Lutein is a naturally occurring plant pigment found in a number of plant foods, including corn, spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, peas, leeks and collard greens. When we ingest lutein, whether through foods or supplements, it concentrates in a section of the eye called the macula, a small area of the retina. Studies show that lutein helps filter out potentially damaging forms of light and can protect against macular degeneration and cataracts.
Researchers from Spain recently reported on the effects of long-term supplementation with lutein and vitamin E on visual performance in patients with cataracts. Seventeen patients diagnosed with age-related cataracts were included in this randomized, double-blind study. They were given lutein (15 mg), vitamin E (100 mg) or placebo three times a week for up to two years. Blood levels of lutein and vitamin E were measured with high-performance liquid chromatography, and visual performance (visual acuity and glare sensitivity) was monitored every three months throughout the study.
The researchers found that blood levels of lutein and vitamin E both increased with supplementation, although only the lutein levels were determined to be statistically significant. Both visual acuity and glare sensitivity improved in the lutein group, whereas there was a maintenance of and decrease in visual acuity with vitamin E and placebo supplementation, respectively. No significant side effects were observed in any of the subjects during the study.
The researchers conclude that “visual function in patients with age-related cataracts who received the lutein supplements improved, suggesting that a higher intake of lutein, through lutein-rich fruit and vegetables or supplements, may have beneficial effects on the visual performance of people with age-related cataracts.”