Lutein and Zeaxanthin facts and food sources


Lutein and zeaxanthin are two types of carotenoids, which are pigments (yellow to red) found in vegetables. They are present in dark, leafy greens such as kale, chard, and spinach, as well as in eggs and other foods. Lutein is regarded as yellow pigment and occurs orange to red in high concentrations. These carotenoids are outlined with the presence of hydroxyl group on each terminal ring of these molecules. In nature, they are found together either esterified to fatty acids or in an unesterified form. In flowers/ fruits of plants they are esterified as they are found highly in free form in some fruits and vegetables such as kale and spinach. Thus, body could not synthesize lutein and zeaxanthin so it must be obtained through dietary sources. In unesterified forms, lutein and zeaxanthin are essential components of plant chloroplasts and acts as accessory pigments in photosynthetic apparatus for providing antioxidative photoprotection under high light intensity. Lutein and zeaxanthin esters are present in flowers or fruits of plants because esterified forms are much more stable against oxidation and are used as pigments.


The word “Lutein” is derived from Latin word “luteus” which means yellow. Lutein is a xanthophyll and is considered to be one of 600 known naturally occurring carotenoids. It is manufactured by plants and xanthophyll is also found in green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach and yellow carrots in high quantities. In green plants, xanthophyll modulates light energy and acts as non-photochemical quenching agents to deal with triplet chlorophyll which is overproduced at high light during photosynthesis. In human retina, lutein is absorbed from blood into macula lutea though its exact role in the body is not known. Generally, lutein is a lipophilic molecule and is insoluble in water. It is found as fatty acid esters in plants.


Zeaxanthin is a common carotenoid alcohol found in nature. This pigment provides the characteristic color to corn, paprika, saffron, wolfberries and other plants. The name is derived from Zea mays and Greek word “xanthos” meaning yellow. Zeaxanthin are present in high quantity in leaves of green plants. Zeaxanthin is one of two principal xanthophyll carotenoids present in the retina of the eye.

Food Sources

Food name Weight (g) Lutein and Zeaxanthin (µg)
Spinach 214 22630
Turnip greens 164 19541
Swiss chard 175 19276
Collards 170 18527
Mustard greens 140 14560
Garden cress 135 11343
Dandelion greens 105 9616
Sweet potato leaves 64 7327
Kale 118 5880
Green peas 160 4149
Lambsquarters 65 4005
Swiss chard 36 3960
Stinging Nettles 89 3718
Pistachio nuts 123 3571
Radicchio 40 3533
Chrysanthemum 100 3467
Parsley 60 3337
Chicory greens 29 2987
Winter Squash 205 2901
Edamame 155 2509


Health Benefits of Lutein and Zeaxanthin

  1. Antioxidant activity

Lutein and zeaxanthin are antioxidants which defends body from free radicals. Excess presence of free radicals damage cells contributing to aging and onset of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and type 2 diabetes. It protects body’s fats, proteins and DNA from stressors and help to recycle glutathione which is another major antioxidant in the body. Moreover, its antioxidant properties lower effects of bad cholesterol. It lowers buildup of plaque in arteries and lowers the chances of heart problems.

Lutein and zeaxanthin also work to protect your eyes from free radical damage. Eyes are exposed to both light and oxygen which as a result produces harmful oxygen free radicals. Lutein and zeaxanthin eradicates free radicals so it does not damage eye cells.

  1. Healthy Vision

Lutein and zeaxanthin are the dietary carotenoids which accumulate in retina, particularly macula region which is located at back of eye. It is present in high amounts in macula known as macular pigments. Macula is required for vision. Lutein and zeaxanthin acts as antioxidants in this area by protecting eyes from harmful free radicals. With the reduction of these antioxidants, it could impair eye health. It also acts as natural sunblock by taking in excess light energy. It protects eyes from harmful blue light. It prevents the onset of age related macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, eye detachment and uveitis.

  1. Healthy skin

Recent research has shown beneficial effect of lutein and zeaxanthin on skin. Its antioxidant effects prevent skin from damaging ultraviolet rays of sun. Animal study shows that rats receiving 0.4% lutein and zeaxanthin enriched diets have low UVB induced skin inflammation in comparison to those receiving 0.04% of these carotenoids. Study conducted in 46 people having mild to moderate dry skin concluded that intake of 10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin improved skin tone significantly in comparison to the control group. Moreover, lutein and zeaxanthin protects skin cells from premature aging and UVB induced tumors.

  1. Diabetic treatment

Studies have shown high levels of lutein & other carotenoids within blood are associated to problem in controlling blood sugar and lower the chances of diabetes and other complications. Study conducted on diabetic rats shows that lutein supplements with DHA manage diabetes induced biochemical modifications. Diabetic rats with supplements experienced low oxidative stress and less damage to retina of eyes.

  1. Cancer prevention

Evidence have shown that people with more lutein from diet had low rates of colon, breast, cervical and lung cancers. Study shows that high levels of lutein in blood had low chances of developing various forms of cancers. Lutein acts as a natural treatment for cancer due to the facts that lutein rich foods also offer various antioxidants and nutrients that reduces disease causing inflammation and oxidative stress. Further research is required to discover the effects of lutein and other carotenoids on immune, cancer, cardiovascular and hormonal health.

  1. Healthy heart

Study shows that xanthophyll carotenoids including lutein help to lower the chances of developing stroke and heart disease. Also study has shown cancer protective effects of lutein and how it improves heart health. It suggests that a low level of lutein in the blood contributes to thickening of artery walls which increases the chances of developing arteriosclerosis and clogging of arteries those results in heart attacks.

Recommended dosage

It is recommended to take more than 1 to 3 mg of lutein and zeaxanthin regularly in order to lower the chances of age related macular degeneration. Literally, about 6 to 20 mg of dietary lutein per day helps to lower the chances of eye ailments. Research has shown that 10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin causes significant reduction in onset to advanced age associated macular degeneration. Similarly, supplements of 10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin promotes overall skin tone.


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