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Lutein and Zeaxanthin

What are lutein and zeaxanthin?

Lutein (from the Latin luteus = yellow) and zeaxanthin (from a subclass xanthophylls; from the Greek xanthos = yellow) are carotenoids that have no vitamin A activity [1]. They can be found in many human tissues, especially in the macula of the eye retina and in the lens.

The diet is the only source of lutein and zeaxanthin, since they cannot be produced in your body; still, they are currently not considered essential nutrients, since no symptoms of their deficiency are known [1].

Foods High in Lutein and Zeaxanthin

  • Foods high in lutein: dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, turnip greens, collards, mustard greens, romaine lettuce, cabbage, watercress, broccoli), corn tortillas, cooked corn, green peas, green beans, pistachios [1].
  • Foods high in zeaxanthin: yellow cornmeal, orange juice
  • Amount of lutein and zeaxanthin in breast milk depend on mother’s nutrition [2].

Lutein as a Food Additive

Lutein as a food additive (color), either “vegetable lutein” extracted from marigold flowers (Tagetes erecta), in the European Union labeled as the E-number E161b(i), or “synthetic lutein” (E-number E161b(iii), may be used in margarines, ice creams, yogurts and other commercial foods. Lutein may be used in chicken feed to provide a yellow color of a broiler chicken skin and darker yellow egg yolks.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [6].

Lutein and Zeaxanthin Supplements

Crystalline lutein used in non prescription oral supplements can be extracted from various plants, like marigold flowers (Tagetes erecta). The extraction process may involve using ethanol, methanol, propylene glycol, potassium hydrochloride or other substances. In the final product, lutein (and usually a small percent of zeaxanthin) are usually suspended in a plant oil, such as safflower or corn oil [5]. Crystalline lutein may be also included in multivitamin supplements.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin Health Benefits

There is INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE about the effectiveness of lutein and zeaxanthin supplements in the prevention or treatment of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) [1], age-related cataract [1], cancer, coronary heart disease, sunlight damage of the eye [1], retinitis pigmentosa [3,4] or in improving of the immune function [1].

Lutein and Zeaxanthin Safety: Side Effects, Toxicity

No side effects or toxicities of lutein or zeaxanthin are known [1].

Not enough is known about the safety of lutein and zeaxanthin supplements during pregnancy and breastfeeding, so women in these periods should avoid them [1].

Lutein-Free Diet in Autism

A lutein-free diet, suggested on some websites, does not appear to be an established method in the treatment of autism.

  1. Carotenoids  Linus Pauling Institute
  2. Canfield LM et al, 2003, Multinational study of major breast milk carotenoids of healthy mothers  PubMed
  3. Aleman TS et al, 2001, Macular pigment and lutein supplementation in retinitis pigmentosa and Usher syndrome  PubMed
  4. Berson EL et al, 2010, Clinical trial of lutein in patients with retinitis pigmentosa receiving vitamin A  PubMed
  5. Juice with Added FloraGLO® Crystalline Lutein  Health Canada
  6. 2011, GRAS Notification for lutein and zeaxanthin preparation (Lutemax 2020TM)   US Food and Drug Administration

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