LIFE EXTENSION MAGAZINE

Mature man getting prescribed glasses to mitigate macular degeneration

Protect Against Common Eye Disorders

Lutein and zeaxanthin increase the density of macular pigments. Recent findings reveal how these carotenoids may also help protect against cataracts, optic nerve damage and other vision disorders.

Scientifically reviewed by: Dr. Gary Gonzalez, MD, in January 2023. Written by: Mark Stratton.

As we age, conditions like cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration threaten our vision.1

Scientists long ago discovered that carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin concentrate in the macula of the eye, where they help filter out damaging wavelengths of light.2-4

What few people know is these same carotenoids have also been shown to help protect the eye lens against cataracts and the optic nerve from glaucoma damage.5-8

Published studies continue to demonstrate whole-body benefits in those who ingest these plant-derived carotenoids.

Carotenoids and Systemic Health

Carotenoids are a group of pigments found in many fruits and vegetables. They have demonstrated benefits in tissues throughout the body, including the brain.7-9

Taken up and concentrated in brain tissues, carotenoids have been found to be neuroprotective and supportive of cognitive function.8

Individuals with higher levels or higher intake of carotenoids have consistently been found to have better cognitive performance.10-13

A systematic review and meta-analysis found consistently lower blood levels of lutein and zeaxanthin in people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s compared to healthy adults of the same age.14

Randomized clinical trials have also found significant improvements in cognitive functioning in those receiving a carotenoid supplement compared to those receiving a placebo.15,16

Those with high dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin have lower risk for eye disease and vision loss.

Modern Western diets rarely provide enough carotenoids.17 Average lutein intake is low for adults.18

Oral intake of lutein-zeaxanthin supplements has been shown to boost the content of carotenoid pigments in the eyes and may improve whole-body health.19,20

Cataracts

Cataracts are a common degenerative disease that clouds the lens of the eye. The result is deteriorating vision and eventual blindness.

Cataracts are one of the most important leading causes of blindness in the world.6 In modern societies, cataract surgery is rampant in people over age 65.

Studies show that people with the highest intake of lutein and zeaxanthin have the lowest rates of cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, and other age-related eye conditions.5,21,22

Glaucoma

In those with glaucoma, higher intake of lutein protects the photoreceptors and nerve cells of the retina against cell death. The result is less progression of visual loss and improved visual performance.22

Studies have demonstrated that a larger dietary intake of carotenoids is associated with a lower risk of glaucoma.22 In individuals already suffering from glaucoma, higher carotenoid levels in the retina consistently predict better visual performance.

Randomized controlled trials of carotenoid supplementation in patients with glaucoma demonstrate that they are effective at both boosting retinal levels of the nutrients and improving markers of visual function.23,24

Those with glaucoma should also follow conventional guidelines including taking steps to reduce intraocular pressure that slowly damages the optic nerve.

Macular Degeneration

When blue light and ultraviolet light hit the retina, they can damage photoreceptors, the cells that detect light.2,25 Without photoreceptors, vision is not possible.26

Exposure to blue light is tied to an increased risk of age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of severe vision loss and blindness in people over 60.26

Oxidative stress and inflammation further drive the progression of macular degeneration.2

Lutein and zeaxanthin in the retina defend against macular degeneration in multiple ways. They filter out harmful wavelengths of light and are potent anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatories.2,4

One study conducted over more than 20 years found that people with the highest intake of lutein and zeaxanthin have a remarkable 41% lower risk of advanced macular degeneration.27

Taking lutein and zeaxanthin doesn’t just prevent macular degeneration. It may also reverse some visual loss that has occurred.28

Clinical studies show that oral intake of these carotenoids may slow the progression of macular degeneration in those who already have early signs of disease,3,21,28-31 and may also support visual acuity (the ability to see sharply at a given distance).28

Other studies show that taking lutein and zeaxanthin improves eye health, enhances visual function, reduces nighttime glare, and improves visual contrast.19,32-34

In one recent trial, older adults who had difficulty with night vision took a placebo or a blend of zeaxanthin and lutein daily for six months.35 Those taking the carotenoids had significant improvements in nighttime visual functions.

Digital Eye Strain

Threats to our eyes are all around us, from ultraviolet rays in sunlight to the blue light from our digital screens.

Gazing at smart phones, computers, tablets, LED televisions, and other digital screens increases exposure to blue light, which contributes to eye disease and vision loss.25,26,36 The LED lightbulbs in most of our homes and workplaces also emit a high level of blue light.36

In addition to the long-term risk of vision loss, blue light is tied to digital eye strain, which causes symptoms like eye pain, dry eyes, headache, and blurred vision.37

The retina and macula are light-sensitive eye tissues that make vision possible. When the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin are orally ingested, they are taken up in these eye tissues where they help shield against harmful forms of light, including ultraviolet and blue light.2,38,39

The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin help shield the eyes from harmful blue light wavelengths, which can help protect against eye strain and vision loss.28

Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is another cause of poor eyesight in older adults. Carotenoids protect against this condition as well.

In patients with diabetic retinopathy, body levels of lutein and zeaxanthin are typically lower than in normal subjects. Oral intake of these carotenoids has been shown to improve visual clarity and contrast in those displaying symptoms of diabetic eye disease.40

Ensuring adequate intake of lutein and zeaxanthin is vital for eye health at any age.18

Summary

In eye tissues, the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin help filter out harmful wavelengths of light that lead to vision loss.

These nutrients defend against most age-related eye disorders and the damage done by exposure to blue light from digital screens.

Studies long ago showed that higher intake of lutein and zeaxanthin boosts macular pigment density and reduce risk for vision loss from macular degeneration.

More recent data show these same carotenoids also help protect against cataracts, glaucoma-induced damage to the optic nerve, and diabetic eye disorders.

Evidence indicates that supplementing with carotenoids is supportive of optimal brain and cognitive function.

What you need to know

Shield Your Eyes with Carotenoids

  • Age-related loss of vision is commonly caused by cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetes.
  • Exposure to blue light from digital screens and LED lights can accelerate loss of vision and cause eye strain.
  • The eye is capable of concentrating carotenoids, particularly lutein and zeaxanthin, in the retina and macula—its light-sensitive tissues—to shield against dangerous ultraviolet and blue light.
  • Studies show that oral intake of lutein and zeaxanthin can reduce the risk and slow the progression of all these age-related eye conditions. These nutrients have the potential to prevent degenerative vision loss, improve visual parameters in those with age-related degenerative eye conditions, and to delay progression of these conditions and the worsening of vision associated with them.

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

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