With time, the role and importance of antioxidants in our well being have become abundantly clear. Antioxidants build a solid defense system for our bodies that protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. While there are several antioxidants, one of the most powerful is lutein.
What is lutein?
When present in excess, unstable molecules or free radicals can cause considerable damage to one's cells. They lead to an array of age-related complications like heart diseases, Type II diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and even cancer. Lutein is a carotenoid that is rich in anti-inflammatory properties. It defends your body's DNA from radicals and even boosts the recycling of glutathione which is another important antioxidant.
Antioxidants that have anti-inflammatory properties contribute to reducing the chances of chronic diseases. Carotenoids like lutein are widely found in foods, especially in fruits and vegetables. Humans derive lutein from their diet as they cannot synthesize carotenoids. Abundant intake of lutein through diet or supplement has beneficial effects on optical diseases.
Effect of lutein on eye health
Studies have proven that lutein has a great impact on eye health. Our eyes are always exposed to light and oxygen. This leads to the production of harmful oxygen-free radicals. Lutein along with Zeaxanthin are the only carotenoids that gather in the retina, especially around the macula which is present at the back of the human eye. Simply put, lutein along with zeaxanthin play the role of a natural sunblock by absorbing excess light energy. It also protects your eyes from the harmful blue light that is emitted from various screens including laptops and television.
Here is a list of ocular conditions that lutein helps with:
- Uveitis: An inflammatory condition in the middle layer of the eye that is brought under control with lutein's anti-inflammatory properties.
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD): AMD often tends to progress to blindness. Ample consumption of lutein protects against AMD.
- Diabetic retinopathy: A host of oxidative stress markers often damage the eyes. Supplementing the diet with lutein reduces their attack protecting the eyes against considerable damage.
Absorption of lutein by the human body
Once taken, lutein is absorbed by the small bowel. It is then secreted into the lymph and is passed to the liver. If one is deficient in iron, zinc or protein, it might affect the absorption of lutein in their body.
List of foods containing lutein
Lutein's pigment is yellowish-orange in color. Since it is a fat-soluble nutrient, consumption of lutein-rich foods with a healthy fat like olive oil can enhance its absorption in your body. An array of dark leafy greens and yellow vegetables have proven to be great sources of lutein.
Here is a list of natural sources of lutein:
- Spinach: Rich in lutein, one cup of cooked spinach contains 20354 mcg of lutein along with vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, calcium, iron and potassium.
- Peas: A single cup of cooked peas contains 4148.8 mcg of lutein, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc and vitamin A.
- Kale: One of the most popular superfoods, Kale enjoys a reputation of its own. It contains 6447 mcg of lutein per cooked cup along with vitamin A, vitamin K, and fibre.
- Brussels Sprouts: A cooked cup of Brussel sprouts contains 2012.4 mcg of lutein along with several minerals and other vitamins. They are also high in fibre.
- Eggs: Each egg contains 251.5 mcg of lutein. It is, in fact, lutein, that lends the yellow color to the yolk of the egg.
- Carrots: Universally hailed for improving eyesight, carrots are high in lutein, vitamin A, vitamin C, beta-carotene and potassium.
- Pumpkin: The rich orange color in pumpkin comes from its lutein content. One cup of cooked pumpkin contains 2484.3 mcg of lutein. It is also high in potassium and low in calories unless one adds sugar to it.
- Yellow sweet corn: One cup of cooked yellow sweet corn contains 933.8 mcg of lutein. It's rich in fibre and Vitamin B. It is a whole grain and hence, even popcorn is also high in lutein.
In a scenario in which one has certain medical conditions, the doctor might prescribe them to take a lutein supplement. Often, lutein is combined with zeaxanthin to help cure ocular conditions. While it might not be recommended for daily intake, studies suggest that lutein supplementation at 10 mg per day and zeaxanthin at 2 mg per day can lead to a host of health benefits.
A dose of up to 20 mg of lutein is considered safe for adults but researchers are yet to determine an upper limit of too much lutein. However, it should be noted that the consumption of high amounts of carotenoids can lead to the skin turning yellowish in colour.
What are the side effects of consuming lutein?
There are no known side effects of lutein as such. However, following is a list of factors that one should consider while taking lutein supplements:
- In case one is suffering from cystic fibrosis or skin cancer, they must consult a doctor before opting for lutein
- High doses of lutein can lead to a condition known as carotenemia. Hence, it is important to not consume more than 20 mg of lutein per day.
- Although there are no reports on the effect of lutein on pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers, it is always advisable to consult a physician to determine the right amount of lutein in their diet.