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They might sound like characters from a sci-fi novel, but Lutein and Zeaxanthin (L & Z) are some of the most healthful plant-based antioxidants around. Technically classified as carotenoids, the two are often paired together since they are two of the most powerful nutrients that support eye health.
But recent research tells us they’re also great for improving mental health at any stage of life -- even when taken for a short period of time. (1)
Read on for an overview of why these two strange-sounding nutrients can work wonders for our eyes and our brains and may even offer some other surprising benefits.
What are lutein and zeaxanthin?
L & Z are naturally found throughout the human body, in the blood, the skin, the eyes and the brain. Lutein is found closer to the retina and the rods of the eyeball. They are also the only antioxidants found in the human eye.
The two work together to maintain healthy cells in the eyes and and protect it from harmful light waves. Although they are prevalent in our bodies naturally, we must get a significant amount from our diets (or supplements) in order to reap the benefits of better eyesight and brain health.
Carotenoids and Eyesight
Do you ever wonder why people tell you to eat more carrots to help your vision? They say this because lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids, the compounds that give plants like carrots their bright colors. It turns out that carrots actually aren’t the best sources of L & Z, but there’s certainly no harm in including them along with a range of brightly-colored veggies in your regular diet.
The American Optometric Association (AOA) cites cataracts and age-related macular degeneration as the main causes of blindness in the USA. L & Z have been shown to reduce the occurrence of various eye diseases, most of which are age-related.
The fact that they are antioxidants is important because its the oxidation of the lens that causes cataracts. Antioxidants prevent oxidation of cells, which means that these important compounds play a big role in the prevention of cataracts. (2)
The Benefits of L&Z: Beyond Eye Health
Of all the ways L & Z can benefit human health, recent research has found that the carotenoids may be more beneficial to brain health than previously thought.
Here are some interesting findings.
- Adding lutein to breast milk can improve brain development in infants. The research suggests a significant increase in something known as cognitive milestones - significant steps that occur during the development of a child. (3)
- A 2014 review concluded that Lutein and Zeaxanthin can improve both brain and eye health at any stage in life. (4)
- A recent year-long study from 2017 showed remarkable results in a group of 51 young adults between the ages of 18 and 30. Central Nervous System Vital Signs guidelines were used to evaluate the cognitive function of the subjects. The group that supplemented with L & Z showed a significant improvement in special memory, reasoning, and complex attention. (5)
- One recent study points to a possibility that carotenoids like L & Z, when administered with other supplements, may protect against non-hodgkin's lymphoma. (6)
- Other studies show that the two supplements may also be useful to prevent bone fractures and boost heart health. (7)
Where do these carotenoids come from, and how much should we take?
According to the AOA, we should be ingesting (at least) 10 mg / day of lutein and (at least) 2 mg / day of zeaxanthin for optimal eye health. It’s worth it to note that the two are typically packaged together as a supplement. Most people do not get adequate amounts of these two nutrients from diet alone, and supplementation is particularly important for seniors who are typically at greater risk of both macular degeneration and cognitive decline.
How can we get enough in our diets? Well, it depends what we eat. Here’s a breakdown of some of the best sources of the two nutrients.
- 1 cup of kale or cooked spinach: over 20mg
- 1 cup of collards or turnip greens: over 12 mg
- Raw spinach, corn, broccoli, green peas, green beans, eggs and oranges all contain under 5 mg per 1 cup serving
No matter which way you cut it, you just can’t go wrong with trying to get these important nutrients into your daily diet, and if that’s not enough, picking up a supplement at your trusted health food store -- your eyes and brain will thank you!
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