The Health Benefits of Lutein

The So-Called "Eye Vitamin"

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Lutein is an antioxidant often used in the treatment or prevention of eye diseases. Lutein accumulates in the retina, where it is thought to protect the eye from the harmful effects of sunlight and free radicals.

Lutein is naturally found in a number of fruits and vegetables, especially those with deep green, orange, and yellow coloring such as spinach, broccoli, carrots, and bell peppers. Egg yolks also contain high levels of lutein.

Lutein is also available in supplement form.

lutein
Verywell / Gary Ferster 

What Is Lutein?

Lutein is a natural pigment that belongs to a group of antioxidants called carotenoids. Carotenoids give egg yolks and certain fruits and vegetables their color. 

Lutein is sometimes called the "eye vitamin" since it is found in the human eye, specifically within the macula and retina.

What Does Lutein Do?

Lutein supplements are typically used in alternative medicine for eye diseases, such as cataracts and macular degeneration.

Known to build up in the retina and lens of the eye, lutein is thought to protect the eye from injury induced by free radicals, chemical byproducts shown to damage cells and contribute to the development of certain diseases. It may also act as a filter for harmful blue light, helping prevent damage from the sun. 

Some alternative medicine proponents claim that lutein supplements can also help prevent colon cancer, breast cancer, diabetes, and heart ​disease.

To date, most of the studies on lutein's health benefits have focused on dietary intake of lutein. Those studies suggest that dietary intake of lutein may help protect against atherosclerosis, age-related macular degeneration, and cataracts.

While few studies have examined the health effects of lutein supplements, there's some evidence that lutein supplements may improve eye health. Here's a look at a few study findings.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Lutein supplements may improve visual function in people with age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness.

One study that looked at more than 100,000 people from 1984 to 2010 found that a higher intake of bioavailable lutein and zeaxanthin was associated with a lower long-term risk of developing advanced age-related macular degeneration.

Visual Function

In a 2009 study of 37 healthy adults, researchers found that subjects who took lutein supplements for 12 weeks experienced improvements in visual function.

The study's findings also suggest that lutein supplements may help treat vision problems brought on by long-term exposure to light from computer screens.

Eye Health Benefits

A 2018 review of research concluded that there are many studies supporting lutein beneficial effects on eye health.

The researchers suggested that not only should a diet rich in fruits and vegetables containing lutein be encouraged, they also suggested that supplementation could be beneficial, particularly in populations at high risk of certain conditions such as the elderly.

Possible Side Effects of Lutein

Lutein and lutein supplements are likely safe when taken by mouth in appropriate amounts.

Certain patients, including those with skin cancer or cystic fibrosis, should be cautious when considering lutein supplements. It's important to consult your healthcare provider before taking any type of dietary supplement on a regular basis.

It's important to keep in mind that supplements haven't been tested for safety and dietary supplements are largely unregulated. In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each herb. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances such as metals.

Also, the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. 

Dosage and Preparation

Consuming 6.9 to 11.7 milligrams (mg) of lutein per day in your diet appears to be safe.

In research, lutein supplements have been used safely in doses up to 15 mg daily for up to two years. Additionally, health experts note that taking up to 20 mg of lutein both from the diet and supplements seems to be safe. 

High doses of lutein may cause a condition called carotenemia, or yellowing of the skin, which is harmless.

Sources of Lutein & What to Look For

To increase your lutein intake without the use of lutein supplements, include lutein-rich foods in your daily diet. Some examples include:

  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Lettuce
  • Peas
  • Corn
  • Cabbage
  • Green beans
  • Mangoes
  • Papayas
  • Egg yolks
  • Durum wheat

While lutein supplements may be of some benefit in the treatment or prevention of certain health problems, self-treating with the supplements (and avoiding or delaying standard care) is not recommended.

If you're considering the use of lutein supplements, talk to your healthcare provider about selecting a supplement and daily dosage that suit your health needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Which is better, lutein or zeaxanthin?

    Lutein and zeaxanthin are both carotenoids found in the human eye. Both have a similarly protective role, but zeaxanthin may be a more potent antioxidant.

  • Is lutein good for dry eye?

    A 2021 animal study suggested that lutein-containing eye drops help reduce inflammation, which may improve symptoms of dry eye syndrome (DES). Research on humans is needed to confirm this effect in people.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Abdel-Aal el-SM, Akhtar H, Zaheer K, Ali R. Dietary sources of lutein and zeaxanthin carotenoids and their role in eye health. Nutrients. 2013;5(4):1169-85. doi:10.3390/nu5041169

  2. Buscemi S, Corleo D, Di Pace F, Petroni ML, Satriano A, Marchesini G. The effect of lutein on eye and extra-eye health. Nutrients. 2018;10(9):1321. doi:10.3390/nu10091321

  3. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Lutein.

  4. Wu J, Cho E, Willett WC, Sastry SM, Schaumberg DA. Intakes of lutein, zeaxanthin, and other carotenoids and age-related macular degeneration during 2 decades of prospective follow-up. JAMA Ophthalmol. 2015;133(12):1415-24.  doi:10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2015.3590

  5. Ma L, Lin XM, Zou ZY, Xu XR, Li Y, Xu R. A 12-week lutein supplementation improves visual function in Chinese people with long-term computer display light exposure. Br J Nutr. 2009;102(2):186-90. doi:10.1017/S0007114508163000

  6. Buscemi S, Corleo D, Di Pace F, Petroni ML, Satriano A, Marchesini G. The effect of lutein on eye and extra-eye healthNutrients. 2018;10(9):1321. doi:10.3390/nu10091321

  7. Ranard KM, Jeon S, Mohn ES, Griffiths JC, Johnson EJ, Erdman JW. Dietary guidance for lutein: consideration for intake recommendations is scientifically supportedEur J Nutr. 2017;56(Suppl 3):37-42. doi:10.1007/s00394-017-1580-2

  8. Murillo AG, Hu S, Fernandez ML. Zeaxanthin: metabolism, properties, and antioxidant protection of eyes, heart, liver, and skin. Antioxidants (Basel). 2019;8(9):390. doi:10.3390/antiox8090390

  9. Chen YZ, Chen ZY, Tang YJ, et al. Development of lutein-containing eye drops for the treatment of dry eye syndrome. Pharmaceutics. 2021;13(11):1801. doi:10.3390/pharmaceutics13111801

Additional Reading

By Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.