Lutein: Health Benefits, Recommended Intake, and Side Effects

Lutein is an important antioxidant carotenoid found in many colorful fruits and vegetables and readily available as a supplement. It’s commonly known to benefit eye health, but there’s much more to lutein. Here’s everything you need to know.

7 minute read

Last Updated July 14, 2020

Lutein Benefits - Men's Health - 1MD

Lutein is an important carotenoid. Carotenoids are a collection of pigments found in leafy greens and orange and yellow vegetables. 

Lutein is most commonly known to benefit eye health by protecting against age-related macular degeneration. Studies have found that the antioxidant properties of lutein also provide protection for your skin, cardiovascular system, and other systems within the body. 

Lutein, like other carotenoids, is fat-soluble. It is best absorbed with good fats such as olive oil. Cooking foods typically reduces their power, but this is not the case with lutein. Cooking foods that contain lutein increases the strength of the nutrients as they reach your bloodstream rather than weaken them. 

Whether eaten raw or cooked, foods that contain lutein can provide protection against free radicals that can damage tissues and organs. 

Health Benefits of Lutein

With so many diets today missing regular servings of fruits and vegetables, the need for lutein supplements has become a necessity. Dietary supplements, as well as foods containing lutein, can provide a host of health benefits. 

Eye Health

Lutein is found naturally in the eye, specifically in the macula. It is responsible for blocking out visible blue light, which is one of the main causes of light-induced eye damage. 

As you age, levels of lutein naturally deplete, which is the reason for age-related macular degeneration. Without treatment, this condition can lead to vision loss. Lutein can present this by maintaining healthy levels of lutein around the eye. It also prevents the development of cataracts, reduces eye fatigue, supports visual acuity, and strengthens eye tissue.

Skin Health

The antioxidant properties of lutein allow it to provide protection for your skin too. Lutein-enhanced diets have been associated with reduced risk of UV damage and skin inflammation. 

Studies found that 10 milligrams of lutein per day reduces the risk of skin cell cancer and tumor development. Regular lutein intake also provides a better skin tone and protects against premature aging. 

Bladder Health

Urinary tract infections are common among men and women and can easily spread through the urinary tract if untreated. Infections that reach the bladder can result in cystitis (bladder inflammation) and increase the risk of bladder cancer. 

The presence of antioxidant carotenoids in the blood, such as lutein, has been found to reduce the risk of cancer by preventing free radical damage. Inflammation from an infection triggers oxidative damage, but lutein and other carotenoids can prevent this damage from triggering the development of abnormal cells. 

Heart Health

As a strong antioxidant, lutein can protect your heart from oxidative damage. New research has found that lutein can help your heart in additional ways too. 

Clogged arteries are the result of poor diet, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure and can lead to atherosclerosis, heart attack, or stroke. Blockage and increased thickness of the carotid arteries is most commonly associated with heart disease, and studies found that lutein can reduce this thickness. 

Lutein works to prevent the interaction between cholesterol and monocytes, thereby preventing plaques from forming. 

Prostate Health

Studies have found that carotenoids like lutein and lycopene can prevent prostate cancer. Lutein specifically can reduce the risk of prostate cancer cell growth by 25 percent, when plasma levels are regularly maintained. 

This protective benefit is strengthened when lutein is combined with lycopene. With prostate cancer being fatal when allowed to spread from the prostate gland, protective agents such as lutein are important in your daily diet. 

Lutein also prevents abnormal cell growth that can lead to large prostate cells and an enlarged prostate or benign prostatic hyperplasia.

Kidney Health

Certain cancer medications are known to increase the risk of renal toxicity and kidney failure. This is caused by the large quantities of free radicals that the drugs create. Lutein serum treatment was found to reduce this risk by effectively scavenging and removing the toxic reactive molecules. As a result, kidney damage from these medications is reduced. 

For individuals not undergoing cancer therapy, lutein provides the same antioxidant protection for the kidneys to prevent tissue damage and failure that can be caused by any toxic buildup in the body. 

Testosterone Production

Aging and obesity cause testosterone levels to fall, which can interfere with muscle mass, cognitive performance, and sexual function. Uncontrolled diabetes is also associated with obesity and reduced testosterone levels, especially in older men. 

Men with low testosterone are also more likely to develop diabetes, as this hormone helps the tissues take up more blood sugar. Lutein increases testosterone levels, depending on dose, which can prevent diabetes or complications from the disease as they relate to testosterone levels. 

Recommended Intake of Lutein

Lutein can be found naturally in leafy greens like kale and spinach, as well as other foods that contain yellow pigments, such as corn and squash. You can also find lutein in broccoli, zucchini, and peas, but the chlorophyll masks the yellow coloring. 

The average intake of lutein through diet is 2 milligrams per day, but research shows that adults need between 15 and 40 milligrams to provide the best protection. Dietary supplementation becomes important for anyone not getting enough lutein through food. 

Potential Side Effects of Lutein

There are very few side effects associated with lutein supplementation. Studies that span five years only identified the potential for skin yellowing as a result of excessive amounts of the pigment in the body. 

There is also the risk of eye crystals, which can impact vision, and these can develop with excessively high amounts of lutein. It is important to note that if you get adequate lutein from your diet, that you avoid supplements to make sure this does not happen. The crystals do disappear once lutein levels drop to normal. 

The Bottom Line

Lutein is an important antioxidant carotenoid found in many fresh fruits and vegetables and readily available as a supplement. Despite being known for its protective benefits for the eyes, lutein has expansive benefits for your overall health. 

Free radicals and oxidative damage are associated with serious diseases like heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and cancer, but antioxidants like lutein can prevent this and promote stronger health and longevity.

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