Affect of lutein and zeaxanthin age-related maculopathy needs further study.




Am J Epidemiol

Related Monographs

Consumer Data: Lutein Macular Degeneration Zeaxanthin
Professional Data: Lutein Macular Degeneration Zeaxanthin


Zeaxanthin is a carotenoid that occurs at high levels in the retina of the eyes. The greatest amounts of zeaxanthin occur in the macular region of the eye, whereas lutein, a closely related compound, is distributed throughout the entire retina.1 When these compounds are found in plants, they both seem to occur together. For this reason, zeaxanthin and lutein are often discussed together and in fact they are sometimes referred to as lutein-zeaxanthin. These carotenoids have two main functions; they absorb the potentially harmful blue-violet wavelengths of light energy that come into the eye and they also function as antioxidants.2

Individuals whose diets provide greater amounts of dietary zeaxanthin and lutein have a reduced incidence of cataracts. In one study, men who had the highest consumption of zeaxanthin and lutein in their diets had a 19% reduced risk of cataracts compared to men who had the lowest amounts of zeaxanthin and lutein in their diets.3 There have been several reports that intake of lutein and zeaxanthin from the diet may help prevent several types of ocular problems.

In the third National Health and Nutrition Survey (NHANES) the relationship between these two carotenoids and age-related maculopathy were evaluated. According to the findings, there were mixed reviews as to whether or not there were benefits associated with intake of the carotenoids in the diet. In fact, the authors stated that, “Inverse relations of these carotenoids in the diet or serum to any form of ARM were not observed overall.” There were some small relationships found in specific types of ocular conditions but the findings differed based on age and sex. These findings prompted the researchers to determine that more specialized studies segmenting the population by age and gender are in order.4


1. Handelman GJ, Dratz EA, Reay CC, van Kuijk JG. Carotenoids in the human macula and whole retina. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. Jun1988;29(6):850-5.
2. Bernstein PS, Khachik F, Carvalho LS. Identification and quantitation of carotenoids and their metabolites in the tissues of the human eye. Exp Eye Res. Mar2001;72(3):215-23.
3. Brown L, Rimm EB, Seddon JM, et al. A prospective study of carotenoid intake and risk of cataract extraction in US men. Am J Clin Nutr. Oct1999;70(4):517-24.
4. Mares-Perlman JA, et al. Lutein and zeaxanthin in the diet and serum and their relation to age-related maculopathy in the third national health and nutrition examination survey. Am J Epidemiol 2001 Mar 1;153(5):424-32.