April is Eye Health Safety Month. Our eyes are the window to our world – in so many ways. Our eyes are incredibly intricate and are as important as many other vital organs in our body. We often take them for granted, but we could lose their ability to work properly… in the blink of an eye. For many of us, as we age, it seems like our arms just can’t get long enough to be able to read the fine print on labels or instructions.
One of the ways our eyes work is by reacting to light through rods and cones in the retina. It gives us our vision, color differentiation, and depth perception. The macula is the center of the retina and is responsible for our central vision, which we use when reading. The macula is also the most sensitive part of the retina and is more prone to deterioration and oxidation as we age.
Let’s take a closer look at two very important nutrients: lutein and zeaxanthin. Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids found in fruits, vegetables, and other foods, and are stored in high amounts in and around the macula. Zeaxanthin is the predominant carotenoid found in the center of the macula, and lutein is found in higher concentrations in the surrounding retina. They may help increase macular pigment density, which is associated with healthy retinas and vision.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are powerful antioxidants that work to protect our eyes and vision by filtering and blocking harmful ultra-violet sunlight and digital blue light (from computers, laptops, tablets, and phones) and by stopping oxidative stress and retinal damage from free radicals.
The lenses in our eyes focus light on the retina, and to continue to do this effectively as we age, our lenses must remain clear. Oxidation of the lens is a major cause of cataracts. According to the American Optometric Association “cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) are the leading causes of visual impairment and acquired blindness in the U.S., affecting millions of aging Americans.”
We must do everything we can to help keep our eyes functioning optimally. If you’re interested in supplying your body with lutein and zeaxanthin, our body doesn’t produce these nutrients, so we must get them through our diet or a nutritional supplement.
Although there is no recommended daily intake for lutein and zeaxanthin, recent studies show health benefits in taking up to 10 mg/day of lutein and close to 2 mg/day of zeaxanthin. Look for these nutrients on their own or combined in a single capsule.