AMD
progression to blindness (
The 2013 National Eye Institutes five year
AREDS 2 study
(Age-Related Eye Disease Study) proved that a revised formula consisting
of the AREDS formula without beta-carotene, adding lutein and zeaxanthin
reduces the risk of progression of Age-Related Macular Degeneration by an
additional eighteen percent compared to those in the AREDS 2 study who
took the original recommended formula from 2001.
Cataracts: Cataracts are cloudy patches at the front of your eye. Eating foods
rich in lutein and zeaxanthin may slow their formation (
Diabetic retinopathy: In animal diabetes studies, supplementing with lutein and
zeaxanthin has been shown to reduce oxidative stress markers that damage
the eyes (
16, 17, 18).
Eye detachment: Rats with eye detachments who were given lutein injections had 54%
less cell death than those injected with corn oil (
Uveitis: This is an inflammatory condition in the middle layer of the eye.
Lutein and zeaxanthin may help reduce the inflammatory process involved
20, 21, 22).
The research to support lutein and zeaxanthin for eye health is promising,
but not all studies show benefits. For example, some studies found no link
between lutein and zeaxanthin intake and the risk of early onset age-related
macular degeneration (
While there are many factors at play, having enough lutein and zeaxanthin is still crucial to your overall eye health.
Only in recent years have the beneficial effects of lutein and zeaxanthin on skin been discovered.
Their antioxidant effects allow them to protect your skin from the sun’s
damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays (
A two-week animal study showed that rats who received 0.4% lutein- and
zeaxanthin-enriched diets had less UVB-induced skin inflammation than
those who received only 0.04% of these carotenoids (
Another study in 46 people with mild-to-moderate dry skin found that those
who received 10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin had significantly
improved skin tone, compared to the control group (
Furthermore, lutein and zeaxanthin may protect your skin cells from
premature aging and UVB-induced tumors (
Lutein and zeaxanthin work as supportive antioxidants in your skin. They can protect it from sun damage and may help improve skin tone and slow aging.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are widely recommended as dietary supplements to prevent visual loss or eye disease.
They’re usually sourced from marigold flowers and mixed with waxes but can
also be made synthetically (
These supplements are especially popular among older adults who are concerned about failing eye health.
Low levels of lutein and zeaxanthin in the eyes are associated with
age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts, while higher blood
levels of these carotenoids are linked to an up to 57% reduced risk of AMD
Other people may benefit from lutein and zeaxanthin supplements, as
dietary intakes of carotenoids are often low (
Supplementing with lutein and zeaxanthin can also improve your overall antioxidant status, which may offer greater protection against stressors.
Lutein and zeaxanthin supplements have become very popular among people concerned with their eye health but may also benefit those with poor dietary intake.
There’s currently no recommended dietary intake for lutein and zeaxanthin.
What’s more, the amount of lutein and zeaxanthin your body requires may
depend on the amount of stress it endures. For example, smokers may need
more lutein and zeaxanthin, as they tend to have lower levels of
carotenoids, compared to non-smokers (
It’s estimated that Americans consume an average 1–3 mg of lutein and
zeaxanthin daily. However, you may need a lot more than this to reduce
your risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) (
Research from the Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) found that 10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin caused a significant
reduction in the progression to advanced age-related macular
Likewise, supplementing with 10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin can
improve overall skin tone (
10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin appear to be effective in studies, but further research is needed to identify the optimal dosage for health.
There appear to be very few side effects associated with lutein and zeaxanthin supplements.
A large-scale eye study found no adverse effects of lutein and zeaxanthin
supplements over five years. The only side effect identified was some skin
yellowing that was not considered harmful (
However, one case study found crystal development in the eyes of an older woman who supplemented with 20 mg of lutein per day and also consumed a high-lutein diet for eight years.
Once she stopped taking the supplement, the crystals disappeared in one
eye but remained in the other (
Research estimates that 0.45 mg per pound (1 mg per kg) of body weight of
lutein and 0.34 mg per pound (0.75 mg per kg) of body weight of zeaxanthin
daily are safe. For a 154-pound (70-kg) person, this equates to 70 mg of
lutein and 53 mg of zeaxanthin (
A study in rats found no adverse effects for lutein or zeaxanthin for
daily doses of up to 1,814 mg per pound (4,000 mg/kg) of body weight,
which was the highest dose tested (
Though there are very few reported side effects of lutein and zeaxanthin supplements, more research is needed to evaluate the potential side effects of very high intakes.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are overall safe to supplement at the recommended doses, but skin yellowing may occur over time.
Interestingly, the chlorophyll in dark-green vegetables masks lutein and zeaxanthin pigments, so the vegetables appear green in color.
Key sources of these carotenoids include kale, parsley, spinach, broccoli
and peas. Kale is one of the best sources of lutein with 48–115 mcg per
gram of kale. By comparison, a carrot may only contain 2.5–5.1 mcg of
lutein per gram (
Orange juice, honeydew melon, kiwis, red peppers, squash and grapes are
also good sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, and you can find a decent
amount of lutein and zeaxanthin in durum wheat and corn as well
In addition, egg yolk may be an important source of lutein and zeaxanthin,
as the high fat content of the yolk may improve the absorption of these
Fats improve the absorption of lutein and zeaxanthin, so including them in
your diet, such as some olive oil in a green salad or some butter or
coconut oil with your cooked greens, is a good idea (
Dark-green vegetables, such as kale, spinach, and broccoli, are fantastic sources of lutein and zeaxanthin. Foods like egg yolk, peppers and grapes are good sources, too.
What is the Difference Between Lutein and ZeaxanthinThe key difference between lutein and zeaxanthin is that lutein is a common carotenoid molecule that is found in most fruits and vegetables, while zeaxanthin is a carotenoid molecule that is present in minute quantities in most fruits and vegetables.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are powerful antioxidant carotenoids, found in high amounts in dark-green vegetables and available in supplement form.
Daily doses of 10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin may improve skin tone, protect your skin from sun damage and reduce the progression of age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
Dietary intakes of these carotenoids are low in the average diet, possibly giving you just another good reason to increase your fruit and vegetable intake.