March 21, 2017


Other name(s):

luteol, xanthophyll

General description

Lutein is a yellow pigment. It belongs to a group of substances called carotenoids. Carotenoids may play an important role in preventing or slowing macular degeneration. This is one of the leading causes of blindness in people over 60 years.

Lutein was first isolated from egg yolk. It’s one of the pigments in the petals of yellow flowers and bird feathers.

Lutein and a similar carotenoid, zeaxanthin, are the most commonly occurring carotenoids in nature.

Medically valid uses

There are no known indications for lutein or zeaxanthin. However, lutein, zeaxanthin, and other carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, may prevent or slow macular degeneration.

Lutein and zeaxanthin work by protecting the retina of the eye from the effects of aging and ultraviolet light exposure. They work as antioxidants in the retina. They may protect the fragile, retinal vessels from oxidative damage. This damage may lead to sclerotic changes in the lining of the vessels. Over time this may cause macular degeneration. As pigments, they may block damaging wavelengths of light from being absorbed by sensitive retinal structures.

These carotenoids may prevent macular degeneration. But they may not treat the condition once you have it. So, you must consume a diet with enough lutein for years before the onset of macular degeneration. This will achieve the greatest benefit.

Unsubstantiated claims

Please note that this section reports on claims that have not yet been substantiated through studies.

Lutein is said to help reduce hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). It may also lower the risk of cataracts.

Dosing format

There is no set dosage for lutein. A diet high in vegetables and fruits, mainly red, orange, deep yellow, and dark green leafy vegetables, should give you enough lutein.

Supplement doses range from 5–30 mg per day.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should talk to their healthcare providers before taking any supplements.

Side effects, toxicity, and interactions

There are no known side effects of lutein. There are also no known food or drug interactions linked with it.

Additional information

Of all the pigments in the macula, lutein is present in the highest concentration. The macula is the part of the retina responsible for the most acute vision. It’s also the most abundant form of carotenoids in the retina. The significance of this still isn’t known.

Lutein is just one of a large number of naturally occurring carotenoids. It may be better known to scientists as xanthophyll. It’s an isomer of zeaxanthin. It has the same molecular weight and formula. But it has a different configuration.


March 21, 2017


Age-related macular degeneration: Treatment and prevention. UpToDate., Sommerburg, Olaf. Fruits and vegetables that are sources for lutein and zeazanthin: the macular pigment in human eyes. British Medical Journal. 1998:82(907-910).

Reviewed By:  

Poulson, Brittany, RD, CDE,Wilkins, Joanna, R.D., C.D.