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According to theoretical findings and two preliminary double-blind studies, it appears that use of lutein supplements might help prevent or slow the development of age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) and possibly cataracts , the two most common causes of vision loss in seniors.
Lutein has also shown a hint of promise for treatment of retinitis pigmentosa , an inherited form of eye disease that causes progressive vision loss. 1 Very weak evidence hints that lutein might help prevent atherosclerosis . 2
What is the Scientific Evidence for Lutein?
Most but not all observational studies suggest that people who eat foods containing lutein are less likely to develop cataracts and perhaps macular degeneration as well, the two most common causes of vision loss in adults. 3 Furthermore, there are good theoretical reasons to believe that lutein may play an important role in protecting the eyes.
Lutein is the main pigment (coloring chemical) in the center of the retina, the region of maximum visual sensitivity known as the macula. Macular degeneration consists of injury to the macula and leads to a severe loss in vision. One of the main causes of macular degeneration appears to be sun damage to the sensitive tissue. Lutein appears to act as a natural eyeshade, protecting the retina against too much light. 4 It is also an antioxidant , meaning that it fights dangerous, naturally occurring substances called free radicals. Free radicals may play a role in macular degeneration.
Based on this information, researchers conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of lutein. 5 The study enrolled 90 people with dry-type macular degeneration and followed them for 12 months. The participants received either lutein (10 mg), lutein plus other antioxidants, and a multivitamin/mineral supplement, or placebo. At the end of the study period, participants who had taken lutein alone or lutein plus the other nutrients showed improvements in vision, while no change in vision was seen in the placebo group. A subsequent study failed to find benefit with lutein, but it used a lower dose (6 mg daily) and involved fewer people. 6 Ultimately, further study will be needed to establish whether lutein is actually helpful for macular degeneration.
Besides protecting the macula, lutein might also shield the lens of the eye from light damage, slowing the development of cataracts . 7 One small 2-year, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial found some evidence that lutein may improve vision in people who already have cataracts. 8 A trial involving 225 adults with retinitis pigmentosa found 4 years of daily supplementation with lutein and vitamin A slowed the rate of visual loss in the mid-peripheral field. 9
- Bahrami H, Melia M, Dagnelie G, et al. Lutein supplementation in retinitis pigmentosa: PC-based vision assessment in a randomized double-masked placebo-controlled clinical trial [NCT00029289]. BMC Ophthalmol. 2006 Jun 7. [Epub ahead of print]
- Hassan K, Hough G, Wang X, et al. Dietary lutein markedly reduces atherosclerotic lesion formation in apolipoprotein null mouse [abstract]. FASEB J. 1999;13:A176.
- Mares-Perlman JA, Brady WE, Klein BE, Klein R, Haus GJ, Palta M, Ritter LL, Shoff SM. Diet and nuclear lens opacities. Am J Epidemiol. 141(4):322-34.
- Landrum JT, Bone RA, Kilburn MD. The macular pigment: a possible role in protection from age-related macular degeneration. Adv Pharmacol. 38():537-56.
- Richer S, Stiles W, Statkute L, Pulido J, Frankowski J, Rudy D, Pei K, Tsipursky M, Nyland J. Double-masked, placebo-controlled, randomized trial of lutein and antioxidant supplementation in the intervention of atrophic age-related macular degeneration: the Veterans LAST study (Lutein Antioxidant Supplementation Trial). Optometry. 75(4):216-30.
- Bartlett HE, Eperjesi F. Effect of lutein and antioxidant dietary supplementation on contrast sensitivity in age-related macular disease: a randomized controlled trial. Eur J Clin Nutr. 61(9):1121-7.
- Hammond BR Jr, Wooten BR, Snodderly DM. Density of the human crystalline lens is related to the macular pigment carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin. Optom Vis Sci. 74(7):499-504.
- Ruiz Rejón F, Martín-Peña G, Granado F, Ruiz-Galiana J, Blanco I, Olmedilla B. Plasma status of retinol, alpha- and gamma-tocopherols, and main carotenoids to first myocardial infarction: case control and follow-up study. Nutrition. 18(1):26-31.
- Berson EL, Rosner B, Sandberg MA, Weigel-DiFranco C, Brockhurst RJ, Hayes KC, Johnson EJ, Anderson EJ, Johnson CA, Gaudio AR, Willett WC, Schaefer EJ. Clinical trial of lutein in patients with retinitis pigmentosa receiving vitamin A. Arch Ophthalmol. 128(4):403-11.