The Health Benefits of Zeaxanthin

Eye Vitamin

Zeaxanthin is a carotenoid that plays a role in protecting the eyes from the harmful effects of oxidation and light-induced damage. Zeaxanthin is a yellow-colored pigment found in the center of the macula. It is found in high levels in dark green vegetables, orange and yellow fruits, and in the yolk of eggs. In fact, zeaxanthin is the pigment that gives paprika, saffron, and corn their characteristic colors. It is commonly associated with a similar supplement, lutein. Both supplements are carotenoids associated with eye health, found in high levels in many vegetables and fruits.

Health Benefits

Zeaxanthin is an eye vitamin that, once inside the body, is drawn to the eyes. It makes its way into the lens, macula, and fovea (the center spot of the retina). Zeaxanthin helps build a yellow-colored pigment shield to protect the eye cells from the harmful effects of certain light sources, such as the sun. It also protects the eyes from dangerous free radicals that form over time from oxidation.

Some of the dietary sources of zeaxanthin have been studied as protective factors in age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD is the leading cause of blindness in the United States. The condition primarily affects people age 65 and older. Some macular complications that affect younger people may be referred to as macular degeneration, but the term generally refers to age-related macular degeneration.

Zeaxanthin, along with lutein, is the only dietary carotenoid that accumulates in the retina, particularly the macular region. (Meso-zeaxanthin is the third dominant carotenoid at the very center of the macula, where zeaxanthin is dominant just off-center.) Because both substances are found in large amounts in the macula, they’re known as macular pigments. The following conditions may benefit from zeaxanthin and lutein:

  • Age-related macular degeneration (AMD): Zeaxanthin and lutein supplementation may protect the eyes against the progression of AMD, which sometimes results in blindness.
  • Cataract: A cataract is a clouding of the eye's lens. Zeaxanthin and lutein consumption may slow the formation of cataracts.
  • Uveitis: Uveitis is an inflammation or swelling of the eye's uvea. The uvea is located in the center of the eye, between the sclera and the retina, and is responsible for supplying blood to the retina. Zeaxanthin and lutein may aid in slowing the inflammatory process.
  • Diabetic retinopathy: Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that results from damage to blood vessels in the retina. Supplementing with zeaxanthin and lutein may reduce oxidation processes that damage the eyes.

Possible Side Effects

As of now, no known side effects or negative interactions of zeaxanthin with other drugs have been found. Though harmless, a person with fair skin may develop a yellowish coloration of the skin after exceeding the maximum daily recommended level for adults (10 milligrams).

It is important to consult your physician or eye care professional before taking any new supplement.

Dosage and Preparation

Currently, there is no recommended dietary intake for zeaxanthin. The amount of zeaxanthin your body needs may depend on the amount of stress you are under in your everyday life. For instance, a person who smokes may need more zeaxanthin, as smokers tend to have lower levels of carotenoids than non-smokers. A recent study used a preparation that included 10 milligrams (mg) of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin.

It is estimated that most people consume about 1 to 3 mg of zeaxanthin daily through their diet. However, you may need more than this amount to reduce your risk of eye-related conditions. Fats improve the absorption of zeaxanthin, so including them in your diet is beneficial. Try tossing a bit of olive oil in a green salad or adding butter to cooked green vegetables.

What to Look For

Zeaxanthin is found in highest quantity in the leaves of most green plants. Within the plant, it modulates light energy and keeps chlorophyll at appropriate levels during photosynthesis. Zeaxanthin and lutein are responsible for the bright colors of many fruits and vegetables, but they are found in greater amounts in green leafy vegetables. The chlorophyll in dark green vegetables actually masks the lutein and zeaxanthin pigments, giving the vegetables their characteristic green color.

A few of the dark green leafy vegetables high in zeaxanthin include kale, spinach, turnip greens, collard greens, romaine lettuce, watercress, Swiss chard, and mustard greens.

If you feel you can't meet the recommended daily intake of zeaxanthin through diet alone, you may choose to supplement with a vitamin. As for a dietary supplement, it is recommended that you take up to 10 mg of both lutein and zeaxanthin daily.

Be aware that dietary supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to the extent that pharmaceuticals are, other than to prohibit unsupported health claims. No health claims have been approved by the FDA or the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for zeaxanthin supplements.

Common Questions

Does zeaxanthin benefit other parts of the body?

In recent years, it has been discovered that zeaxanthin may have positive effects on the skin. Daily zeaxanthin consumption may protect skin cells from premature aging as well as UVB-induced tumors. A recent study showed that 10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin consumption may also improve skin tone.

What is the difference between zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin?

Meso-zeaxanthin dominates at the direct center of the macula. Zeaxanthin, lutein, and meso-zeaxanthin together form macular pigment, the natural blue light filter and anti-oxidant presence in the retina. Macular pigment is generally depleted in people with normal diets. Therefore, it is a good idea to consider taking an eye supplement that contains all three macular pigment carotenoids.

A Word From Verywell

While there are many factors at play, lutein and zeaxanthin are beneficial to your overall eye health. Additionally, there are other steps you can take to keep your eyes as healthy as possible. Aim to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, especially brightly colored ones like spinach, curly kale, peppers, sweetcorn, red grapes, and oranges. Egg yolks are also an excellent food source for zeaxanthin.

If you are a smoker, try your best to quit. Smoking is a big risk factor for developing AMD. Remember to wear protective sunglasses or lenses when you are in bright light (either sunlight or artificial light, including blue light sources such as smartphones and computers). Keep body weight under control, as well as blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

AMD is a genetic eye disease. Siblings or children of people with AMD may be at a higher risk of developing AMD, and should, therefore, take preventative measures such as zeaxanthin and lutein supplements.

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Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. American Optometric Association. Lutein & Zeaxanthin.

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  4. Hu BJ, Hu YN, Lin S, Ma WJ, Li XR. Application of Lutein and Zeaxanthin in nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy. Int J Ophthalmol. 2011;4(3):303–306. doi:10.3980/j.issn.2222-3959.2011.03.19

  5. The Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) Research Group. Lutein + zeaxanthin and omega-3 fatty acids for age-related macular degeneration: the Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) randomized clinical trial. JAMA. 2013;309(19):2005-15. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.4997

  6. Juturu V, Bowman JP, Deshpande J. Overall skin tone and skin-lightening-improving effects with oral supplementation of lutein and zeaxanthin isomers: a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2016;9:325–332. Published 2016 Oct 7. doi:10.2147/CCID.S115519

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