small-eyeMacular degeneration is the most common form of age-related vision loss. It is a chronic eye disease that causes vision loss in the center of your field of vision.  There are two types of macular degeneration, wet and dry. The macula is in the center of the retina (the layer of tissue on the inside back wall of your eyeball). Wet macular degeneration is generally caused by abnormal blood vessels that leak fluid or blood into the region of the macula. Dry macular degeneration is more common.  The exact cause of dry macular degeneration is unknown, but the condition develops as the eye ages.

Lutein (luteus means”yellow” in Latin) is a xanthophylls and one of 600 known naturally occurring carotenoids. Lutein is synthesized only by plants and like other xanthophylls is found in high quantities in green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale. Zeaxanthin is one of the most common carotenoid alcohols found in nature. Synthesized in plants and some micro-organisms, it is the pigment that gives paprika (made from bell peppers), corn, saffron, wolfberries, and many other plants and microbes their characteristic color. Carotenoids are oil-soluble plant pigments that the body can convert to vitamin A. They are responsible for the bright colors of produce. The best known carotenoid is beta-carotene. Beta carotene also has the most vitamin A activity of all of the carotenoids. Carotenoids also act as antioxidants, protecting the cells of your body. Much research has been done that shows that they enhance the immune system and protect against cancer. They also enhance communication between the cells, which may prevent the overgrowth of cells (and possibly inhibit cancer), according to research.

A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, published in  the American Journal of Ophthalmology (epublished ahead of print, July 24, 2012), looked at 108 subjects with early age-related macular degeneration.  The subjects were randomly assigned to get either 10 mg of lutein, 10 mg of zeaxanthin,  both 10 mg of lutein and 10 mg of zeaxanthin, or a placebo each day for 48 weeks. Function of the retina was improved in the group that received both lutein and zeaxanthin.