Protect Your Eyes From Blue Light With A Little-Known Nutrient Called Lutein
I don't know about you, but my eyes are tired. From working on my laptop most of the day and going to school over Zoom to catching up on the latest Oscar nominations, my eyes are going through it! And it turns out I'm not the only one—according to a 2016 Optometry in Practice article, up to 80% of people using devices regularly report digital eye strain.
It's clear that we need to be doing more to support our eyes so they can continue to help us experience the wonder of this beautiful world and all it has to offer. Blue light glasses are a start, but it's also important to consider how to support your eyes from the inside out with key nutrients in your diet.
That's where lutein comes in: Lutein is an essential carotenoid that functions as your own personal pair of internal sunglasses (brand TBD, by your imagination) and protects them from blue light.
Investing in your eye health is more valuable than any pair of sunnies you can buy, so let's learn about how lutein supports healthy eyes, shall we?
What is lutein?
Let's dig in to the science for a moment to understand what lutein is and what it does.
Lutein is a common macular carotenoid essential for proper eye function. Carotenoids are nutrients found in a variety of fruits and vegetables. As pigments, they give those foods their bright colors. They also function as antioxidants.
You'll often see lutein mentioned with zeaxanthin, as these two macular carotenoids have many overlapping benefits and work side by side to promote eye health and longevity. More specifically, lutein and zeaxanthin are xanthophylls—a type of carotenoid that has oxygen in its molecular structure.
According to a 2018 Nutrients review, one of the most important things to know about lutein is that the human body can't make it1 on its own; it has to be obtained through food or supplementation.
Lutein for eyes.
The macula lutea is a yellow-colored area in the optical center of the retina. Given what you already know about carotenoids and their pigmentation, you might be able to guess what is bringing this hue to the inside of your eyes.
A Progress in Retinal and Eye Research review explains that the macula lutea has a high concentration of lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin2. As you get farther away from the macula, fewer and fewer carotenoids are present.
What is the function of lutein and these other carotenoids in this portion of the retina? "Lutein helps to protect the macula by absorbing undesirable wavelengths of blue light and stopping them from reaching certain layers of the retina, reducing the likelihood of photo-oxidative stress," says optometrist Kelsea Brown, O.D. Hence: internal sunglasses.
Your eyes are constantly working very hard and using a lot of energy, making them more susceptible to oxidative stress from extended screen time and other environmental factors.
All of this talk about supporting your eye health might have you asking a specific question: Can lutein enhance your eyesight? Brown offers her insight: "It does not directly function in the process of eyesight; however, it protects the macula and retina with its antioxidant properties."
According to the 2018 Nutrients review, lutein has several positive effects1 on the eye—including increasing macular pigment optical density (MPOD) levels, enhancing visual acuity3 (the ability to distinguish shapes and details of objects at a distance), and bolstering contrast sensitivity4 (the ability to see the outlines of objects).
The review states, "through all these mechanism(s), it is quite conceivable that [lutein] may exert a pivotal role in regulating immune pathways, modulating inflammatory responses, and combating oxidative [stress]." In other words? It's kind of a big deal.
According to a Clinics in Dermatology review, lutein's function in the eye also sheds light (no pun intended) on why it's also found in the skin5—to protect against light.
And by the way, lutein might help your sleep health as well: A 2017 Foods study found supplementation with macular carotenoids was associated with enhanced sleep quality6, potentially due to the same mechanisms that support the carotenoids' ability to protect the eyes from blue light.*
How to take lutein.
Since the body can't produce lutein, it's essential to include foods rich in this nutrient in your diet. Some foods rich in lutein include dandelion, spinach, kale, basil, parsley, squash, egg yolk, and other green leafy veggies and fruits.
In addition to a nutrient-rich diet, another way to get adequate lutein is through supplementation. Premium eye health supplements may contain a variety of eye-supporting ingredients, including lutein.
For example, mindbodygreen's eye health+ contains 11 milligrams of lutein from marigold flowers, plus other botanicals also backed by clinical research that support vision health and longevity—i.e., zeaxanthin, astaxanthin, saffron, and maqui berry.* "Lutein has been found to be even more effective when paired with other carotenoids such as zeaxanthin," Brown notes, confirming the efficacy of this comprehensive and innovative eye health formula.
As far as supplement dosage goes, the research is mixed. Experts suggest at least 10 milligrams of lutein daily, though evidence suggests dosages up to 24 milligrams6 of combined lutein and zeaxanthin a day can provide tailored benefits. (This is why mindbodygreen provides over 25 milligrams of this powerhouse carotenoid duo, lutein plus zeaxanthin, in eye health+ and another daily supplement essential, ultimate multivitamin+).
Side effects and safety.
Incorporating more lutein-rich foods into your diet is an easy and safe way to ensure you properly support your eyes. When it comes to taking a lutein supplement, it has a strong safety profile, but you may consider consulting your health care provider out of an abundance of caution if you take certain medications or have underlying health concerns.
How much lutein should I take daily for my eyes?
According to a 2018 Nutrients review analyzing the results of many lutein supplement studies, a daily dose of 10 milligrams should give you ample eye health benefits, such as protecting your macula from blue light.*
How long does it take for lutein to start working?
Evidence suggests supplementation with lutein increases macular pigment optical density (MPOD) levels within six to eight weeks.*
Should you take lutein in the morning or at night?
Time of day doesn't matter so much, but since lutein is fat-soluble, it's ideal to take your lutein supplement around the time of a meal.
Our eyes do a lot for us every second of each day. With the amount of stress we put our eyes through on a daily basis, it's critical that we do everything we can to support them.
Lutein is an essential component of taking care of your vision and developing those very important "internal sunglasses" to protect your eyes from blue light. By eating foods rich in the nutrient and taking a high-quality supplement with sufficient lutein (like mbg's eye health+), you can give your eyes the love they desperately need to combat oxidative and light stress throughout your day.* Learn more about eye health+ here.
Josey Murray is a freelance writer focused on inclusive wellness, joyful movement, mental health, and the like. A graduate of Wellesley College, where she studied English and Creative Writing, her work appears in Women’s Health, Cook & Culture, and more. By expressing her own vulnerability, she writes with warmth and empathy to help readers find self-compassion and true wellness that’s sustainable for body, mind, and planet.