Reduce Risk of Age-Related Macular Degeneration with Lutein and Zeaxanthin
It’s never too early to help prevent age-related macular degeneration, so why not start today. Data from a new quarter-century prospective cohort study can provide some solid evidence concerning carotenoids on how to do it.
According to the experts who evaluated data from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study in the United States, which involved 102,046 adults aged 50 years or older, high intake of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin can reduce risk of age-related macular degeneration by 40 percent.
Age-related macular degeneration is a thus-far incurable eye disease that affects about 15 million Americans and more than 25 million more around the world. The disease is the main cause of legal blindness and severe vision loss in adults older than 60 in the United States.
Age-related macular degeneration is caused by deterioration of the macula, the central portion of the retina, which is responsible for focusing central vision and the ability to read, drive, and see fine details. Of the two types of age-related macular degeneration—wet and dry—dry occurs about 85 to 90 percent of the time and has no effective treatments, while there are several treatments for the wet form.
In this new study, the investigators evaluated the association between intake of various carotenoids, including lutein, zeaxanthin, beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin. They discovered:
- A 40 percent reduced risk of advanced age-related macular degeneration associated with the highest plasma levels of lutein and zeaxanthin when compared with the lowest
- A 25 percent to 35 percent reduced risk associated with the highest levels of other carotenoids when compared with the lowest levels
The special link between the macula and lutein and zeaxanthin is this: the macula is yellow because of a high content of these two carotenoids. Both lutein and zeaxanthin also happen to be the only carotenoids capable of filtering out the blue light that can damage the rods and cones in the macula.
If the macula membrane becomes too thin, the blue light can penetrate and damage the cells. Maintaining a thicker macular membrane by keeping high levels of lutein and zeaxanthin can help protect the macula.
According to the authors, “This study lends further support to the causal role of lutein/zeaxanthin in protecting against the development of advanced AMD.” Since other carotenoids appear to provide protection as well, the authors noted that “increasing the consumption of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables rich in carotenoids could be most beneficial.”
Foods rich in lutein and zeaxanthin include dark leafy greens such as kale (number 1), spinach, turnip greens, Swiss chard, mustard greens, dandelion greens, watercress, and collards. Among the spices that provide high levels are basil, parsley, cayenne pepper, and paprika. Green peas, all summer squash, avocado, and arugula are also very good sources.
Also Read: Artificial retina and macular degeneration
Macular Degeneration Partnership
Wu J et al. Intakes of lutein, zeaxanthin, and other carotenoids and age-related macular degeneration during 2 decades of prospective follow-up. JAMA Ophthalmology online 8 Oct 2015