Although women tend to live longer than men, they have more vulnerability to specific degenerative diseases such as autoimmune disease and dementia. This vulnerability can be because women store vitamins and minerals in their body fat as a reserve for pregnancy. This pregnancy reserve means fewer vitamins and minerals are available for the retina and brain, thus increasing a woman’s vulnerability.
Recent research indicates that there is a powerful way in which women can safeguard against this vulnerability. The new research shows that two carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin can act as antioxidants and improve central nervous system degeneration.
Antioxidants neutralize free radicals (molecules that damage cells) and minimize oxidation (the damage done by these free radicals to the cells).
By increasing their intake of lutein and zeaxanthin, women can take a proactive approach and protect against their vulnerability.
How much lutein and zeaxanthin per day?
10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin appear to be effective for good eye health in studies, but further research is needed to identify the optimal dosage for health.
The Institute of Functional Medicine recommends eating two portions of food (50g per portion) from the following colors daily – red, orange, yellow, green, white/tan, and blue/purple. Since lutein and zeaxanthin are naturally present in many fruits and vegetables, focus on fruit and vegetables for these.
Aiming to comply with this would naturally optimize your levels.
Lutein and zeaxanthin foods – 3 meal ideas
- Poached eggs with spinach or chard on wholemeal toast. Egg yolk contains lutein and zeaxanthin. (The fat content in egg yolk increases bioavailability) Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, and broccoli contain large amounts of both carotenoids.
- Red and green bell pepper dipped in hummus. Red and green peppers contain lutein and zeaxanthin. Healthy fats from olive oil and tahini in hummus increase bioavailability.
- Big salad of leafy greens with lots of colorful fruits and vegetables topped off with avocado, nuts, olive oil, or egg. Orange and yellow fruit and vegetables contain both carotenoids. Healthy fats from avocados or nuts increase bioavailability.
Lutein and zeaxanthin – other benefits
- They help with the maintenance of optimal visual function.
- They protect the visual structures of the eye from light-induced oxidative damage. (by absorbing blue light from the eye.)
- Higher levels of lutein may reduce the risk of breast cancer.
- They may help slow the development of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
- Lutein may boost brain health. People with the highest levels of lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-cryptoxanthin in their blood were less likely to develop dementia decades later.
- Eating higher levels of foods rich in lutein and zeaxanthin(spinach, kale, and broccoli) may reduce the risk of developing cataracts.
Hammond BR, Renzi-Hammond L. The influence of the macular carotenoids on women’s eye and brain health. Nutr Neurosci. 2022 Jun 11:1-7.
Li SS, Wang HH, Zhang D. Efficacy of different nutrients in age-related macular degeneration: A systematic review and network meta-analysis. Semin Ophthalmol. 2022 May 19;37(4):515-523.
Lem DW, Davey PG, Gierhart DL, Rosen RB. A Systematic Review of Carotenoids in the Management of Age-Related Macular Degeneration. Antioxidants (Basel). 2021 Aug 5;10(8):1255.
Gong X, Smith JR, Swanson HM, Rubin LP. Carotenoid Lutein Selectively Inhibits Breast Cancer Cell Growth and Potentiates the Effect of Chemotherapeutic Agents through ROS-Mediated Mechanisms. Molecules. 2018 Apr 14;23(4):905.
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