Myth Buster: Lutein Only Benefits Your Eyes

Myth Buster: Lutein Only Benefits Your Eyes

February 02, 2021

Written by Sara Uffelman

Edited and Fact checked by Dr. James Stringham, PhD

Myth Buster: Lutein Only Benefits Your Eyes 

The carotenoid Lutein, although commonly referred to as the "eye vitamin," has numerous health benefits to the entire body. While it is widely known that Lutein is proven to benefit your eye health by reducing the risk of age-related macular degeneration and prolonging the onset of cataracts, researchers believe they have only just scratched the surface of Lutein's health-promoting benefits. Nearly 100 peer-reviewed published papers involving 400,000 individuals have confirmed that higher Lutein consumption can reduce the risks of coronary heart disease, stroke and metabolic syndrome (often associated with Type II diabetes). Even more recently, Lutein has been linked to cognitive benefits such as long-term brain health and delaying the onset of age-related cognitive decline. Indeed, studies have found associations between lutein levels in the eye and reduced risk of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), dementia, and Alzheimer's Disease (AD). Given Lutein’s strong association with the eye, all of this talk about the brain and cognition may seem peculiar. But given how tightly connected the eyes and brain are, it makes perfect sense. And there is another very important reason why we are seeing such strong effects in the brain - Lutein is richly deposited in the brain! In fact, Lutein accounts for nearly 60% of the carotenoid content of the brain, this despite making up only about 10% of carotenoid intake through the diet. So, it’s obvious that the brain has placed a very strong priority on accumulating Lutein in order to protect tissues and improve performance. Just like in the eye, Lutein’s close “cousins,” Zeaxanthin (Z), and Meso-Zeaxanthin (MZ) are also found in the brain. We know from results of studies on the eye that when these three carotenoids are combined, their antioxidant effects become even more powerful and their benefits become even greater. Researchers believe that this holds true for the brain as well. Science has proven that the result of supplementing with only 1 or 2 carotenoids versus all 3 will never be optimal. For this reason, when shopping for a Lutein supplement, make sure your supplement also contains the other 2 carotenoids, Zeaxanthin and Meso-Zeaxanthin.

What is Lutein?

Lutein is a powerful plant-based pigment known as a carotenoid (a very specialized nutrient) that can be found in leafy greens like spinach, kale, broccoli, and peppers. Although Lutein is a pigment, it has many functions beyond just “being a color.” For starters, it has very impressive antioxidant benefits. It neutralizes dangerous free radicals, reduces oxidative stress, and lowers inflammation in both the eyes and the brain. Due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, Lutein has now been linked to improvements in brain health, cognitive function, memory and even mood. Studies have shown the three carotenoids — Lutein, Zeaxanthin, and Meso-Zeaxanthin — to have memory-enhancing effects when taken daily, as well as an impact on other areas of cognitive function, such as attention and speed of mental processing. Further studies show that individuals with high concentrations of carotenoids in their brain demonstrate much better cognitive function, and that patients with Alzheimer's disease are significantly deficient in these nutrients.

UPDATE: Recent clinical research has confirmed that cognitive performance can be improved in individuals with Mild Cognitive Impairment following supplementation with a combination of all 3 carotenoids (L, Z, and MZ) and the Omega-3s DHA and EPA; This supplement is commercially known as the Memory Health®.

UPDATE: The Memory Health® supplement was awarded a United States patent for the prevention and treatment of neurodegenerative disease, specifically dementia and Alzheimer's disease. A similar patent was awarded to the Memory Health supplement in the United Kingdom

Adding Lutein To Your Every Day Diet

Lutein is present in the highest quantities in dark, leafy greens like spinach, kale, and broccoli. Unfortunately, our bodies don’t make lutein...and studies have shown that we don’t consume enough leafy-green vegetables to make a meaningful change in eye and brain levels. But even if you start to eat more spinach or kale on a daily basis, it still may not be enough – data from the USDA indicate significant nutrient depletion in foods like spinach. Indeed, our food sources are over-farmed, over-manufactured, and declining every year in nutritional value. According to USDA data, to get the same nutritional value from 1 Bowl of Spinach eaten in 1953 would require an individual to eat 43 Bowls of Spinach today! That's an 84% loss of nutrition! What this means is that even with a healthy diet we don't consume Lutein, Zeaxanthin, and Meso-Zeaxanthin in the quantities our eyes and brains need. An alternative and effective strategy is to fortify your diet with supplements containing these beneficial carotenoids. In fact, scientists now believe that supplements are necessary in order to maintain optimal carotenoid levels in the eyes and brain.

Interested In Learning More About The Three Carotenoids: Lutein, Zeaxanthin and Meso-Zeaxanthin?

Lutein For Kids

Your health is a major priority at any stage of life. Whether you are 10 or 80 years old, we want to be healthy at every age. In order to achieve a lifetime of good health, one must start early. Believe it or not, various recent studies have found that Lutein is the dominant carotenoid in the brains of infants. This is most likely due to the mother passing lutein from her own body to the baby in the womb, and also via breastmilk after the baby is born. Interestingly, Lutein is the dominant carotenoid in breastmilk...Mother Nature appears to be sending us an important message here regarding the importance of Lutein in early life. Development of the brain and eyes is a very intense process, and can produce a lot of oxidation and inflammation, which can severely impede progress. Given that Lutein has the rare ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and protect the brain from oxidative stress and free radical damage suggests how critical a role Lutein plays in the development of infants and young children. Many doctors now recommend that expecting mothers take a daily carotenoid supplement (containing all three carotenoids L, Z, and MZ) so that their unborn child may receive the benefits directly as the fetus develops.

Interested in learning more about the health benefits of Lutein for kids? Read the following Brain Blog article: Supplementing Lutein for Kids

    A Lutein Supplement for Eye and Brain Health

    In addition to 10 mg of Lutein, Memory Health® also contains the carotenoids Zeaxanthin and Meso-Zeaxanthin.  It combines these carotenoids with Omega-3s DHA and EPA and natural Vitamin E, to support cognitive functions, memory, and long-term eye and brain health. Memory Health® is currently patented for the prevention and treatment of neurodegenerative disease, specifically Alzheimer's and dementia. It has been clinically proven to improve cognitive functions in individuals with Mild Cognitive Impairment, and its benefits include improvement in sight, cognition, memory, focus, and mood.

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