Zeaxanthin is a plant-produced carotenoid. It is the pigment that gives fruits and vegetables a yellow to reddish coloring. Zeaxanthin is similar in structure to lutein, which also benefits eye health.
The retina of the eye contains high concentrations of zeaxanthin. High levels of zeaxanthin in the blood provide protection against common eye diseases and conditions.
Zeaxanthin, like other carotenoids, is a powerful antioxidant. These play an important role in protecting the body from free radicals. While free radicals are a natural byproduct of metabolic processes, they can be dangerous in excess.
These reactive oxygen molecules damage cells and tissues, causing oxidative stress. This increases your risk for chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.
Zeaxanthin protects the proteins, fats, and DNA in your body from these stressors. It also helps to recycle glutathione, which is another important antioxidant. When it comes to eye health, zeaxanthin is especially beneficial.
The eyes are exposed to both oxygen and light all day, which increases the production of free radicals. Zeaxanthin scavenges them to prevent them from causing damage to sensitive eye cells and tissues.
Zeaxanthin and Cataracts
Cataracts are cloudy patches that blur vision. Surgery can remove cataracts, but this is usually not done until vision is severely impaired. Foods high in zeaxanthin or supplements have been linked to a reduced risk of cataracts. Zeaxanthin can also slow the growth of these cloudy patches. This can prevent the need for surgery.
Taking 6 milligrams a day was found to reduce the need for cataract surgery. Diets that have a higher intake of zeaxanthin are also linked to a reduced risk of cataract development.
Zeaxanthin for Retinal Detachment
Retinal detachment occurs when the retina pulls away from its normal position, separating retinal cells from blood vessels. This prevents the cells from getting the oxygen they need, and they begin to die. Left untreated, this can lead to permanent vision loss. When treated with zeaxanthin injections, studies show that retinal cell death is reduced, and vision loss can be minimized.
Zeaxanthin for Uveitis
Uveitis is an inflammatory condition of the middle layer of the eye. This condition can affect one or both eyes. It can be caused by injury, infection, or an inflammatory disease such as ulcerative colitis. Without treatment, you can develop glaucoma, cataracts, retinal detachment, and permanent vision loss.
Zeaxanthin also acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory agent that reduces inflammation in the area. As a result, tissues can heal, and pain is reduced. Vision can be protected by treating uveitis with zeaxanthin.
Zeaxanthin for Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of vision loss in diabetics. Uncontrolled blood glucose levels weaken and damage the small blood vessels within the retina. This causes swelling of the retina and hemorrhaging that deprives the retina of oxygen.
Abnormal and weakened blood vessels that leak may also grow, impairing vision. The trauma to the eye triggers oxidative damage, which can be reduced with zeaxanthin. Oxidative stress markers are reduced when individuals with diabetic retinopathy are treated with zeaxanthin.
Zeaxanthin for Macular Degeneration
Macular degeneration occurs with age and can result in blindness. There is no cure for this disease, but zeaxanthin is a proven treatment option to slow its progress.
As one of the carotenoids that accumulate in the retina, maintaining high levels of zeaxanthin can protect your eyes. Preventing oxidative stress and damage is one way to reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration in the first place.
The antioxidant benefits of zeaxanthin provide protection for your heart and brain. Oxidative stress in these areas is linked to serious chronic diseases.
Oxidative stress and inflammation play roles in the development of heart disease. Heart disease is a leading cause of premature death in the United States, so prevention is of extreme importance.
High levels of zeaxanthin have been linked to a reduced risk of heart attack and stroke. The specific mechanisms are still being researched. It is believed that by preventing oxidative damage to blood vessels, zeaxanthin reduces blood pressure and the risk of heart disease. Zeaxanthin also reduces the effects of bad (LDL) cholesterol, further protecting against heart disease.
Oxidative stress is linked to dementia and neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s. The specific causes of these conditions are unknown, but oxidative damage is found in the brains of diagnosed individuals.
Oxidative damage increases inflammation in the brain, which is linked to the development of amyloid plaques. These plaques are responsible for causing memory loss. The antioxidant properties of zeaxanthin protect the brain cells and tissues from this damage, which can help to prevent dementia or slow its progression.
There is no recommended dosage for taking zeaxanthin. The amount needed varies across individuals. Those who are under stress each day will require higher levels of zeaxanthin. Smokers also have lower levels, so it will require a higher dietary intake.
It’s estimated that 1 to 13 milligrams are consumed from an average diet, but you may need more. Consult with your doctor about how much zeaxanthin you should be getting. Supplements are available for those who need to increase their intake.
So far, very few side effects have been identified with zeaxanthin supplements. A few cases of skin yellowing have been reported, but this is only found in cases when higher than recommended doses were taken. One study also found that crystals developed in the eyes after taking 20-milligram supplements.
Zeaxanthin has a great safety profile, and side effects have only been seen with high intake.
The eyes hold the highest concentrations of zeaxanthin over every other organ. It is an essential compound to eye health. As a powerful antioxidant, zeaxanthin also provides protection for the brain and heart as well.
Zeaxanthin can be consumed through food or supplemental intake. If your risks for eye diseases are high, adding zeaxanthin to your diet is one of the best ways to boost eye health and prevent diseases that can lead to blindness.