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Eat Your Vegetables: Lutein for Eye Health

By Jennifer Kimberley

As the fast food and junk food industries have grown over the decades, many people have reduced fresh vegetables and fruit in their diet. There are some negative health consequences of this and one is that the eyes are receiving less lutein and its related compound, zeaxanthin. Since lutein cannot be produced by the body, it must be consumed. This is an excellent step you can take to promote your eye health.

Foods with Lutein
Lutein and zeaxanthin are antioxidants and carotenoids. Lutein is a natural pigment in egg yolks and green leafy vegetables, and in vegetables and fruit with yellow, red, green, blue or purple coloration. Examples are broccoli, peas, corn, carrots, tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries. So if you eat colorful fresh food, lutein is automatically part of your diet. There are also many nutritional supplements that contain lutein, and an increasing number of skin care products.

The eyes and the skin are the only body organs exposed to the external environment, and they both need protection from free radicals. Antioxidants such as lutein can help protect against skin damage as well as protecting the eyes and whole body against various diseases.

Lutein in the Eyes
High concentrations of both lutein and zeaxanthin have been found in the retina. Lutein is mostly found in the retinal periphery and zeaxanthin is more concentrated in the macula. They occur as yellow pigments. The macula is the central area of the retina that gives us our sharpest vision in bright light and our color vision. Lutein and zeaxanthin are also present in the eye’s lens.

Help Against Macular Degeneration (AMD) and Cataracts

  • Macular degeneration is a vision problem experienced by many older people. It involves small deposits in the macula called drusen which gradually damage the retinal cells. This is the “dry” form of Macular Degeneration. There is also a more severe “wet” form, where dysfunctional blood vessels form behind the retina and leak blood into it. This can cause severe vision loss.

Some research has supported the view that supplemental lutein or zeaxanthin, or both, will help to protect you from AMD. If you have a family history of AMD, it would be a good idea to add more lutein to your diet before you reach mid-life.

  • Cataracts are a problem in the eye’s lens. As we age, the lens proteins start to form little clumps that block some of the incoming light. Cataracts are progressive so that over the years, more vision is lost until blindness will occur if nothing is done. Cataract surgery will replace the lens with an artificial intraocular lens (IOL).

Lutein and zeaxanthin are the only carotenoids present in the lens. Several studies have found that ingesting more foods with lutein and zeaxanthin lowers the risk of cataracts. Some studies, such as one published in the January, 2008 issue of Archives of Ophthalmology, have also shown that more Vitamin E is related to lower risk of cataracts. Vitamin E is another antioxidant.

It is not fully understood how lutein and zeaxanthin reduce or delay the incidence of cataracts and macular degeneration. But there are many possibilities, such as:

  • Being pigments, these two nutrients absorb some of the harmful UV rays from sunlight;

  • Being yellow pigments, they form a natural barrier to blue light, thought by many to damage retinal cells that are over-exposed to it. A person who has had cataract surgery is especially vulnerable to blue light damage, unless they have a yellow-tinted IOL or wear yellow-tinted sunglasses.

  • Being antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin prevent cell damage that would otherwise be caused by free radicals.

The U.S. National Eye Institute (NEI) has been recruiting participants for a clinical trial on lutein and zeaxanthin. It is designed to test the ability of these two antioxidants to reduce AMD and cataracts and promote eye health. The NEI has also been conducting studies on the effects of sunlight and vitamin supplements on cataract formation.

The eyes are complex and delicate and subject to many problems and diseases, especially as we get older. However, if you keep your eyes healthy, they can more easily resist conditions like AMD and cataracts.

To speak to a qualified ophthalmologist near you, please contact The LASIK Directory today.

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