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Low Levels of Lutein and Zeaxanthin Associated with Vision Loss (AMD)

A research report in the journal Ophthalmology reports that supplementation with Lutein and Zeaxanthin is associated with a 32% higher level of pigment in the eyes of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) patients.

"These results lead us to believe that low macular levels of lutein and zeaxanthin represent a pathogenic risk factor for the development of AMD,"1-6 Bernstein said. "As a safeguard, patients at risk for visual loss from AMD should consider supplementing their diets with at least 4 mg. of lutein each day along with other antioxidant nutrients."

The study was based on the hypothesis that the levels of Lutein in the eyes of people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) would be lower than the levels of Lutein found in the normal, healthy eyes of elderly people without AMD. For the first time, researchers were able to use objective, non-invasive technology to measure Lutein and zeaxanthin levels in the eyes of living people in a large-scale clinical study. Researchers measured macular carotenoids levels in 93 eyes from 63 patients with AMD and in 220 normal eyes from 138 volunteers. The macula was illuminated with a low-power argon laser spot for less than a second and measured backscattered light using a Raman spectograph to determine macular levels of Lutein and zeaxanthin with high sensitivity specifically.

Researchers found that macular carotenoid levels decline with age, reaching a stable low level after age 60, the age when AMD incidence begins to rise dramatically. They also found that macular pigment levels in the eyes of AMD patients not consuming high-dose Lutein supplements are 32% lower than elderly normal eyes. The research shows that AMD patients who had begun taking high-dose lutein supplements (4 milligrams or more per day) regularly after their initial diagnosis of AMD were able return those levels back to normal.

The research was led by Paul S. Bernstein, M.D., Ph.D., at the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, Moran Eye Center, University of Utah School of Medicine in Salt Lake City. It was published in the October 2002 issue of Ophthalmology, the peer-reviewed medical journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). Bernstein is a Research to Prevent Blindness Sybil B. Harrington Scholar in macular degeneration researcher.


Ophthalmology, 2002;109:1780-1787

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2. Bone RA, Landrum JT, Fernandez L, Tarsis SL. Analysis of the macular pigment by HPLC: Retinal distribution and age study. Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science, 1988;29:843-9.

3. Landrum JT, Bone RA. Lutein, zeaxanthin, and the macular pigment. Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, 2001; 385:28-40.

4. Bernstein PS, Katz NB. The role of ocular free radicals in age-related macular degeneration. In: Fuchs J, Packer L, eds, Environmental Stressors in Health and Disease, New York: Marcel Decker, 2001:423-56.

5. Beatty S, Koh HH, Henson D, Boulton M. The role of oxidative stress in the pathogenesis of age-related macular degeneration. Survey of Ophthalmology 2000;45;115-34.

6. Beatty S, Murray IJ, Henson DB, et al. Macular pigment and risk for age-related macular degeneration in subjects from a northern European population. Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science 2001;42:439-46.

Key concepts: lutein, zeaxanthin, carotenoids, age-related macular degeneration, amd