Lutein is characterised by its yellowy colour. It's mainly found in spinach and eggs. As it's a carotenoid, it has photoprotective properties besides being a powerful antioxidant. The best way to take it is with high fat meals as it improves absorption.

What is lutein?

This substance is a natural antioxidant, a yellow pigment belonging to the carotenoids family. Carotenoids are substances that give plants their colour and act as antioxidants. Foods that contain them include egg yolks and fruits and plants with dark-green pigmented leaves, such as spinach and cabbage.

It is a natural antioxidant, which helps improve eyesight and the dermis, delaying its deterioration and ageing.

Properties and benefits of lutein

Lutein improves eye health and skin, the only organs of the body which are in direct contact with the outside world.

It is an antioxidant that reduces and eliminates the harmful effects of free radicals. Free radicals cause damage in the body and are the cause of many chronic diseases.

This substance filters out the ultraviolet wavelengths in sunlight. These wavelengths are dangerous because they cause damage to organs due to oxidative stress. Clinical research has shown that, along with zeaxanthin, it reduces the intensity of the wavelengths of the light spectrum that are responsible for damage to the retina, as much as 90%. Therefore, it helps to prevent oxidative damage to the retina, and helps improve eyesight.

Sources of lutein, can it be produced by the body?

No. Although it is an essential substance for the human body, it cannot be produced by itself. The only way to provide this nutrient for the body consists of consuming foods or specific dietary supplements that contain it.

This substance is concentrated in the eyes, blood, in the dermis, at the neck of the uterus and in the brain and breasts. Inside the eye it is situated largely in the macular region of the retina and in very small quantities, in the rest of the retina and the iris and the lens.

Daily dose, how much do we need?

We should take between 6-10 mg daily. Clinical research has shown that for eye and dermis health, a daily dose is necessary. Therefore consuming vegetables from plants with a dark green pigment, or taking dietary supplements containing this substance is avised. Even in the case of those who follow a balanced diet, it is virtually impossible to eat a big plate of spinach containing the recommended 6 to 10 mg daily.

To this difficulty we should add the fact that there are many who do not consume the necessary daily amount of fruits and vegetables, so it is very difficult for them to meet the needed requirements through diet alone.

For that reason, and to avoid this deficiency and maintain good eyesight and healthy skin, taking a dietary supplement is advisable .

What are the differences between free lutein and esters?

Free lutein exists naturally in vegetables and green leafy plants, and benefits the body through the food we eat.

Esters are a natural extract contained in certain foods.

How does lutein protect eye health?

Studies have shown that this substance reduces the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). A study conducted in 2016 on elderly patients with macular degeneration (AMD) showed that taking 10 mg a day, improved their eyesight. In 2016 new clinical research was carried out, which indicated that this substance reduces the risk of cataracts.

What is age-related macular degeneration (AMD)

Macular degeneration is a degenerative disease, and is the leading cause of loss of vision in people older than 65 years. This disease produces a macula lutea, also called yellow spots, on the point of sharpest vision of the retina.

It occurs when the cells of the macula of the retina degenerate, leading to loss of vision in the central field of the retina. Peripheral vision is not affected.

1.Macular, "dry" or atrophic, age-related degeneration.

Dry macular degeneration occurs in 90 percent of cases because of small yellow dots, called drusen, appearing behind the macula.

These yellow dots are caused by metabolic waste deposits and the alteration of choroidal circulation. In 5-10% of people, it can lead to blindness. In the remaining cases, it produces cell death in the epithelium pigment of the retina and results in a serious loss of visual acuity.

If untreated, it can lead to a "wet" macular degeneration in 15% of cases. A 2016 study showed that dietary lutein supplements had a positive effect on the vision of those suffering from dry macular degeneration.

2. Age-related "wet" macular degeneration

"Wet" macular degeneration is the result of a poor metabolic condition of the blood vessels of the retina due to the underlying choroids. This can cause a detachment of the retina.

This pathology occurs at a faster rate than dry macular degeneration. The typical symptoms of "wet" macular degeneration are a distorted perception of things. For example, if an object's edges are straight, they might appear to be inclined.

What is the macula?

The macula lutea or yellow spot is a small area, two millimeters wide, located in the center of the retina, at the back of the eye. The central part of the macula is called the fovea, and is responsible for the central vision in the eye.

What properties does lutein have to protect the eyes from macular degeneration?

This substance is ingested through food, and is absorbed by the macula of the eye. Due to its special properties, it filters harmful ultraviolet light waves from the sun and protects the macula from damage caused by free radicals. A healthy macula ensures good central vision. When you are exposed to aggressive factors from light, the macula eventually deteriorates, bringing about age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

In addition to eating enough fruits and vegetables, taking a dietary supplement of this substance is recommended, in order to reduce or prevent the risk of developing macular degeneration (AMD). There are many who do not consume sufficient daily fruits and vegetables, so dietary supplements are an alternative to safely ingest the required daily amount needed by the body.

Who are at risk of age-related macular degeneration?

There are several factors that increase the risk of developing macular degeneration. These factors are mainly: age, poor nutrition, excessive exposure of the eyes to sunlight, smoking, genes, gender, race, eye colour, alcohol consumption and heart disease. For example, white-skinned people with blue or green eyes have a higher risk of suffering from macular degeneration. Other groups at risk are the elderly, women and smokers.

How can we protect our eyes from age-related macular degeneration?

Although there are factors that cannot be changed, age, sex and genes for example, there are others that can be avoided by modifying certain lifestyle habits to reduce the risk of macular degeneration.

Here are some tips:

  • Stop smoking.
  • Wear sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats to protect from viewing direct sunlight and its reflections.
  • Consume large amount of fruits and vegetables whose plants have dark green leaves, since they contain lutein.
  • Add a lutein supplement to our daily diet.
  • Limit the consumption of alcohol and saturated fat, and lower the level of cholesterol.

What properties does lutein possess with regards to other age-related eye diseases?

In a 2016 clinical study, involving adults aged 43-84, it was found that lutein and zeaxanthin intake can reduce the occurrence of cataracts.

Cataracts are characterised by an opacity of the lens, and are often associated with the ageing process. Lutein and zeaxanthin are the only carotenoids present in the lens of the eye.

  • In a clinical study conducted on 77 nurses aged 45 to 71, it was verified that those who took a larger quantity of lutein and zeaxanthin had a 22 percent lower risk of developing cataracts than those who did not take these nutrients.
  • The study also showed that a high consumption of spinach and cabbage (which contain large amounts of lutein) can reduce the risk of cataracts.

A similar study, conducted on 36 men, aged between 45 and 75 years old, showed that those who had a higher consumption of carotenoids (alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, beta-cryptoxanthin, lycopene) and vitamin A, had a 19 percent lower risk of suffering from cataracts than those who consumed lower amounts.

In addition to reducing the risk of macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts, clinical studies conducted in 2016 have shown that this substance promotes cardiovascular health and improves the appearance and condition of the dermis.

Lutein and skin

Environmental factors cause damage at all layers of the dermis.

The ultraviolet light wavelengths (UVB) only penetrate the outer layers. However, longer wave lengths (UVA), penetrate both the outer layers and into the internal layers.

Visible light can penetrate into all layers of the dermis and damage them, causing them to lose their natural antioxidant capacity to curb the harmful effects of free radicals.
In addition to the eyes, the dermis also contains natural lutein. Clinical research has shown that this substance plays a basic role in the maintenance of a healthy dermis.

  • A 2016 clinical study showed that taking 10 mg of lutein per day increases the hydration and elasticity of the dermis and reduces lipid peroxidation.
  • Lipids are basic elements in maintaining a healthy complexion. Lipids also act as a barrier that slows the loss of moisture from the dermis.
  • A trial conducted in 2016 demonstrated the benefit of the topical application of lutein on the dermis.
  • This benefit is increased when combined with the oral intake of dietary supplements of this substance.

The benefits of lutein on the health of the cardiovascular system

Carotenoids protect the heart. Epidemiological studies reveal that people who eat fruits and vegetables, whose plants have green leaves, have less risk of developing heart disease or stroke.

People who follow a Mediterranean diet have one of the lowest ratest of coronary disease deaths. Upon analysing the ingredients of this diet, it was found that the carotenoids comprising it contain large amounts of lutein.

The authors of this study have suggested that the intake of lutein can lower mortality deriving from heart disease. Although the exact mechanisms of its relationship with cardiovascular health are still not known, researchers believe that this protective effect is based on its antioxidant properties.

  • Firstly, it has been demonstrated that it has benefits regarding the thickness of the carotid artery, which is associated with the risk of heart disease or strokes.
  • Secondly, a clinical experiment was carried out in which the endothelial cells of the muscle and of the aorta were treated with lutein, and it was found that the inflammation of the arteries was thereby reduced.
  • Finally, clinical studies conducted on mice with atherosclerosis lesions have shown that taking lutein supplements significantly reduces the size of the lesions in the aortic arch.
  • In addition, it also reduces oxidative stress and VLDL and IDL levels (very low density lipoproteins and medium-density lipoproteins) in the blood plasma, reducing the onset and progression of atherosclerosis.

Lutein properties on the health of women and babies

This substance has benefits for breast and uterine tissue and for the ovaries. Other effects on the body, including its benefits on pregnancy and lactation are currently being investigated.

Clinical studies have shown the elevation of blood plasma levels during pregnancy, although the exact reasons for this are not known.

It has likewise been detected, that this substance is contained in the blood of the umbilical cord after birth and in the colostrum (the first milk of mammals). On this basis, it is thought that it could be a component of breast milk.
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