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Zeaxanthin is a phytochemical and an antioxidant. As such, it can protect against vision problems such as macular degeneration. Zeaxanthin, along with the carotenoid “lutein,” plays a vital role in preventing eye disease.
What Is Macular Degeneration?
Macular degeneration is a progressive retinal disorder. Usually related to age, it’s the result of damage to the macula (a vital part of the retina). The retina is a light-sensitive membrane on the inner surface of the back of the eye. Central to the retina is the macula, which contains color-sensitive photoreceptor cells. Such cells produce sharp visual images. They are also in charge of central and color vision.
Macular degeneration can cause vision loss. The problem may start slowly and cause loss of vision for people over 50 years of age. It does not cause complete blindness. Yet, central vision may weaken, and a person may have trouble seeing in dim light. Age-related macular degeneration occurs slowly in most people.
Health Benefits Of Zeaxanthin
Research is exploring zeaxanthin for a number of health uses. Some experts believe that this phytochemical may reduce the risk of age-related eye problems including macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and uveitis. Its antioxidant properties may protect the eye from UV radiation by neutralizing free radicals, which cause damage to cell structures.
Zeaxanthin is one of two major carotenoids in the eye. The phytochemical is in the retina and is a part of the central macula.
Currently, some types of macular degeneration don’t yet have treatment. However, people who have moderate vision loss may want to consider zeaxanthin pills. High doses of this antioxidant may improve vision and slow the progression of the disease.
Experts estimate that over 17 million people in the US have age-related macular degeneration, but new cases are found every year. Research studies found that lutein and zeaxanthin pills may help reduce the risk or slow the progress of chronic eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
Where Does Zeaxanthin Come From?
Some foods contain zeaxanthin. These include dark, leafy greens like collard greens, kale, mustard greens, spinach, and turnip greens. It also comes from other foods such as:
- Summer squash
Zeaxanthin is also known as a carotenoid and is related to betacarotene (vitamin A). The body does not create it on its own. Levels of zeaxanthin and/or lutein will depend on one’s diet and whether or not it includes the right fruit and veggies.
Zeaxanthin pills may help protect eye health by preventing damage to the retina. Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in high levels in the macula. Experts continue to explore how it protects the retina. They believe that the answer lies in the antioxidant properties of the phytochemicals.
Research studies have shown that zeaxanthin and lutein may help prevent macular degeneration. For example, a 2011 meta-analysis found that increasing lutein and zeaxanthin in the diet may protect against eye disease. However, it did not reduce the risk of early disease. Past studies found that a higher intake of carotenoids in the diet correlates with a lower risk for age-related macular disease.
The National Eye Institute sponsored a large age-related eye disease study, the AREDS2, in 2013. The study, which lasted five years, looked at the effects of certain nutrients on eye health. This included zeaxanthin and lutein and whether it prevents age-related macular degeneration. The study found that doses of 2 mg of zeaxanthin and 10 mg of lutein daily resulted in some benefits to eye health. It also found a 10% to 25% reduced risk in the progression of age-related macular degeneration.
Another study in 2015, which lasted three years, looked at 67 people with age-related macular degeneration. One group received 0.86 mg per day of zeaxanthin combined with 20 mg per day of lutein. An increase in macular pigment was noted in that group. Therefore, pill usage may provide benefits. This was even more true for those who received an early diagnosis.
For eye health, the usual dose in research studies and supplements is 2 mg per day for zeaxanthin and 10 mg daily for lutein. Note that pills come in a range of doses, so be sure to check the label.
First, be sure to talk to an eye doctor or a primary care doctor. Listen to their advice on how to best lower your risk or slow the progress of the disease.
Supplement Side Effects
Based on research studies, zeaxanthin has a great safety profile when taken at the recommended dosage (2 mg/daily). Make sure you buy a high-quality pill from a good brand.
Lutein is often obtained as an extract from marigold, and the extract always contains a small amount of zeaxanthin. Zeaxanthin is derived either from natural sources or made in the lab. Herbal pills may cause allergic reactions in some people.
Consult with an eye doctor to learn about the state of your eye health. Zeaxanthin and/or lutein in very high doses may cause a yellow tint to the skin. Always discuss the use of any supplement with your doctor.
“Ocuvite,” which combines lutein with zeaxanthin, should not be used if you have any of these problems: a high amount of oxalic acid in the urine, an iron metabolism disorder that causes you to store excess iron, sickle cell anemia, anemia from pyruvate kinase, G6PD deficiency, or blood-clotting issues.
Supplements such as zeaxanthin may slow the progression of some cases of age-related macular degeneration. They may also help slow or reduce loss of vision. Supplements work best when combined with a healthy diet that includes a range of fruit and veggies.