The carotenoid xanthophylls, lutein and zeaxanthin, accumulate in the eye lens and macular region of the retina. Lutein and zeaxanthin concentrations in the macula are greater than those found in plasma and other tissues. A relationship between macular pigment optical density, a marker of lutein and zeaxanthin concentration in the macula, and lens optical density, an antecedent of cataractous changes, has been suggested. The xanthophylls may act to protect the eye from ultraviolet phototoxicity via quenching reactive oxygen species and/or other mechanisms. Some observational studies have shown that generous intakes of lutein and zeaxanthin, particularly from certain xanthophyll-rich foods like spinach, broccoli and eggs, are associated with a significant reduction in the risk for cataract (up to 20%) and for age-related macular degeneration (up to 40%). While the pathophysiology of cataract and age-related macular degeneration is complex and contains both environmental and genetic components, research studies suggest dietary factors including antioxidant vitamins and xanthophylls may contribute to a reduction in the risk of these degenerative eye diseases. Further research is necessary to confirm these observations.
The Potential Role of Dietary Xanthophylls in Cataract and Age-Related Macular Degeneration Moeller SM, Jacques P, Blumberg JB (2000) Journal of the American College of Nutrition 19 (5 Suppl.): 522S-527S