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New Study Suggests Lutein and Zeaxanthin Are Important for Eye Health

The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) examined the effect of a combination of antioxidants and zinc (specifically, 500 mg vitamin C, 400 IU vitamin E, 15 mg beta-carotene, 80 mg of zinc as zinc oxide, and 2 mg of copper as cupric oxide) on age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The study found that high levels of antioxidants and zinc significantly reduced the risk of AMD.

In a second study (AREDS2), researchers wanted to see if adding the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as omega-3s would further enhance those results. Previous research has shown them to be effective at reducing the risk of AMD. The researchers found that participants with low dietary intakes of these nutrients saw a 26% reduction in progression to advanced AMD.

Participants in the AREDS2 study included 4,203 individuals between the ages of 50 and 85 who were at risk of advanced AMD. All of the participants took the original AREDS formula or a variation that included no beta carotene, a small dose of zinc, or a combination of the two. Additionally, they also took either 10 mg of lutein with 2 mg of zeaxanthin, 350 mg DHA with 650 mg EPA, a combination of the two, or a placebo.

At the conclusion of the study, 1,608 participants had at least one case of advanced AMD. The researchers concluded that the likelihood of developing advanced AMD in 5 years was 31% for the placebo group, 29% for the lutein and zeaxanthin group, 31% for the omega-3 group, and 30% for the combination group.

When the researchers examined the group of individuals with the lowest dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin, they found significant benefits. Specifically, a 26% reduction in progression to advanced AMD. This is especially important because the majority of Americans do not get enough lutein and zeaxanthin in their daily diets.

There was no noted effect on cataracts in the group at large, but when the researchers examined the lowest dietary intake group, they found a 36% reduction in cataract surgery, a 30% reduction in any cataract, and a 31% reduction in severe cataracts in the individuals taking lutein and zeaxanthin.

The researchers also noted higher incidences of lung cancer in the beta-carotene group, compared with the non-beta carotene group. Additionally, they found that beta-carotene decreased the serum levels of lutein and zeaxanthing, leading them to beta-carotene be removed from the AREDS supplement.

Researchers from the AREDS2 Research Group conducted the study. It was published online ahead of print on May 5, 2013, in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Lutein is one of only two carotenoids that can build macular pigment. The other is zeaxanthin. Lutein and zeaxanthin create the yellow pigmentation of the macula, which is the part of the eye that provides protection from damaging blue light. If the yellow macular pigment is too thin, blue light can penetrate the retina and cause long term damage.

You can increase your lutein levels by consuming more green vegetables, corn, and egg yolk.

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