Harvard Women's Health Watch

In Brief: Dietary lutein and zeaxanthin may slow macular degeneration

In Brief

Dietary lutein and zeaxanthin may slow macular degeneration

People whose diets are rich in two substances commonly found in fruits and vegetables have a lower risk of developing advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD), according to a study published in the September 2007 issue of the Archives of Ophthalmology. Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids, the substances that give fruits and vegetables their deep green, yellow, and orange colors. Both are also found in high concentrations in the macula, the area of the retina that gives us the sharp eyesight we need to read, drive, and recognize faces. AMD occurs when cells in the macula break down. Lutein and zeaxanthin are thought to slow the progression of AMD by helping shield the macula from oxidative damage caused by short wavelengths of light.

Food sources of lutein and zeaxanthin

Egg yolks, corn, broccoli, green beans, yams, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, cabbage, kale, spinach, carrots, kiwi fruit, and honeydew melon

Scientists with the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) evaluated 4,519 adults, ages 60 to 80, who had some degree of AMD but at least one eye without advanced disease. Study participants were divided into groups by the severity of their symptoms. From the subjects' responses to questionnaires, the researchers estimated their dietary intake of vitamins A, C, and E, lycopene, and the carotenoids beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Subjects who got the most lutein and zeaxanthin had a 35% lower risk for neovascular ("wet") AMD, an advanced form of the disease, compared with those who consumed the smallest amount of these nutrients.

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