Lutein Introduction

Lutein dipalmitate is derived from the perennial plant Helenium autumnale L. Compositae. It is a member of the carotenoid family. Carotenoids are naturally occurring fat-soluble pigments found in algae, certain plant species, and photosynthetic bacteria. These yellowish pigments protect organisms from the harmful, and often times, toxic effects of ultraviolet radiation and oxygen. Carotenoids are a classification of nutrients popularized by the antioxidative properties of Beta-Carotene in the early 80s. [1]

There are over 600 different carotenoids found in nature, and only a percentage of this number is found in serum levels throughout the human body. Of this minute percentage, only lutein and zeaxanthin exist within the macula of the eye. This suggests that that these two nutrients provide for critical roles in eye health. The macula of the eye is directly responsible for central vision and visual acuity. Lutein and zeaxanthin alone, are responsible for the eye’s development of macular pigment (MP) within the macula. [2, 3] The formation of MP is critical in the protection of the macula from photo-oxidation. Damage caused by oxidative stress within the retina can lead to the deterioration of the macula, potential causing age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and other visual disturbances.

Lutein is included in a separate class of carotenoids named xanthophylls. Xanthophyll carotenoids include lutein, alpha-and beta-crptoxanthin, and zeaxanthin. They deviate from the standard carotenoid by the inclusion of a hydroxyl group upon their chemical structures. This added hydroxyl group gives xanthophylls, like lutein, an increased polarity, thus enabling them to carry/contain oxygen. Because of this, xanthophyll carotenoids are also referenced as oxycarotenoids. This characteristic affords xanthophylls the added protection and stability from pro-oxidants. This is extremely beneficial in human physiology as both free radicals and pro-oxidants contribute to the destruction of cellular structures.

Lutein also has a higher bioavailability than beta-carotene; fatty foods may enhance its absorption percentage. Upon its ingestion, lutein is primarily accumulated in the macula of the retina where it will then bind itself to tuberlin, a retinal protein of the eye. Smaller amounts of lutein may also be deposited in the skin, and the breast and cervical tissues of females.

Lutein Food Sources

Natural food sources rich in non-esterified lutein include corn, egg yolks, dark green leafy vegetables (e.g. spinach and kale), fruits, and other highly colored foods. Lutein may also be found in algae, yellow flower petals, nettles, and mono- or di-esters of various fatty acids. The majority of nutritional supplements containing lutein provide lutein ester. Obtained from the dried petals of the marigold flower (Tagetes erecta), these esters possess a high bioavailability. [4]

It is estimated that if Americans were to follow the current dietary guidelines established by the USDA, persons would acquire some 4 - 7grams of dietary lutein. However, due to the inconsistencies of the modern diet, 1 - 2 grams is often accepted as the daily intake average of this nutrient.

The most popular dietary choices for lutein include:

Foods:Lutein content (milligrams / serving):
Kale (cooked) 33.8 / 1 cup
Kale (raw) 22.1 / 1 cup
Turnip Greens (cooked) 18.1 / 1 cup
Collard Greens (cooked) 17.2 / 1 cup
Spinach (cooked) 15 / 1 cup
Spinach (fresh/raw) 6.7 / 1 cup
Broccoli (cooked) 3.4 / 1 cup
Corn (cooked) 2.9 / 1 cup
Green Peas (canned) 2.3 / 1 cup
Lettuce (Romaine) 1.5 / 1 cup
Corn (canned) 1.4 / 1 cup
Eggs (2) .5 / 2 medium
Green Beans .76 / 1 cup
Orange Juice (frozen concen.) .50 / 12 fl. Oz
Oranges .49 / 2 medium
Papayas .45 / 2 medium
Tangerines (fresh) .40 / 2 medium


Lutein Uses

Epidemiological evidence suggests that there is a direct correlation between serum levels of carotenoids and the development of pigmentary abnormalities of the eye. Lower levels of carotenoids, predominantly lutein and zeaxanthin, are paralleled to the increased risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in adults. [6] There is mounting evidence that suggests supplemental lutein (and zeaxanthin) may assist in the protection from conditions that affect vision and overall eye health.

A particular twelve-month study concluded in May of 2001, was conducted on ninety patients suffering from atrophic, age-related macular degeneration. Subjects were either given placebo, supplemental lutein, or a synergistic blend, which included lutein, vitamins and minerals, and various antioxidants. Individuals receiving placebo had no improvement in visual acuity, while persons receiving the lutein-containing supplements showed a marked improvement in visual functioning. [7] Although the initial results from various clinical studies support the beneficial relationship between lutein and the presence of age-related macular degeneration, opponents continually call for more intensely scrutinized long-term studies to solidify these preliminary findings. [8]

As mentioned, lutein, in conjunction with zeaxanthin, is specifically responsible for macular pigment density. A significantly reduced density of this pigment is theorized to be a prominent risk factor in the development of AMD. Lutein esters have been used in study to determine their overall effectiveness in increasing macular pigment density. Thirty milligrams of lutein esters supplemented over a 4 ½ month period have shown the ability to increase the density of macular pigment. [9]

Lutein may also inhibit the formation of cataracts in both men and women. [10, 11] Increased serum levels of lutein are associated with a decreased risk for the development of cataracts. Adults may even reduce the possibility and occurrence of cataract formation by as much as 22% when supplementing with both lutein and zeaxanthin. [12] These findings are consistent among various epidemiological studies.

Supplemental lutein may prove to be extremely beneficial for the protection of the largest and most often looked human organ - the skin. The eyes and skin are the only parts of human physiology to be constantly bombarded with the unfavorable effects of the environment. Environmental free radicals adversely effect the immunological response of the body, while further damaging specific protein and DNA characteristics within the many cellular structures of the body.

Studies suggest that the oral supplementation of lutein may protect the skin from UV-B damage, and reduce the risks factors attributed to the development of skin cancer. [13] Certain mammalian studies have indicated that lutein may also be effective in inhibiting the inflammation of skin, following intense exposures to ultraviolet light. [14]

In addition to the skin, lutein and other carotenoids may yield protective benefits against certain types of cancer in women. When supplemented with other carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin may reduce the rate of growth in cancerous conditions of the breast. [15] Preliminary evidence also points to a direct correlation between one’s consumption of foods rich in lutein, zeaxanthin, lycopene, beta-carotene, and alpha-carotene, with reductions in breast cancer occurrence. [16] However, more research is necessary to further validate these findings.

Ongoing research into lutein supplementation includes retinitis pigmentosa. [17] This hereditary disease is characterized with pigmentary changes within the retina, and the eventual loss of vision. Initial findings have proved promising, but the long term prognosis for the effect of lutein upon this disorder remains unclear.

Lutein Dosages

The majority of lutein supplements marketed today provide either the non-esterified (free), or esterified (w/fatty acids) forms of lutein. These nutritional supplements are available in capsules, tablets, and soft gels with dosages ranging from 250 micrograms to 20 milligrams daily. There have been no established recommended daily intakes, or upper intake levels set for this particular nutrient. The most common dosages, however, range from as little as 2 milligrams, to as much as 40 milligrams per day.

Nutrient, Food, and Drug Interactions:

  • Cholestyramine
  • Colestipol
  • Medium-chain triglycerides
  • Mineral oil
  • Olestra
  • Orlistat
  • Pectin

Lutein Toxicities and Deficiencies

There have been no reported adverse reactions cause by the supplementation of lutein. Despite this reassurance, individuals suffering from a hypersensitivity to any lutein-containing products are not advised to supplement with this nutrient. Recent studies have also suggested a possible link between the excessive use of antioxidant products and the potential for particular nutrient interactions and oxidation blockage within the body. Studies propose that mega-dosing of antioxidants may inhibit the body’s ability to fight specific diseases, and may also convert beneficial oxidation into pro-oxidants that become harmful to cellular membranes. More research is needed to assess these possible risk factors.


1. J. Levy, E. Bosin, B. Feldman, et al. Nutr Cancer 1995; 24: 257-266.

2. Landrum JT and Bone RA. Lutein, zeaxanthin, and the macular pigment. Arch Biochem Biophys 385: 28-40., 2001.

3. Beatty S, Boulton M, Henson D, Koh HH, and Murray IJ. Macular pigment and age related macular degeneration. Br J Opthalmol 83: 867-877., 1999.

4. Bowen PE, Clark JP. Lutein esters having high bioavailability. International patent publication number: WO 98/45241. International publication date: 15 October 1998.

5. Lutein, Raw Foods Page. 2004. Lutein Information Bureau. 26 Apr. 2005 <>.

6. Hammond BR Jr, et al. Dietary Modification of Human Macular Pigment Density. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. Aug1997; 38(9):1795-801.

7. Richer S, Stiles W, Statkute L, et al. Double-masked, placebo-controlled, randomized trial of lutein and antioxidant supplementation in the intervention of atrophic age-related macular degeneration: the Veterans LAST study (Lutein Antioxidant Supplementation Trial). Optometry. Apr2004; 75(4):216-30.

8. Mares-Perlman JA, Fisher AI, Klein R, Palta M, Block G, Millen AE, Wright JD. Lutein and zeaxanthin in the diet and serum and their relation to age-related maculopathy in the third national health and nutrition examination survey. Am J Epidemiol. Mar2001; 153(5):424-32.

9. Landrum JT, et al. A One Year Study of the Macular Pigment: The Effect of 140 Days of a Lutein Supplement. Exp Eye Res. Jul1997;65(1):57-62.

10. Brown L, Rimm EB, Seddon JM, et al. A prospective study of carotenoid intake and risk of cataract extraction in U.S. men. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999; 70:517-524.

11. Chasan-Taber L, Willett WC, Seddon JM, et al. A prospective study of carotenoid and vitamin A intakes and risk of cataract extraction in U.S. women. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999; 70:509-516.

12. Lyle BJ, et al. Antioxidant Intake and Risk of Incident Age-related Nuclear Cataracts in the Beaver Dam Eye Study. Am J Epidemiol. May1999; 149(9):801-09.

13. Gonzalez S, Wu A, Pathak MA, Sifakis M, and Goukassian DA. Oral administration of lutein modulates cell proliferation induced by acute UV-B radiation in the SHK-1 hairless mouse animal model (Abstract). The Society of Investigative Dermatology, 63rd Annual Meeting, Los Angeles, CA., 2002. 2.

14. Granstein RD, Faulhaber D, and Ding W. Lutein inhibits UV-B radiation-induced tissue swelling and suppression of the induction of contact hypersensitivity (CHS) in the mouse (Abstract). The Society of Investigative Dermatology, 62nd Annual Meeting, Washington D.C., 2001, p. 497.

15. Milo K, Singeltary J, Bomser J, and Smith MAL. Lutein and zeaxanthin inhibit human breast cancer cell proliferation (abstract). FASEB 12: A830, 1998.

16. Zhang S, Hunter DJ, Forman MR, Rosner BA, Speizer FE, Colditz GA, Manson JE, Hankinson SE, and Willett WC. Dietary carotenoids and vitamins A, C, and E and risk of breast cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst 91: 547-556., 1999.

17. Aleman TS, Duncan JL, Bieber ML, de Castro E, Marks DA, Gardner LM, et al. Macular pigment and lutein supplementation in retinitis pigmentosa and Usher syndrome. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. Jul2001; 42(8):1873-81


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