The leafy green “sunscreen” secret to crystal clear vision

There are some supplements with benefits so undeniable that even conventional medicine can’t ignore them. And if you want a classic example, look no further than lutein…

This simple phytonutrient is a bona fide vision-saving superhero. Enough so that even the mainstream powers-that-be have begrudgingly given it their stamp of approval. 

But as far as I’m concerned, the science behind lutein couldn’t get any stronger. And anyone interested in warding off blindness (in other words, everyone) should be supplementing with it.

Plant-based eye protection

I’ve been recommending lutein for eye health my entire career. And today, I’ll tell you why—and how you can get it on the action too.

This phytonutrient is a dietary carotenoid most commonly found in dark leafy greens as well as yellow and orange fruits and veggies. It’s a powerful antioxidant that accumulates in the eye’s macula—the small area located smack dab in the middle of the back of your eyeball. This small spot is closest to the retina, the light-sensitive tissue that lines the inside of your eye, where your vision is also the sharpest.

The pigmentation in your macula says a lot about the health of your eye. A healthy macula is yellow (which is due to the presence of lutein). This yellow pigmentation filters out harmful blue light and helps to protect your eye from oxidative damage.1 In other words, lutein is tasked with keeping your eyes healthy and your vision clear.

So it won’t surprise you to hear that it’s one of your first lines of defense against age-related eye diseases, like cataracts and macular degeneration (AMD).

Powerful anti-aging medicine for your eyes

Let’s start with a look at some “gold standard” research, published in the journal Optometry back in 2004.  

This prospective, 12-month, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study was called the lutein antioxidant supplementation trial (LAST). It followed 90 veterans with age-related macular degeneration. One group received 10 mg of lutein, a second group received lutein along with a mix of antioxidants and vitamins, and a third group received a placebo.

Ultimately, results showed that patients taking lutein—either by itself or in combination with other nutrients—benefited from improvements in macular pigment density and recovery from visual disturbances like glare from headlights, or the flash of a camera. They also enjoyed sharper vision with better contrast. (Especially the group taking lutein in supplement form with other nutrients.)2

The placebo group, meanwhile, saw no benefits at all.

Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg where scientific support for lutein is concerned. Numerous studies have linked high lutein intake with lower AMD risk.4

And a recent meta-analysis of eight different clinical trials and over 1,000 AMD patients showed that this powerful carotenoid can actually restore vision.3 

Carotenoids can take on cataracts, too

Lutein doesn’t just slam the brakes on AMD progression. It also packs a punch against another leading cause of blindness—cataracts.

I spent some time talking about cataracts back in the January 2013 issue (which you can revisit anytime by logging into my website, www.DrPescatore.com). But in case you missed it, here’s a refresher…

Unlike AMD, which affects the retina, cataracts impact your eye’s lens. As you age, this part of your eye naturally thickens and yellows. Proteins build up and clump together, forming opaque spots. This, in turn, interferes with your eye’s ability to refract light.

The end result is a cataract. And all the blurred vision, the dimness, the sensitivity to glare, and the dulling of colors that comes with it.

But free radicals—from excessive UV exposure, stress, and suboptimal diet—speed up the process significantly. So when you consider lutein’s impressive antioxidant benefits, the protection it offers against cataracts comes as no surprise.

According to one lab study from 2004, lutein effectively blocks the human lens from harmful UV rays—reducing signs of damage by more than half, and making it 10 times more effective than vitamin E at protecting vision.5

Meanwhile, data from the Women’s Health Study show that higher dietary intake of lutein can lower risk of cataracts by nearly 20 percent.6

There’s more to lutein than meets the eye

Lutein’s vision benefits are definitely the main attraction. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out a couple of other perks that come with a daily dose of this powerful nutrient. Because they’re pretty huge…

For starters, lutein can give your brain a hefty boost, too. MRIs show that older adults with higher levels of lutein require less brain activity to complete word recall tasks.7 And that the part of their brains responsible for “crystallized intelligence”—that is, knowledge and skills acquired over a lifetime—is also better preserved.8

Another recent study used electrodes to measure neural activity during attention-based tasks. Results showed that older subjects with higher levels of lutein exhibited brain function more closely resembling their younger counterparts.9  

But your brain isn’t the only part of your body that will respond to a lutein boost. Your heart will reap the rewards, too.

Research has linked low levels of lutein with accelerated atherosclerosis, or the thickening of your arterial walls.10 This same study also found that arterial lutein exposure halted the inflammatory process responsible for generating artery-clogging plaque. And that mice who received a lutein supplement had much smaller atherosclerotic lesions. 

Of course, you know I don’t put too much stock into animal studies. But luckily, in this case, I don’t have to. Because another recent study of nearly 200 human patients showed that subjects with higher levels of lutein also had lower levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6)—an inflammatory compound implicated in heart disease.10

Supplements, salads… and a hearty pour of macadamia nut oil

So, how do you get more lutein in your life? Well, as these studies show, supplementation is a good way to protect your eye health. For most people, I recommend taking 20 mg, twice daily, to get the best results.

But it certainly doesn’t hurt to maximize your intake with good nutrition, too. To do that, you’ll want to fill up on dark green, yellow, and orange vegetables—think spinach, broccoli, bell peppers, and winter squash. You can also turn to less conventional sources of lutein, like pistachios and egg yolks. All of these foods are staples found in my latest book, The A-List Diet, which includes over 100 tasty recipes.

The A-List also emphasizes getting enough protein, and perhaps more importantly, healthy fat. Because aside from being essential for hormonal and metabolic balance, fat also happens to be a crucial vehicle for nutrient absorption—and for carotenoid absorption in particular.

More specifically, research suggests that monounsaturated fat—like you’ll find in olive oil and my personal favorite, macadamia nut oil—delivers the most bang for your buck in this department.12 And that the magic number for maximizing carotenoid uptake is two tablespoons.13

Translation: Add a healthy pour of macadamia nut oil to your lutein-rich veggies. Not only will they taste better—they’ll be better for you, too. 

References:

  1. Koushan K, et al. Nutrients. 2013 May 22;5(5):1823-39.
  2. Richer S, et al. Optometry. 2004 Apr;75(4):216-30.
  3. Liu R, et al. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2014 Dec 16;56(1):252-8.
  4. ocl-journal.org/articles/ocl/pdf/2016/01/ocl150016.pdf
  5. Ohio State University. “Study: Eat Leafy Green Veggies To Help Prevent Cataracts.” ScienceDaily, 6 December 2004. <sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/12/041203081711.htm>.
  6. AMA and Archives Journals. “Eat Your Leafy Vegetables To Decrease Your Risk Of Cataracts.” ScienceDaily, 17 January 2008. <sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080114162513.htm>.
  7. Lindbergh CA, et al. J Int Neuropsychol Soc. 2017 Jan;23(1):11-22.
  8. Zamroziewicz MK, et al. Front Aging Neurosci. 2016 Dec 6;8:297.
  9. Walk AM, et al. Front Aging Neurosci. 2017 Jun 9;9:183.
  10. University Of Southern California. “USC Study Suggests Low Levels Of Dietary Nutrient Lutein, Found In Leafy Greens, Linked To Thickening In Neck Arteries.” ScienceDaily, 29 June 2001. <sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/06/010619073645.htm>.
  11. Chung RWS, et al. Atherosclerosis. 2017 Jul;262:87-93.
  12. Goltz SR, et al. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2012 Jun;56(6):866-77.
  13. White WS, et al. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017 Oct;106(4):1041-1051.

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