Lutein is a basic substance to keep a healthy eyesight. It reduces the risk of suffering age-related macular degeneration (AMD) or the opacity of of the crystalline lens (cataracts), and improves the state of the dermis from the inside, increasing its hydration and elasticity.
What is Lutein?
This substance is a natural antioxidant element, a yellow pigment that belongs to the carotenoids family. Carotenoids are the substances that give plants their colour and they act as antioxidants. Among the foods that have this element we can find egg yolks, fruits, and vegetables with dark-green pigmented leaves, such as spinach and cabbage.
Lutein is a natural antioxidant which helps to improve the eyesight and the state of the dermis by delaying its deterioration and aging.
Properties and benefits of Lutein
Lutein improves the eyes and skin, which are the only organs of the body which are in direct contact with the outside world.
It is an antioxidant element that reduces and eliminates the harmful effects of free radicals. The free radicals deal damage to the body and are the cause of many chronic diseases.
Lutein filters out the ultraviolet wavelengths from the sunlight. These wavelengths are dangerous because they damage the organs due to oxidative stress. Clinical research has shown that, along with zeaxanthin, lutein reduces up to a 90% the intensity of the light wavelengths that cause damage to the retina. Therefore, it helps to prevent oxidative damage to the retina, and helps to improve eyesight.
Lutein Sources, can it be produced by the body?
The answer to this question is no. Although it is an essential substance for the human body, it cannot be produced on its own. The only way to supply this nutrient to the body is through foods or specific dietary supplements.
This substance is mainly found in the eyes, blood, dermis, at the uterus neck, brain, and breasts. If we focus on the eyes, it is mainly found in the macular region of the retina and in the rest of the retina, the iris, and the lens but in smaller amounts.
Daily amount, how much Lutein do we need?
We should take between 6-10 mg daily. Clinical research has shown that we need to consume a daily serving to keep our eyes and dermis healthy. Therefore, it is advisable to consume vegetables with a dark green pigment, or taking dietary supplements with this substance. It is impossible, even for those who follow a balanced nutrition, to eat a lot of spinach with the recommended amount of 6 to 10mg of Lutein daily.
To this difficulty we should add the fact that there are a lot of people who do not consume the necessary daily amount of fruits and vegetables, so it is very difficult for them to meet the requirements only through the diet.
Because of this, and to avoid a deficiency and to maintain a good eyesight and healthy skin, it is advisable to use a lutein dietary supplement.
What are the differences between free Lutein and esters?
Free lutein is naturally found in vegetables and greenies, and it is supplied to the body through the foods we eat.
Esters are a natural extract that is added to certain foods.
How does Lutein protect eye health?
Studies have shown that this substance reduces the risk of suffering age-related macular degeneration (AMD). A study conducted in 2016 on old patients with macular degeneration (AMD) showed that taking 10 mg a day improved their vision. In 2016 new clinical research was carried out, which indicated that this substance reduces the risk of cataracts.
What is age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
Macular degeneration is a degenerative disease, and it is the main cause of loss of vision in people over the age of 65. This disease produces a macula lutea, also called yellow spots, on the point of sharpest vision of the retina.
It occurs when the cells of the macula deteriorate the retina, which leads to sight loss in the central area of the retina. Peripheral vision is not affected.
1. Macular, "dry" or atrophic, age-related degeneration
Dry macular degeneration occurs due to small yellow dots in a 90 percent of cases. These are called drusen and they appear behind the macula.
These yellow dots are caused by metabolic waste deposits and the alteration of choroidal circulation. In a 5-10% of people, it can lead to blindness. In the remaining cases, it produces cell death in the epithelium pigment of the retina and it results in a serious loss of visual acuity.
If it is not properly treated, it can lead to a "wet" macular degeneration in a 15% of cases. A 2016 study showed that lutein dietary supplements had a positive effect on the sight of those suffering from dry macular degeneration.
2. Age-related "wet" macular degeneration
"Wet" macular degeneration is the result of a poor metabolic condition of the blood vessels from the retina due to the underlying choroids. This can cause a detachment of the retina.
This pathology occurs more quickly than dry macular degeneration. A typical symptoms of "wet" macular degeneration is a distorted perception of things. For example, if the edges of an object are straight, they may look inclined.
What is the macula?
The macula lutea or yellow spot is a small area, two millimeters wide, located in the center of the retina, at the back of the eyes. The central part of the macula is called the fovea, and it is in charge of the central vision in the eyes.
What properties does Lutein have to protect the eyes from macular degeneration?
This substance is consumed through food, and it is absorbed by the macula of the eyes. Due to its special properties, it filters harmful ultraviolet light waves from the sun and protects the macula from the damage caused by the free radicals. A healthy macula guarantees a good central vision. When you are exposed to aggressive factors from light, the macula eventually deteriorates, which results in age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Apart from eating enough fruits and vegetables, it is advisable to take a dietary supplement of this substance, in order to reduce or prevent the onset of macular degeneration (AMD). A lot of people do not consume enough of these foods daily, so dietary supplements are an alternative to safely consume the required daily amount needed by the body.
Who are at risk of suffering age-related macular degeneration?
There are several factors that increase the risk of developing macular degeneration. These factors are mainly: age, poor nutrition, excessive exposure of the eyes to sunlight, smoking, genes, gender, eye color, alcohol consumption, and heart diseases. For example, white-skinned people with blue or green eyes have a higher risk of suffering macular degeneration. Other groups at risk are old people, women, and smokers.
How can we protect our eyes from age-related macular degeneration?
Although there are factors that cannot be changed, age, sex, and genes for example, there are others that can be avoided by changing certain habits in order to reduce the risk of macular degeneration.
Here are some tips:
Wear sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats to avoid looking directly to sunlight and its reflections
Consume a large amount of fruits and vegetables with dark green leaves, since they have lutein
Add a lutein supplement to your daily diet
Limit the consumption of alcohol and saturated fats, and lower the cholesterol levels
What properties does Lutein have for other age-related eye diseases?
In a clinical study carried out in 2016, with adults aged 43-84, it was found that the consumption of lutein and zeaxanthin can reduce the onset of cataracts.
Cataracts are characterised by an opacity of the crystalline lens, and they are often associated to the aging process. Lutein and zeaxanthin are the only carotenoids present in the lens of the eye.
In a clinical study conducted on 77 nurses aged 45 to 71, it was proven that those who were given a larger amount of lutein and zeaxanthin had a 22 percent lower risk of developing cataracts than those who did not take these nutrients.
The study also showed that a high consumption of spinach and cabbage (which have large amounts of lutein) can reduce the risk of cataracts.
A similar study, conducted on 36 men, aged between 45 and 75 years old, showed that those who had a higher consumption of carotenoids (alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, beta-cryptoxanthin, lycopene) and vitamin A, had a 19 percent lower risk of suffering from cataracts than those who consumed lower amounts.
Apart from reducing the risk of macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts, clinical studies conducted in 2016 have shown that this substance encourages cardiovascular health and improves the appearance and condition of the dermis.
Lutein and the skin
Environmental factors deal damage to all the layers of the dermis.
The ultraviolet light wavelengths (UVB) only penetrate the outer layers. However, longer wavelengths (UVA), penetrate both the outer and internal layers.
Visible light can penetrate all the layers of the dermis and damage them, which results in a loss of their natural antioxidant capacity to block the harmful effects of the free radicals.
Like the eyes, the dermis also has natural lutein. Clinical research has shown that this substance plays a basic role in the maintenance of a healthy dermis.
A clinical study carried out in 2016 showed that taking 10 mg of lutein daily increases the hydration and elasticity of the dermis and decreases lipid peroxidation.
Lipids are basic elements to maintain a healthy dermis. Lipids also act as a barrier that slows the loss of moisture from the dermis.
A study conducted in 2016 showed the benefits of the topical administration of lutein on the dermis.
This benefit is enhanced when it is combined with the oral intake of dietary supplements of this substance.
The benefits of Lutein for the health of the cardiovascular system
Carotenoids protect the heart. Epidemiological studies reveal that people who eat fruit and green leaves vegetables, have less risk of suffering from heart diseases or strokes.
People who follow a Mediterranean diet have one of the lowest rates of coronary disease deaths. After analyzing the ingredients of this diet, it was found that the carotenoids have large amounts of lutein.
The authors of this study have suggested that the consumption of lutein can lower the amount of deaths caused by heart diseases. Although we still do not know the exact mechanisms that relate to cardiovascular health, researchers believe that this protective effect is based on its antioxidant properties.
First of all, it has been proven that it has benefits regarding the thickness of the carotid artery, which is associated to the risk of heart disease or strokes.
Secondly, a clinical experiment was carried out in which the endothelial cells of the muscle and of the aorta were treated with lutein, and it was found that the inflammation of the arteries was reduced.
Finally, clinical studies conducted on mice with atherosclerosis have shown that taking lutein supplements significantly reduces the size of the injuries in the aortic arch.
Moreover, it also reduces oxidative stress and VLDL and IDL levels (very low density lipoproteins and intermediate density lipoproteins) in the blood plasma, which reduces the onset and development of atherosclerosis.
Lutein properties for women and babies health
This substance has benefits for the breasts and uterine tissue and for the ovaries. Researchers are currently investigating other effects on the body, including its benefits for pregnancy and lactation.
Clinical studies have shown that it increases blood plasma levels during pregnancy, although the exact reasons are unknown.
It has also been discovered that this substance is found in the blood of the umbilical cord after birth and in colostrum (the first milk of mammals). According to this, it has been thought that it could be a component of breast milk.
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