Eye Doctors See Bright Future for Lutein

A researcher from Harvard University first discovered in 1994 that lutein plays an important role in eye health. Since then, significant research about lutein has evolved, and eye doctors now recommend it to their patients.

In fact, 91 percent of eye doctors say they believe lutein plays an important role in promoting eye health, according to a recent study commissioned by Kemin Foods. And 58 percent of the eye doctors surveyed believe that lutein is the nutrient that best supports long-term eye health. The study surveyed 150 ophthalmologists and 150 optometrists in the United States about their perceptions of lutein.

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What is lutein?

Lutein (LOO-teen) is a nutrient found predominantly in vegetables, particularly in dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale. It is also present in corn and egg yolks. Lutein belongs to a class of compounds called carotenoids, which have shown beneficial effects in reducing the risk of cancer, heart disease and eye disease, and in enhancing the body's immune response. While vitamin A, beta-carotene and lycopene are also members of the carotenoid family, researchers have found that lutein is the carotenoid found most abundantly in the eye.

Lutein promotes long-term eye health in two ways:
  • It acts as a light filter, protecting the eyes from some of the damaging effects of the sun.
  • As an antioxidant, lutein protects the eyes from the damaging effects of aging.
Eating for your eyes

Because the body is unable to naturally manufacture lutein, humans rely on their consumption of lutein-rich foods or lutein supplements to maintain optimal levels of lutein in the eye.

There isn't an official Daily Reference Intake (DRI) for lutein, but a 1994 Harvard University study showed 6 milligrams, which is equal to about one-third cup of cooked spinach, is likely to be an efficacious daily amount. Because the average American consumes just one to two milligrams of lutein daily, supplements are especially important. In fact, the majority of eye doctors -- 86 percent -- believe people who take a multivitamin should take one that includes lutein.

Seniors with high lutein consumption have been known to have the same vision capability as men aged 24 to 36. And, as the Baby Boom generation ages, eye doctors and scientists are responding to the demands of the largest population group of Americans. So, as research continues and word spreads throughout the professional community, eye doctors are recommending lutein to help slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.

A study released last year by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) said the combination of beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc aided significantly in retarding advanced AMD. Lutein was not included in the NIH study because it was not commercially available at the time the study began. However, there is now abundant scientific information that indicates that the antioxidant lutein helps reduce the risk of AMD.

About AMD

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in people over age 65. AMD occurs when cells in the central portion of the eye (the macula) degrade, causing loss of sight in the central part of the field of vision, but leaving peripheral vision intact.

As many as 16 million Americans suffer from at least the initial stages of AMD. That's almost twice the number of people who live in the city of Los Angeles. Fortunately, 90 percent of AMD patients have the dry form of the disease, which is gradual and may be altered by diet and lifestyle. Dry AMD is typically not associated with blindness but, if left untreated, may progress into wet AMD. The sudden, or wet, form of the disease, leads to the onset of blindness and affects 10 percent of AMD patients.

Several factors may influence a person's risk of developing AMD: age, diet, gender, race, eye color, heredity, exposure to sunlight, smoking, alcohol consumption and heart disease. Caucasians, people with light-colored eyes, women, smokers and seniors are at higher risk.

Tips for protecting your eyes

While we can't change our age, genetics or gender, we can control our lifestyle. The top five things everyone can do to protect their eyes are:

  • Wear sunglasses
  • Eat a healthy diet low in saturated fats and cholesterol
  • Stop smoking
  • Limit your intake of alcohol
  • Supplement your diet with 6 milligrams per day of lutein

For more information about how lutein can help promote healthy eyes, ask your eye doctor and visit the Lutein Information Bureau Web site at www.luteininfo.com. Courtesy of ARA Content

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