Lutein and zeaxanthin are a class of carotenoids that help protect vision and prevent cellular damage. These are two subcategories of carotenoids, the other being carotenes. While carotenes are orange pigments, lutein and zeaxanthin are yellow pigments. This class of molecules is termed xanthophylls.
Carotenoids are a group of compounds that give yellow, orange, and red colors to plants and animals. There are two types of carotenoids: carotenes and xanthophylls.
Bacteria, fungi, algae, and green plants synthesize the pigments. We can see them most conspicuously in flowers, pollen, and fruit like carrots, tomatoes, citrus fruits, sweet potatoes, and apples.
The body does not synthesize carotenoids. We obtain these from foods or dietary supplements.
Carotenoids are an essential component of the human diet. They act as antioxidants within the body, protecting it against cell damage. The common carotenoids are beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, lycopene, and astaxanthin.
Cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) are leading causes of visual impairment and blindness. Lutein and zeaxanthin carotenoids are antioxidants located in the macula (retina) part of the eye (Landrum et al., 2001). Their deficiency can lead to visual impairment.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are not produced in the body and must be obtained from food. These carotenoids help filter harmful high-energy blue wavelengths of light. It helps protect and maintain healthy cells in the eyes. Intake of this class of compounds helps prevent the occurrence of cataracts and AMD (Krinsky et al., 2003).
Xanthophylls are also present in the skin. The skin, as we know, gets damaged by ultraviolet rays present in sunlight. Xanthophylls prevent skin damage (Roberts et al., 2009).
Green leafy vegetables are the richest sources of these carotenoids. These have 15-47% lutein but a very low level of zeaxanthin (0.3%). Fruits and vegetables of various colors should be consumed to increase the dietary intake of both carotenoids (Sommerburg et al., 1998). Corn and corn products were also rich in dietary zeaxanthin (Perry et al., 2009).