Discover the Power of
Healing Foods! Newsletter
Issue #005

Wed 13 February 2013

Lutein and Zeaxanthin - The Eye Protectors

Welcome to the 5th issue of Discover The Power of Healing Foods! newsletter.

In our previous issues we discussed how free radicals and antioxidants are engaged in an ongoing fight and how beta carotene is one of the big antioxidants and where we can find it.

(If you've missed those issues catch up by clicking on the links.)

In this issue we will discuss:

Our Eyesight, a Most Precious Possession

eyesight is our most precious possession

Have you ever had an object you took for granted and didn't appreciate the value of it until it broke or was lost?

Most of us do the same with our eyesight. When we have it we don't even spare a thought for it and take it very much for granted.

Until, that is, we start having problems with it: We realize we don't see as well as we used to, we seem to squint every time we need to focus on a written page, threading a needle becomes almost impossible, driving at night becomes a nightmare, and so on and so forth.

At that point we start to think, is there something I can do to regain what I've lost? And if you're lucky enough to still have your eyesight, how can you preserve it?

It must be recognized that once we've lost our eyesight it's extremely difficult to get it back. Isn't it a hundred times easier to work toward keeping it rather than try to regain what is lost?

If we look around carefully, we get reminders of how important it is to look after what we have. Do what I did and look at your family and friends.

For example, my mother-in-law has had to have over 10 injections in her eyes (yes, I mean IN her eyes) to try and prevent further loss of vision due to age related macular degeneration (AMD), having already gone through two cataract operations.

I don't know about you, but I can't imagine anything worse than seeing a needle coming at me and knowing that it's going to be pushed into my eye! Sorry about the graphic picture!

Some people think that these conditions are inevitable as you get older. Are they really?

The sad thing is that an increasing number of younger people develop macular degeneration and, according to experts, it seems to be the result of diets depleted in antioxidants and rich in 'empty calories'.

anatomy of the eye

Generally speaking, AMD is the most common cause of severe, irreversible vision loss in people 50 and older.

As the word implies, it targets the macula, a tiny yellow area near the centre of the retina that is highly specialized to allow you to see details and provide clear central vision, the kind you need to read and drive.

Cataracts occur when proteins in the lens fray and their debris muddies the lens.

While heredity may play a part, experts believe that free radicals damage is one of the main causes of these and other conditions affecting the eyes, and much of this damage could be prevented if enough antioxidants were present in our diet.

For example, when researchers analyzed the diets of more than 1,700 female volunteers in Iowa, Oregon and Wisconsin, they found that women under 75 who ate plenty of foods rich in lutein and zeaxanthin appeared to have half the risk of macular degeneration compared to those who ate very little of these foods.

Closer to home, I had a look at the diet that my mother-in-law and other people I know with vision problems had and I  couldn't help wondering whether their diet was related to their problems: Meat and potatoes seem to be their main staple foods along with lots of white bread, with fruit and vegetables thrown in occasionally for a bit of colour or flavour, and when they do have them, they seem to be always the same and mostly overcooked. Sounds familiar?

Lutein and Zeaxanthin - Antioxidant Protection

As mentioned above, lutein and zeaxanthin lower the risk of vision problems, but what are they exactly?

They are two antioxidants that belong to the carotenoid family like beta carotene (we discussed beta carotene in the last issue) and they're the only two carotenoids found in the eye.

They're a pair of yellow plant pigments that give fruits and vegetable their yellow colour, but dark green leafy vegetables are also a very rich source of lutein and zeaxanthin, although chlorophyll covers their yellow pigment.

Not surprisingly, studies have found that people whose eyes contained high amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin were up to 80% less likely to be suffering from AMD. This is due to the fact that the macula's yellow pigment is made up of lutein and zeaxanthin.

Researchers believe they act as a kind of super-screen, or like internal sunglasses protecting the retina by absorbing a damaging part of sunlight called blue light. And they also act as antioxidants to protect the retina's cells from damaging free radicals (a previous newsletter talked about antioxidants and free radicals extensively).

Zeaxanthin, the main component of the macula, may also bulk up its pigment, which in turn appears to support the macula's sensitivity to visual signals.

Healthy macular pigment can improve your ability to react to bright flashes of
light or see objects against a similar background — critical to driving at night or enjoying outdoor sports. The more pigments your eye contains, the less likely it is to fall prey to AMD.

kale and spinach are rich in lutein

A Harvard study found that eating 6 mg. of lutein per day in food (roughly 1/4 cup cooked spinach) lowered the odds of macular degeneration by 43%.

A diet rich in kale and spinach has been shown to thicken the layer of macular pigment in the eye.

Loading up on lutein also seems to reduce the odds of cataracts by 20 to 50%, according to research.

On top of being an excellent aid to prevent vision problems, lutein is also being studied in relation to other conditions and it has been proven beneficial in boosting the immune system, in the prevention of cancer and clogged arteries, and protecting the lungs.

Where to Find Lutein and Zeaxanthin

As the body doesn't naturally generate lutein, you need to make sure you're getting enough from other sources. One of the best things you can do to keep your vision sharp is to eat more greens as they're loaded with lutein and zeaxanthin. Often these two antioxidants are found together in foods.

Although greens - especially slightly cooked ones - carry the largest share of these two antioxidants, the pair is also plentiful in brightly coloured fruits and vegetables like orange bell peppers, corn, persimmons and tangerines.

Helpful Hint: Saute your greens in olive oil or add some oil-based dressing to your salad. Fat helps the body absorb lutein and zeaxanthin.

If you eat lots of green leafy vegetables, along with brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, you also get plenty of beta carotene, vitamin C and E, all of which are essential for good eyesight.

In a major clinical trial, the National Eye Institute found that high doses of beta carotene and vitamins C and E, coupled with zinc, stopped or slowed the progression of AMD by 19 to 25%, and that is without the added benefits of lutein and zeaxanthin!

Although the effective doses were far higher than what you get from diet alone, heaping your plate with food dense in these nutrients makes sense, especially for people who already have AMD or those at increased risk of it (such as those with a family history of the disease, those with light eye colour or if you sit at the computer everyday!).

In the Harvard study mentioned above, eating sauteed spinach four to seven times a week for three months even reversed some early signs of macular degeneration.

One cup of cooked kale, collards, spinach or turnip greens supplies a whopping 12 to 25 mg. of these two nutrients.

Best Food Sources of Lutein and Zeaxanthin

Foods mg. per 1/2 cup
Kale, cooked 10.0
Collards green, cooked 7.0
Spinach, raw 3.3
Spinach, cooked 6.3
Broccoli, raw 1.0
Broccoli, cooked 1.7
Brussels sprouts, cooked 1.7
Yellow corn, cooked 1.2

eggyolk conteins lutein

Egg yolks have small amounts of lutein (about 200 mcg. per yolk), which gives them their yellow colour, due to the fact that hens eat corn.

However, egg lutein is particularly well absorbed by the body, probably due to the type of fat they contain.

Tufts University research showed that blood levels of lutein shot up 200 to 300% higher after eating egg yolks than after eating spinach!

List of Foods Containing Lutein:

  • beet greens
  • broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • cilantro
  • collard
  • dill
  • egg yolks
  • green beans
  • honeydew melon
  • kale
  • kiwi
  • leeks
  • lettuce, Cos and Romaine
  • mangoes
  • marigolds
  • mustard
  • oranges
  • papayas
  • peaches
  • peas
  • persimmons
  • spinach
  • sweet red and orange pepper
  • sweetcorn
  • tangerines
  • turnips
  • yellow squash

broccoli are rich in lutein
yellow peaches also contain lots of lutein and zeaxanthin

List of Foods Containing Zeaxanthin:

  • beet greens
  • chicory leaf
  • collard
  • kale
  • kiwi
  • mangoes
  • mustard
  • okra
  • oranges
  • papayas
  • spinach
  • sweet red peppers
  • Swiss chard
  • turnip
  • yellow squash

oranges and kiwi
yellow squash

Lutein Supplements

If you think you can't eat huge amounts of these fruits and vegetables (for whatever reason) you might consider supplementing with lutein and zeaxanthin.

The lutein and zeaxanthin present in supplements is usually extracted from marigolds, which are a very rich source of these antioxidants.

The amount needed to maintain good eyesight has not been confirmed yet. Some experts believe that 4 to 10 mg daily may be needed to convey the benefits shown in some eye studies - the amount in 1/4 to 1/2 cup cooked spinach. Other studies show that you need more, 20 mg. of lutein and 6 to 10 mg. of zeaxanthin daily.

Probably the best policy is to eat as many of the fruits and vegetables listed above as you can, plus take a supplement for good measure.

There are no known side effects from  either short-term or long-term use of supplements of lutein and zeaxanthin and no interactions with other drugs have been found.

The best combination of supplements to preserve sight, even if it has started to fail, is almost certainly a combination of lutein and zeaxanthin, together with vitamin C, riboflavin, lycopene and selenium; a turmeric supplement to boost the antioxidant enzyme glutathione peroxidase; and the flavonoids in bilberry, a herb traditionally used to treat visual complaints.

Other supplements that can help prevent and treat the early stages of vision problems are vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, also present in salmon and other fatty fish.

Have a look at this list of supplements to support your eyesight that I've compiled for you...

In Conclusion...

... don't wait until you've lost your eyesight before you decide to implement the advice you find here.

Act now by including as many of the foods mentioned above as you can on a daily basis and start taking supplements now if you're concerned. It might take months before you start seeing an improvement, so the sooner you start the better!

Coming Next...

I hope you have enjoyed reading this newsletter. So far we've discussed three antioxidant carotenoids, beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin. Another important carotenoid is lycopene - which I meant to discuss this time, but I realized it would have been too much to take in, so I will discuss it next time. How can you benefit from it and where can you find it?

Look out for the next newsletter, you don't want to miss it!

Also, if this newsletter has raised some questions in your mind about antioxidants or you'd like specific information on them, don't hesitate to get in touch with me.

The next issue will be sent out on Wed 13th March 2013.

Until Next Time,

Aurora Raisbeck


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