A Clearer Look at Lutein

“Eat your carrots, they’re good for your eyes,” was what my mom always used to tell me.

She was right, carrots are filled with carotenoids, including lutein, that help protect against macular degeneration and damaging free radicals.

Lutein, along with other carotenoids, also occurs naturally in egg yolks and dark, leafy greens, such as spinach and kale.

In recent years, however, lutein has been singled out for possibly more health benefits than simply protecting against a leading cause of blindness (which seems pretty good on its own if you ask me.)

Blogs and other sites across the web cite published research proclaiming its powers against blue light (from electronic screens), atherosclerosis (a common cause of heart attacks), diabetes, inflammation, skin damage and – most enticing of all – increased longevity. Many recommend it be taken as a supplement in order to absorb the maximum amount possible and garner its effects to the fullest.

This is where anyone looking for the next miracle-pill needs to begin to reel in their hopes and proceed with caution.

It has been shown in countless studies that lutein is present in and necessary for optimal eye function. It does indeed help filter (emphasize on help and not completely stop) blue light in our eyes. However, it has not yet been conclusively shown that the same effects are possible when lutein is taken as a supplement instead of consumed as part of a food.

In terms of diabetes, lutein from food or supplement won’t cure it, but it can help prevent retinal damage leading to blindness caused by diabetes. And today, diabetes remains the leading cause of blindness in the United States.

Apart from keeping our eyes healthy, lutein, as an antioxidant, can help reduce the effects of free radicals in the skin and other areas of the body reducing damage and inflammation. However, no antioxidant (lutein or otherwise) can possibly prevent all free-radical-induced damage that occurs in the body.

Lutein is not going to cure any illness on its own – but it can, if consumed (mostly from foods) regularly and within an overall healthy eating style, help each of us lead a healthier (and potentially longer) life.

This blog was written by Julia Werth, a dietetic intern at the University of Maryland.

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