Can Lutein Improve Your Eye Sight?
We Look At the Science To See If This Vision Enhancer Is Legit!
You’ll notice that almost every vision enhancer today contains at least some lutein.
Some eye supplements will use more than others. Many sight support stacks actually contain lutein and nothing else. Given how many stacks use lutein, and how popular these single-ingredient supplements are, there must be something in this lutein thing, right?
It’s always hard to tell what’s true and what isn’t in the supplement industry. Manufacturers spend millions on PR; they have magazines and “independent bloggers” wax lyrical about every herbal extract under the sun, and they hire “industry experts” to back up these claims with dubious science.
That’s where we come in.
We’re going to cut through the marketing spiel to find out if lutein really is an effective vision enhancer.
How does lutein work?
Does it actually make a difference to your eye sight? If so, in what way exactly?
How effective is it compared to other natural vision enhancers?
Is it safe? What sort of side effects should you be worried about with lutein?
Should you incorporate it into your daily supplement routine? Who should be using lutein, and who shouldn’t?
In our complete ingredient guide below, we’ll answer all of these questions and more. As always, everything we say will be backed up by science – if we can’t cite a real clinical trial or peer-reviewed study to support a positive claim, we don’t make it. But before we get into the nuts and bolts of this vision enhancer, let’s explain what lutein is and where it normally comes from!
What Is Lutein?
Before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s talk briefly about what lutein actually is and how we normally utilize it in the body.
Lutein is a carotenoid compound.
Carotenoids are a class of fat-soluble pigments. They are typically yellow, orange, and red in color, and they are found primarily in plants (although some fungi and a couple of animals also produce them). These organisms produce carotenoids from fats and other simple organic materials.
In plants, carotenoids serve two primary purposes:
- Absorbing light energy
- Protecting chlorophyll from sun damage
More specifically, carotenoid compounds absorb light in the 400–550 nanometer wavelength.
In practical terms, that means they absorb everything from violet light (at the end of the visible light spectrum) to green light (around the middle).
This second role might sound strange at first, but it makes perfect sense when you think about it.
Chlorophyll needs to be exposed to sunlight in order for a plant to photosynthesize. But the sun is an extremely powerful nuclear reactor at the end of the day. It gives off enormous amounts of radiation which can damage living cells if they are left exposed for too long.
Plants need to maximize their time in the sun (to maximize growth) while also protecting themselves from photo-damage. Carotenoids do this job perfectly since they absorb much of the harmful violet-blue light given off by the sun!
Categorically, lutein is a particularly type of carotenoid called a Xanthophyll.
This is just a sub-category of carotenoids. They are different from other carotenoids in that they contain oxygen.
The other carotenoid sub-category, carotenes, are pure hydrocarbons – just hydrogen and carbon, no oxygen.
This distinction is important to us only because xanthophylls seem to be much more heavily involved in human eye sight than carotenes. Carotenes have other important properties for sure.
But if we’re talking vision, xanthophylls seem to have the biggest role to play.
But what role is this exactly?
What has lutein got to do with vision?
Let’s find out.
Lutein In The Eye
Now that we’ve covered what lutein is, let’s look at the role it plays in human eye sight.
Like many carotenoids, lutein is found in very large concentrations in the human eye.
Lutein in particular is found in relatively large amounts in the lens, the vitrous gel, and the retina.
But it is found in particularly large amounts in the fovea and macula.
The macula contains very large concentrations of several carotenoids.
As you’ll see from the following diagram, the macula region of the eye contains three very important carotenoids; Lutein, Zeaxanthin, and Meso-Zeaxanthin.
Lutein forms a sort of ring in the macula surrounding the densely compacted zeaxanthin – another important carotenoid we’ll discuss in another article.
The macula ring spans pretty much the entire fovea and much of the eye’s macula region.
So why is this important?
What does the macula do exactly?
Macula As HD Vision Enhancer
The macula is easily one of the most important parts of the human eye (not that any of it is disposable exactly).
The macula is responsible for the high resolution, sharp, densely colored vision that characterize human eye-sight.
It contains both the fovea and fovela regions. These regions have an extremely high density of cones. These are the highly sensitive structures in the eye that allow us to differentiate colors from one another. Different cones are sensitive to different wavelengths of visible light; you have “red” cones, “blue” cones, and “green” cones in your retina. Noting which cones register light is more or less how we discern color.
This is why age-related macular degeneration is characterized by a steady loss of high resolution vision.
If you experience macular degeneration for whatever reason, your vision becomes a little less sharp, a little less clear, a little more “fuzzy”. Then you’ll really know how important the macula is for your vision!
The macula also has another important function, which we’ll now discuss.
Macula As “Internal Sunblock”
One of the macula’s main functions is to act as a kind of internal filter for harmful sunlight.
Lutein, along with the other carotenoids in the macula region of the retina, constitute something we call the macular pigment. This pigment does the same thing for the human eye as it does for plant chlorophyll; it helps absorb much of the harmful light coming from the sun!
The macular pigment filters out a great deal of light entering your eye. It specifically filters out short wavelength light (such as violet and blue light) which is by far the most damaging to your eye sight.
Another way to think of lutein here is a pair of internal sunglasses. It absorbs all of the most damaging visible light wavelengths, thereby protecting the eye from cumulative photodamage.
So just like we saw with plant chlorophyll, your eye cells can be severely damaged by sunlight. You don’t need to stare at the sun for this to happen – radiation from the sun can slowly chip away at eye tissue, causing slow, almost imperceptible damage over the course of a lifetime.
So the macula actually has two primary purposes:
- Shielding the optic nerves from high-energy, potentially harmful blue light
- Facilitating high-acuity, densely colored vision
It’s clear that this part of the eye is incredibly important for both the quality of your eye sight now and the longevity of your vision going forward.
Clearly then, it is something we want to protect and, if possible, enhance.
It is also clear that lutein plays an incredibly important role in the health and functioning of the macula. It constitutes a very large portion of the macular pigment which helps block harmful light radiation. It is found in very high concentrations in the macular region itself (only exceeded by Zeaxanthin).
But that doesn’t tell us anything about how lutein supplementation can help eye sight.
A substance may be found in large quantities in a given organ of the body, but that doesn’t mean consuming more will make said region work any better.
Consuming lutein could be a complete waste of time; it may not be absorbed, it might not be utilized properly, or it might not make any difference even if it is taken up by the macula.
So does lutein supplementation help with eye sight?
Does it support macular health and longevity?
Can it prevent age-related macular degeneration?
Does it help with macula do its job properly?
Can it enhance vision in healthy eyes?
Fortunately for us, the answer to all of these questions seems to be a resounding “yes”! Let’s take a look at some of the most widely cited and robust literature on lutein supplementation and find out how it can help with vision, both in the short and long term.
Does Lutein Supplementation Work For Vision?
We’ll cut tot he chase and answer the question: yes, lutein supplementation has been shown to enhance vision.
It’s all very well for supplement manufacturers to tell you or the human body.
They can tell you how, without X or Y component, the brain, muscles, or certain organs can’t work properly.
But that doesn’t always mean that supplementation helps.
Well, lutein supplementation is one of those substances that it actually pays to supplement.
Several robust, trustworthy scientific studies have found that just a few weeks of lutein supplementation can lead to improved eye sight, enhanced contrast sensitivity, and accelerated glare recovery.
To see how lutein can improve contrast sensitivity, take a look at this study published in Ophthalmics and Physiological Optics in 2006. Here researchers found that 10mg of lutein per day was sufficient to “improve Contrast Acuity Thresholds at high mesopic levels and hence visual performance at low illumination.”
Evidence for lutein’s ability to expand visual field can be found in this study, published in BMC Ophthalmology in 2006. These researchers found that “lutein supplementation improves visual field and also might improve visual acuity”. The authors noted that their results were not conclusive, but they are certainly very promising.
As already mentioned above, lutein’s ability to improve glare recovery (so vital if you are an eSports competitor, professional golfer, and so on) is demonstrated in this study, published in Optometry in 2004.
The same study found that “mean eye macular pigment optical density increased approximately 0.09 log units from baseline”. That lutein supplementation can help strengthen your macular pigment and ward off steady degradation is clear.
There are also plenty of early-stage studies hinting at more powerful medical uses for lutein. This trial suggests that lutein supplementation may reduce the risk of developing cataracts that are severe enough to warrant extraction. Another hints that lutein supplementation might actually be a viable treatment for acute macular degradation. More research is needed in these areas, but preliminary results are giving us reason to be optimistic.
How Much Lutein Should You Take?
As always, the exact quantities needed to get optimal results will vary slightly person to person, use case to use case.
However, unlike lots of supplements, lutein’s dose variability between users and uses is quite low.
Regardless of your age, circumstances and eye health, 10mg of lutein per day seems to be sufficient to improve visual acuity, enhance night vision, expand visual field, and help stave off serious eye illnesses.
Most of the studies showing significant improvements in eye sight have used 10mg of lutein per day, sometimes with zeaxanthin added in for extra punch.
Likewise, most of the studies showing that lutein helps restore macular pigment density have given participants 10mg per day.
It seems that any more than 10mg/day will be a waste of money.