Scientists have found that lutein can help prevent and treat eye conditions that may occur as part of aging, such as macular degeneration.

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Macular degeneration involves the deterioration of the macula at the retina’s center. This condition is currently the leading cause of blindness in people older than 60.

Keep reading to learn more about where to find lutein and how much lutein per day may benefit a person with macular degeneration.

Lutein, a type of compound known as a carotenoid, may play a role in preventing or reducing the symptoms of macular degeneration.

Carotenoids are a group of naturally occurring pigments that are responsible for giving color to many plants, bacteria, and fungi. When consumed in natural foods or supplements, carotenoids have a range of health-promoting properties.

Lutein is a member of the group of carotenoids called xanthophylls. Consuming lutein can help people prevent damage to different organs.

Many researchers believe that lutein protects the retina and macula from damage.

What the research says

Research has indicated that lutein consumption can help protect against macular degeneration. In one review, researchers analyzed the results of studies on individuals with macular degeneration who consumed 10 or 20 milligrams (mg) of lutein daily for at least 6 months.

The results showed that these individuals experienced an increase in the density of macular pigments. They also experienced an increase in visual acuity. Together, these results suggest that daily lutein intake can improve eye health for people with macular degeneration.

In another small study, researchers followed 39 people with macular degeneration who took 20-mg lutein supplements daily for 6 months. The participants exhibited higher levels of lutein in their plasma by the end of the study. The researchers also noted that consuming green vegetables may help prevent macular degeneration.

People with higher levels of lutein are at a lower risk of developing macular degeneration. They also have generally healthier eyes and sharper vision.

Scientists still have much to learn about lutein’s health benefits. Ongoing studies may reveal even more roles that lutein plays in the body.

Zeaxanthin is another carotenoid closely related to lutein. These two compounds are only slightly different at the atomic level.

Like lutein, zeaxanthin builds up in the human macula. Recent research has shown that both lutein and zeaxanthin work to prevent macular degeneration.

A 2022 study examined almost 4,000 people over 10 years and found that regular lutein and zeaxanthin supplements helped reduce the progression of late-stage macular degeneration.

Several studies to date have shown positive results. However, more research is needed to find out exactly how these carotenoids protect eye health and to determine optimal supplement doses.

Many foods naturally contain large amounts of lutein. Some of the more common foods that have high lutein levels are:

Foods contain varying amounts of lutein. For example, 100 grams (g) of peas contains about 1.7 mg of lutein. The same quantity of kale contains about 11.4 mg; red pepper, 8.5 mg; and spinach, 7.9 mg.

Overall, kale contains the highest amount of lutein. Kale is also a good source of minerals such as calcium and potassium. It also contains:

Individuals who have macular degeneration or are at risk of developing it should consider adding kale or other lutein sources to their diet.

A 2020 study showed that consuming an egg daily increased the body’s level of lutein. For certain people, making changes to diet may be enough to raise lutein levels. However, a person should discuss any significant dietary changes with a medical professional or dietitian.

Find out what other foods are important for eye health.

On average, each American adult consumes 1–2 mg of lutein each day. As such, many people may benefit from taking lutein supplements.

Another 2020 study examined 16 people who consumed 20 mg of lutein daily. The researchers found that this supplement helped increase lutein levels in the macula.

In an additional study, researchers gave participants supplements with either 10 or 20 mg of lutein each day. The results showed that people experienced an increase in their lutein levels. The researchers associated this effect more with those who took the 20-mg supplement.

Further studies are needed to determine the right dosage of lutein for each individual. However, current research suggests that supplements have positive effects and few or no side effects.

Learn more about the essential vitamins for eye health.

There is also evidence to suggest that these carotenoids can help delay the progression of cataracts. When cataracts develop, the eye’s lens becomes clouded. People with cataracts may experience blurred vision or have trouble seeing colors. However, increasing lutein consumption can reduce the risk of cataracts.

Additionally, recent research has indicated that lutein can help people with diabetic retinopathy. This condition involves damage to the retina among people with diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy affects about one-third of people who have diabetes.

Read on about eye health from our dedicated hub.

The National Eye Institute conducted two large-scale studies — Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) and AREDS2. The researchers tested the effects of nutritional supplements on slowing down macular degeneration.

The AREDS study included the following doses of vitamins:

This daily supplementation decreased the risk of macular degeneration from intermediate to advanced stages by 25%. The risk of vision loss decreased by 19%.

In the AREDS2 study, the formula included the same doses of vitamins as above but added 10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin. There were no differences in results between the AREDS and AREDS2 studies.

Read more about the supplements for macular degeneration.

Lutein is a carotenoid known for giving some plants their color. When people consume lutein, it travels to the retina and promotes eye health.

People who experience macular degeneration may benefit from adding extra lutein to their diet through lutein-rich foods or lutein supplements.

Many studies have shown that lutein can help prevent or stall the progression of macular degeneration. A person should speak with a doctor to learn more about what lutein can do to protect long-term vision health.