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Newly Discovered Benefits of Lutein

August 2016

By Maureen Fiona

The carotenoid lutein has long been studied for its vision-protective properties. It has been shown to reduce the risk of two of the leading causes of blindness: age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.1

A recent study has revealed that we’ve only scratched the surface of lutein’s health-promoting benefits. In a first-of-its-kind analysis, lutein has been associated with a reduced risk for cardiometabolic diseases.

A large meta-analysis involving 71 published papers and representing more than 387,000 individuals showed that people with higher lutein intake, or higher blood concentrations of lutein, have a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and metabolic syndrome.2

The reason lutein provides such wide-reaching effects is because of its ability to protect tissues from oxidative stress and inflammation—two factors that play a major role in cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.

This study will likely change the way we think of lutein, broadening its appeal to everyone who wants to optimally protect their blood vessels, heart, and brain against the ravages of oxidative stress and chronic inflammation.

Beyond Eye Health

Beyond Eye Health  

Lutein is a type of carotenoid, a natural compound found in vegetables and other plants. Although it is yellow, it is especially abundant in dark green, leafy vegetables such as kale.3

Lutein has received a great deal of attention for its ability to help reduce the incidence of age-related macular degeneration and cataracts, two of the leading causes of blindness.1 These benefits arise from lutein’s ability to provide structural support for the macula pigment while protecting the eye from the oxidative stresses caused by exposure to light and oxygen. It also helps reduce inflammation.2,4,5

Researchers from ErasmusAGE, a center for aging research, hypothesized that these mechanisms of action could make lutein beneficial for cardiometabolic health as well, since oxidative stress and inflammation play a role in both cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.

That’s why Dr. Elizabeth Leermakers and her research team decided to conduct an expansive search of the medical literature for studies involving either lutein intake or blood concentrations of lutein in the context of cardiometabolic diseases.2

In this type of study, called a systematic review and meta-analysis, researchers review multiple studies on a single topic, and then combine the findings mathematically for analysis. The results of these types of studies have the potential to provide strong indicators of clinical evidence.6

And in fact, the results of this particular study were so impactful that they could open the door to new therapeutic benefits of lutein. Instead of being viewed solely as a vision-saving nutrient, lutein could be seen as one that enhances total-body health and longevity.

After examining 4,377 individual studies, the researchers narrowed their review to 71 relevant articles that included a total of more than 387,000 participants.2 They found that in all of these studies there were some very powerful and significant associations between lutein and cardiometabolic diseases.

Compared to people in the group with the lowest 1/3 of intake or blood concentration of lutein, those in the top 1/3 were found to have:2

  • A 12% reduction in the risk of having coronary heart disease (atherosclerosis of the heart’s own blood vessels, which may lead to angina and ultimately to heart attacks)
  • An 18% reduction in the risk of having a stroke
  • A 25% reduction in the risk of having metabolic syndrome, the cluster of medical conditions that includes abdominal obesity, elevated blood pressure, elevated fasting glucose levels, elevated blood triglycerides, and low levels of protective high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol

This study is significant because it is the first meta-analysis to show that higher intake or blood levels of lutein have such prominent cardiometabolic benefits.

And ultimately, it validates the use of lutein for reducing the risk for stroke, heart attack, and metabolic syndrome, which itself is associated with an increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and death from multiple causes.7,8

How It Works

How It Works  

Numerous studies have shown that lutein combats many of the underlying factors in both cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.

Prior studies have shown significant associations between higher lutein levels and improvements in blood lipid levels, especially with higher HDL (good) cholesterol.9-11

Inflammation is another underlying factor in the development of cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis. Studies have shown that lutein may activate branches of the immune system that suppress chronic inflammation.2,4 In addition, previous studies have shown that lutein is effective in reducing arterial wall thickening, which contributes to poor blood flow and raises the risk of heart attack and stroke.2,12,13

Together, these factors may help to explain the reduced risks of heart attack, stroke, and metabolic syndrome that were seen in the recent meta-analysis.

Summary

Lutein has long been associated with vision protection, which it provides both by reducing oxidative stresses in the eye and by lowering chronic inflammation that can contribute to cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.

Oxidative stress and chronic inflammation also contribute to cardiometabolic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

In this first-of-its-kind analysis, scientists discovered that higher lutein intake and blood concentrations are strongly and significantly related to reductions in cardiometabolic risks. This analysis showed that lutein reduces the risk of stroke, heart attack, and metabolic syndrome.

Based on the results of this study, people interested in supporting their cardiometabolic health should consider boosting their lutein intake.

Most readers of this publication have been obtaining potent doses of lutein in the supplements they have been using for the past several decades.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.

References

  1. Scripsema NK, Hu DN, Rosen RB. Lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin in the clinical management of eye disease. J Ophthalmol. 2015;2015:865179.
  2. Leermakers ET, Darweesh SK, Baena CP, et al. The effects of lutein on cardiometabolic health across the life course: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016;103(2):481-94.
  3. Abdel-Aal el SM, Akhtar H, Zaheer K, et al. Dietary sources of lutein and zeaxanthin carotenoids and their role in eye health. Nutrients. 2013;5(4):1169-85.
  4. Kijlstra A, Tian Y, Kelly ER, et al. Lutein: more than just a filter for blue light. Prog Retin Eye Res. 2012;31(4):303-15.
  5. Sujak A, Gabrielska J, Grudzinski W, et al. Lutein and zeaxanthin as protectors of lipid membranes against oxidative damage: the structural aspects. Arch Biochem Biophys. 1999;371(2):301-7.
  6. McNamara ER, Scales CD. Role of systematic reviews and meta-analysis in evidence-based clinical practice. Indian J of Urol. 2011;27(4):520-4.
  7. Kaur J. A comprehensive review on metabolic syndrome. Cardiol Res Pract. 2014;2014:943162.
  8. Micucci C, Valli D, Matacchione G, et al. Current perspectives between metabolic syndrome and cancer. Oncotarget. 2016.
  9. Renzi LM, Hammond BR, Jr., Dengler M, et al. The relation between serum lipids and lutein and zeaxanthin in the serum and retina: results from cross-sectional, case-control and case study designs. Lipids Health Dis. 2012;11:33.
  10. Sugiura M, Nakamura M, Ogawa K, et al. Associations of serum carotenoid concentrations with the metabolic syndrome: interaction with smoking. Br J Nutr. 2008;100(6):1297-306.
  11. Wang Y, Chung SJ, McCullough ML, et al. Dietary carotenoids are associated with cardiovascular disease risk biomarkers mediated by serum carotenoid concentrations. J Nutr. 2014;144(7):1067-74.
  12. Kowluru RA, Menon B, Gierhart DL. Beneficial effect of zeaxanthin on retinal metabolic abnormalities in diabetic rats. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2008;49(4):1645-51.
  13. Izumi-Nagai K, Nagai N, Ohgami K, et al. Macular pigment lutein is antiinflammatory in preventing choroidal neovascularization. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2007;27(12):2555-62.