Lutein’s Bright Promise for Macular Degeneration
|Lutein - A plant pigment provides sun protection from the inside out.||Darrell Miller||07/09/07|
July 09, 2007 01:21 PM
Author: Darrell Miller (email@example.com)
Subject: Lutein - A plant pigment provides sun protection from the inside out.
A plant pigment provides sun protection from the inside out.
Energy on earth begins with the sun’s rays, which spark the photosynthesis in plants that ultimately powers all life. (Petroleum is the residue of prehistoric plants crushed over eons into liquid form.) But the sun’s energy is not totally benign for us humans; excess exposure can cause skin to wrinkle and eyesight to dim.
Enter lutein. This plant chemical, reddish-orange like the setting sun, has become a hot commodity over the past several years because of its ability to protect both eyes and skin against sun damage. A member of the carotenoid family of nutrients, lutein is generally paired with its partner, Zeaxanthin, in a wide variety of foods, including egg yolks, fruits, corn and leafy greens such as spinach (where its bright color is masked by the green of chlorophyll). That’s a good thing, since your body can’t make lutein and so needs to obtain it from your diet.
The sun produces a whole spectrum of light rays, from the visible (red through violet) to the invisible or ultraviolet (UV). UV rays—both ultraviolet-A (UVA) and ultraviolet-B (UVB)—are troublemakers. They attack collagen, the protein that gives skin its shape, which leads to wrinkles and other signs of aging. What’s worse, UV is also capable of damaging skin cell DNA, a process that can promote cancer development. And UV isn’t the only culprit: The sun’s visible blue rays are believed to help create harmful molecules called free radicals within the skin.
The clue to lutein’s importance in fending off skin damage lies in the fact that it is found throughout both the outer (epidermis) and inner (dermis) skin layers, where as an antioxidant it fights free radicals and as an orange pigment it soaks up blue light. In one study, using lutein both orally and topically produced improvements in skin hydration and suppleness (Skin Pharmacology and Physiology 4/19/07). Lutein has also shown an ability to counter the inflammation and immune system suppression associated with excess UV exposure (Journal of Investigative Dermatology 2/04).
What is it? A red orange carotenoid found in a number of fruits and vegetables, generally with a similar compound called Zeaxanthin.
What does it do? This powerful antioxidant helps protect the eyes against both cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD); it also appears to defend the skin against sun damage and has been associated with reduced arterial wall thickness, a measure of cardiovascular health.
The Eyes Have It
Your eyes, like your skin, are directly exposed to the sun’s UV rays. Such exposure can cloud the eye’s lens to create cataracts. It can also disrupt the retina at the back of the eye particularly the macula, the part of the retina responsible for clear central vision—which can result in age-related macular degeneration.
Not surprisingly, the eye is yet another one of the body’s lutein hot spots. This pigment is especially concentrated in the macula; in fact, of the 600 or so carotenoids that exist in nature, only lutein and Zeaxanthin are found within this all important structure. So it also isn’t surprising to learn that they Eye Disease Case Control Study, one of the first large-scale investigations into carotenoids and eye health, found a link between reduced AMD risk and high levels of lutein and Zeaxanthin. Current research has focused on the use of supplemental lutein in AMD patients, with promising results.
It isn’t only the outside of your body that may benefit from lutein. When oxidized by free radicals, LDL cholesterol settles into arterial walls. Lutein may help slow this process; in one study, people with the most lutein in their blood had 80% less vessel-wall thickening than those with the least (circulation 6/19/01).
So enjoy some fun in the sun. But respect the power of those golden rays, and let lutein help make playtime a safe time. –Lisa James.