There’s no doubt that digital devices have their perks. They enable us to work, provide entertainment, and help us connect with others, as proven by increased screen time during the pandemic. The only catch? This constant screen use strains our eyes and exposes us to blue light, potentially paving the way for screen fatigue and eye dryness.
Needless to say, regardless of your current eye prescription (or lack thereof), the need for proactive eye care is very real. This involves habits like taking regular screen breaks, getting enough sleep (yes, really!), and fortifying your diet and supplementation routine with targeted eye health nutrients—such as lutein and zeaxanthin, two of the star carotenoids in mbg’s eye health+.
What are lutein and zeaxanthin?
First, let’s talk about carotenoids. According to a 2016 article published in the Journal of Chemistry, carotenoids are red, orange, and yellow fat-soluble pigments produced by plants. They’re responsible for the characteristic color of many fruits and veggies, including orange bell peppers and yellow corn.
Carotenoids are sorted into two categories: xanthophylls and carotenes. The main difference lies within their molecular structure; xanthophylls contain oxygen, while carotenes do not.
Visual performance support for the digital age*
Both types of carotenoids are potent antioxidants, meaning they help combat oxidative stress by neutralizing free radicals.* Thus, carotenoids in general can play a major role in protecting and supporting several organs, including the skin, heart, and—most notably—the eyes.*
Specifically, lutein and zeaxanthin (which are both xanthophylls) are critical for eye health.* So much so that, according to Yuna Rapoport, M.D., MPH, ophthalmologist at Manhattan Eye, both nutrients are more highly concentrated in the eyes than the rest of the body.
To put things into perspective, there’s about 1,000 times more lutein and zeaxanthin in the eyes compared to other tissues. Rapoport adds that the carotenoids are mainly found in the macula, which is located in the back of the eyeball, in the center of the retina (the tissue that helps you see clearly).
The thing is, the human body is unable to make its own lutein or zeaxanthin (or any carotenoids, for that matter). That means we need to get these nutrients via the diet (and/or supplementation) in order to support optimal levels and, ultimately, eye health and longevity.*
Benefits of lutein and zeaxanthin.
Thanks to the impressive free-radical-scavenging abilities of lutein and zeaxanthin, the dynamic duo can provide support for multiple areas of the body.*
Deliver antioxidant properties.
As powerful antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin can neutralize free radicals, thereby shielding cells and organs from oxidative stress.*
In fact, according to a 2020 article in the journal Molecules, lutein and zeaxanthin are able to place themselves across the cell membrane. Here, they offer protection from free radicals by helping maintain the structural integrity of said membranes.*
What’s more, these antioxidant abilities translate to widespread cellular health, including longevity support.*
If lutein and zeaxanthin had a claim to fame, eye health would be it. This is thanks to the antioxidant properties of both compounds, which are key for healthy peepers (and whole-body cellular health, for that matter).*
Case in point: The visual system (the parts of the central nervous system that aid our ability to see) is highly active—i.e., it consumes energy very quickly. This high demand for energy makes the eyes susceptible to oxidative stress that results from prolonged screen time, air temperature, pollutants, and light, including blue light.
However, according to holistic optometrist and co-founder of Natural Eye Care, Marc Grossman, O.D., L.A.C., lutein and zeaxanthin accumulate in the macula, which is why they’re known as macular pigments. As macular pigments, lutein and zeaxanthin scavenge free radicals and filter blue light, acting as “internal sunglasses” to protect the eyes and bolster visual functioning.*
Lutein and zeaxanthin have been clinically shown to improve disability glare and photostress recovery, which are essential for properly seeing in and recovering from bright lighting, respectively.* A compelling 2017 study from Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science also found that both carotenoids boost lateral inhibition sensitivity (sense of sight perception) and contrast sensitivity (the ability to distinguish an object from its surroundings), which are crucial for macular function and overall vision longevity.*
As it turns out, lutein and zeaxanthin can have a place in your beauty supplement regimen as well. According to a 2020 article in the journal Molecules, lutein and zeaxanthin are also found in the skin, where they deliver photoprotection from ultraviolet light.* This is due to—you guessed it—the free-radical-neutralizing actions of both nutrients, explains Maddie Pasquariello, M.S., R.D.N.
Additionally, in a 2016 randomized controlled trial published by Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, oral supplementation of lutein and zeaxanthin were clinically shown to improve skin tone and complexion.*
“They can also help reduce lipid peroxidation, one of the processes that leads to visible signs of aging,”* says Pasquariello. Through these mechanisms, lutein and zeaxanthin may help improve the hydration and elasticity of the skin, she adds.*
Lutein and zeaxanthin benefits extend to the heart, too. For starters, according to a 2015 review from Food & Nutrition Research, as antioxidants, they help protect against the oxidation of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and promote optimal function of the blood vessels and heart.*
Generally speaking, carotenoids also support healthy blood pressure regulation and help ensure your heart receives the oxygen it needs.*
Sources of lutein and zeaxanthin.
Since the human body can’t synthesize its own carotenoids (including lutein and zeaxanthin), you’ll need to obtain them through dietary intake (i.e., via food and supplements) in order to reap their full benefits.
When it comes to food sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, you have plenty of options to choose from.
The richest sources are leafy greens—think kale, spinach, and collards, says Grossman. (Green smoothie, anyone?) Other excellent food sources include green peas, avocados, and orange peppers.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are also present in some animal products, such as egg yolks (in case you needed another reason to make a hearty frittata or quiche). Even wheat contains lutein and zeaxanthin, offering another benefit of eating whole wheat products (given you’re not following a gluten-free diet, of course).
Both lutein and zeaxanthin are more bioavailable in animal foods due to the presence of fat—since, again, carotenoids are fat-soluble, meaning they’re best absorbed when paired with a source of fat.
Now, though it can be challenging, it is possible to obtain adequate levels of lutein and zeaxanthin through food. According to Rapoport, the key is to eat plenty of veggies—especially leafy greens. To increase the bioavailability of lutein and zeaxanthin, try steaming your spinach, kale, or collard greens (rather than eating it raw).
It’s worth mentioning that such foods are underconsumed by most folks in the United States, as noted in a report by the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, so it’s vital to eat nutrient-dense dishes as much as possible. And when in doubt, a high-quality supplement is a simple and effective way to meet your lutein and zeaxanthin needs.
Lutein and zeaxanthin supplements.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are available as individual supplements (though, they’re often paired together). But why stop there? For 360-degree support for visual functioning and longevity, consider a multidimensional eye health supplement with complementary ingredients that synergistically support vision longevity.
For example, in addition to clinically backed doses of lutein and zeaxanthin, mbg’s eye health+ contains carotenoid astaxanthin (to combat eye strain and promote retinal blood flow), Patagonian maqui berry (to support eye hydration), and saffron (to bolster retinal function and help reduce eye pressure).* Like lutein and zeaxanthin, these botanical bioactives increase overall ocular antioxidant capacity, resulting in optimal plant-powered vision support.*
On that note, when taking lutein and zeaxanthin supplements, the time of day doesn’t matter, as no research has indicated an ideal timing. However, it’s wise to consume the supplements with a meal containing fat, as carotenoids are fat-soluble. Taking lutein and zeaxanthin with food will further assist their absorption, ensuring you get the most out of each antioxidant.* (A nutritional insurance policy, if you will.)
Lutein and zeaxanthin dosage.
According to Rapoport, there’s no recommended daily allowance (RDA) for lutein and zeaxanthin at this time. Translation: There are no definitive guidelines on daily intake amounts for either carotenoid—though several clinical studies note effective dosages based on specific health outcomes.
These clinical results can help us determine how much lutein and zeaxanthin we should take each day for optimal benefits, which is helpful, considering the average person likely doesn’t get enough via food alone.
In a 2016 randomized controlled trial from Experimental Eye Research, a dose of 10.9 milligrams of lutein and 2.3 milligrams zeaxanthin were clinically shown to elicit the greatest response in macular pigment ocular density, or MPOD (i.e., the main status biomarker for measuring lutein and zeaxanthin levels in the macula of the eye).*
In 2017, a Nutritional Neuroscience study found beneficial health effects associated with 10.86 milligrams lutein and 2.27 milligrams of zeaxanthin in healthy adults.* So, for targeted eye health support, we recommend clinically significant doses of 11 milligrams of lutein and 2.5 milligrams of zeaxanthin per day (which is exactly what you’ll find in mbg’s eye health+ supplement).
Side effects of lutein and zeaxanthin.
Overall, lutein and zeaxanthin are generally considered safe. Pasquariello explains further: “Very few clinical trials have [found] negative side effects when consuming lutein and zeaxanthin at the recommended level. But when consumed as a supplement above standard dosage level and for a prolonged period of time, the possibility for negative effects increases.” This includes long-term lung health concerns (in cigarette smokers) and skin pigmentation changes, she adds.
Rapoport also notes that there’s no recommended upper limit—i.e., the highest level likely to pose negative side effects—for lutein and zeaxanthin. However, if you have a lighter complexion, consuming too much lutein and zeaxanthin (and carotenoids in general) may cause a yellow-ish skin discoloration.
Regardless, as with any new supplement, it’s best to work with a dietitian or health care provider to determine what dosage is best for your unique health needs, advises Pasquariello. They can also confirm a supplement with lutein and zeaxanthin won’t interact with any other medications or supplements you’re currently taking, she adds.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are essential macular carotenoids that offer powerhouse antioxidant support.* Both nutrients help protect the retina from oxidative stress, making them vital for eye health, visual performance, and longevity.* In addition to vision support, the antioxidant actions of lutein and zeaxanthin are beneficial for the skin and heart as well.*
To reap the health benefits of lutein and zeaxanthin, focus on eating a nutrient-dense diet full of leafy greens, orange peppers, green peas, and egg yolks. For a simple and effective way to meet your daily macular pigment needs, you can also take a comprehensive eye health supplement containing lutein and zeaxanthin—such as mbg’s eye health+.
In addition to key macular carotenoids, our vegan, gluten-free formula contains eye-friendly nutrients astaxanthin, maqui berry, and saffron to deliver a full array of plant-powered phytonutrients for daily, comprehensive eye health support to promote visual performance and longevity.*
If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications, consult with your doctor before starting a supplement routine. It is always optimal to consult with a health care provider when considering what supplements are right for you.
Visual performance support for the digital age*
Visual performance support for the digital age*