The Health Benefits of Zeaxanthin

Zeaxanthin soft gels, capsules, powder, spinach, kale, and lettuce

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of healthy eyes and good vision. They contribute mightily to quality of life. But millions of Americans have had their quality of life diminished because of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD)—the leading causes of visual impairment and acquired blindness in the United States.

Nutrition is one way to protect the eyes from these diseases. And research has shown that two carotenoidszeaxanthin and lutein—can delay and even prevent the progression of these eye diseases. Carotenoids are pigments that imbue fruits and vegetables with their vibrant colors. They act as antioxidants (substances that protect the body's cells from free radical damage) and have huge cancer-fighting properties.

Zeaxanthin and lutein are the only carotenoids located in the eye—and offer great promise to those millions of people who may have lost hope the day they were diagnosed.

This article explains how zeaxanthin works, how people take the supplement, and how it can be used in tandem with a diet filled with green, leafy vegetables to improve eye health.

Consult First

Consult your primary care physician or eye care professional before taking any new supplement.

How Zeaxanthin Works

Zeaxanthin pays 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 egg yolks. It also gives paprika, saffron, and corn their characteristic colors.

The macula is the most sensitive part of the retina. It has the most photoreceptors in the retina and counts as the place where our sharpest vision is produced. It is also responsible for our ability to perceive colors.

In the midst of all this activity, think of zeaxanthin benefits as being similar to an eye vitamin. Once inside the body, zeaxanthin 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 AMD, which is the leading cause of blindness in the U.S. It affects people age 65 and older. Take note that some macular complications affect younger people and may be referred to as macular degeneration. However, when the last two words are grouped together, the term usually 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.

Importance of Macular Pigment

Macular pigment works to filter blue light, the visible light at the end of the color spectrum that researchers believe can cause macular degeneration. Further research is needed to prove the harmful effects of blue light. However, studies have shown that by filtering blue light, macular pigment helps improve several areas of vision including:

  • Visual acuity 
  • Ability to see subtle differences in shading
  • Discomfort from intense light
  • Photostress recovery time (when vision returns to normal after exposure to bright lights)
  • Macular function

People with 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 leads to blindness.
  • Cataracts: Zeaxanthin and lutein consumption may slow the formation of cataracts, which cause blurry vision.
  • 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. Lutein and zeaxanthin may aid in slowing this inflammatory process.
  • Diabetic retinopathy: This complication of diabetes results from damage to blood vessels in the retina. Lutein and zeaxanthin may reduce the oxidation processes that damage the eyes in this way.

Know the Three Stages of AMD

AMD is marked by three stages:


  • Early AMD: This stage is diagnosed by the presence of yellow deposits (called drusen) beneath the retina. At this stage, most people do not experience any vision loss. It's one more reason why regular eye exams after age 55 are crucial.
  • Intermediate AMD: Some vision loss may occur during this stage, but testing will look for larger drusen or pigment changes.
  • Late AMD: Vision loss becomes noticeable in this stage, with objects appearing blurry and/or dark.
Zeaxanthin powder

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Dosage and Preparation

Generally, health experts recommend that adults eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day, which should provide about 5 mg of carotenoids (including zeaxanthin and lutein). However, most people don't eat this many servings of fruits and vegetables. In fact, the average intake of carotenoids is closer to 2 mg. This means supplements may be helpful to ensure you get an adequate amount of zeaxanthin.

Studies show that a daily supplement of 2 mg zeaxanthin can be beneficial for vision. However, zeaxanthin can be safely taken at higher doses. Studies have shown, for instance, that taking 20 mg daily for up to six months should cause no problems. Keep in mind that it's important to be sure that the supplements you choose are pure. While many synthetic supplements do have other materials in them, you want to be sure you don't have significant levels of anything other than zeaxanthin.

Who Should Take Zeaxanthin Supplements?

While zeaxanthin supplements have not been found to cause any adverse side effects, no studies have been done on their long-term use. In fact, researchers can't be certain whether taking a synthetic form of zeaxanthin is okay for more than five years. Thus, it's only recommended for those who have a significant and immediate concern about vision loss getting worse.

If you have not been diagnosed with macular degeneration, health experts recommend that you increase your intake of zeaxanthin by eating more foods rich in the micronutrient. This restriction includes people who may be at risk for AMD such as family members of those who have been diagnosed or smokers, who are four times more likely to develop AMD than those who have never smoked.

Know AMD Risk Factors

Unfortunately, you can't stop the aging process, which is the biggest risk factor for AMD. The disease most often surfaces in people ages 55 and older. Other risk factors include:


  • Genetics, or people with a family history of AMD
  • Race, with Caucasians more likely to develop the disease than African-Americans or Hispanics/Latinos
  • Smoking

Possible Side Effects

Researchers have found no side effects from or negative interactions with zeaxanthin. However, people with fair skin may develop a yellowish coloration of the skin if they exceed the maximum daily recommended dosage for adults (10 milligrams).

What to Look For

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.

Several groups are trying to fill the shoes of the FDA with regard to supplements, including ConsumerLab.com, NSF International, and U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP). The most recent addition is UL, a for-profit company known for testing electronics. USP, a nonprofit, has set standards for supplements that Consumer Reports says are the most widely accepted.

If you have a natural love for vegetables in particular, you're in luck. Zeaxanthin is found in the highest quantity in the leaves of most green plants. 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 recognizable green color.

Check the USP Database

USP publishes the Dietary Supplements Compendium, an online, subscription-based database that provides quality standards for the production of dietary supplements. Those that
pass USP's quality requirements are awarded a distinction called the USP Verified Mark.

Turn Your Plate Green

Nutrition is one promising way to protect your eyes from disease according to the American Optometric Association. And the foods that teem with the carotenoids you need for eye health are:

  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Mustard greens
  • Turnip greens
  • Collards
  • Watercress
  • Green peas
  • Summer squash
  • Pumpkin
  • Eggs

Cook With a Flourish

If you're the family cook, then you know that even the hungriest people care about what a dish looks like and what it's called. Vegetables (which can be blah in name and execution) aren't known to cooperate in either regard. So if you're trying to add more zeaxanthin and lutein to your diet, try jazzing things up with broccoli rabe with pine nuts; pumpkin mousse; salmon with mango salsa; sunset gazpacho; or a veggie frittata with orange pepper, spinach, and sundried tomatoes.

Summary

She may not have had any details, but your mother was right about vegetables being good for your eyes. Two carotenoids found in the eye—zeaxanthin and lutein—can delay and even prevent the progression of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Ironically, carotenoids are pigments that give fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors. And carotenoids can be found in many vegetables, in particular. If you've been diagnosed with vision loss and can't get between 6 mg and 10 mg of the two carotenoids from your diet, consider taking a supplement to fill the gap.

A Word From Verywell

Besides eating at least five portions of fruits and vegetables a day, being physically active and refraining from smoking will improve your health, and, by extension, keep your eyes healthy. To protect your eyes from damage, wear sunglasses or protective eyewear when it's smart to do so, rest your eyes from heavy-duty computer work every 20 minutes, and be proactive about preventing eye infections if you wear contact lenses.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does zeaxanthin benefit other parts of the body?

    In recent years, researchers have learned 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 research study showed that consuming 10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin a day 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.

  • Are zeaxanthin and astaxanthin the same thing?

    No. They're both carotenoids, pigment compounds that give fruits, vegetables, and seafood their vibrant colors, but zeaxanthin is a yellow pigment and astaxanthin is a red one. They both help protect the body. However, while zeaxanthin is concentrated in the eye and protects the macula, astaxanthin occurs in various body areas. It does seem to promote eye health, but that’s not its only function.

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14 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.
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