Lutein is often called a Nutraceutical (a term that blends the words "Nutrition" and "Pharmaceutical"), for its medicinal effect on human health.
Lutein belongs to a group of more than 600 phytochemicals known as the carotenoid family, which are widely distributed in nature. Carotenoids are the pigment compounds responsible for the wide coloration range in fruits and vegetables, and in some animals.
The carotenoids are subdivided into non-oxigenated compounds known as carotenes, and oxygen-containing pigments called xanthophylls.
Within the xanthophylls we find lutein and its isomer zeaxanthin. Interestingly, of all the carotenoids found in nature, only about twenty are found in human plasma and tissue, and of these, only lutein and zeaxanthin are found in the eye. Humans cannot synthesize carotenoids, and are dependent for its carotenoids on those present in their food.
FIGHTS MACULAR DEGENERATION. Many health benefits are attributed to lutein. Among the most relevant is the inverse relationship found between lutein and zeaxanthin intake, and age related macular degeneration – one of the main causes of vision impairment in the elderly.
REDUCES CATARACT FORMATION. Another benefit in eye health is the reduction in cataract formation, correlated with dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin. Cataracts are the main cause of blindness throughout the world.
PROTECTS FROM THE SUN. Lutein and zeaxanthin are also considered important antioxidants that protect the skin from free radicals generated by exposure to sunlight and especially blue light or UV rays. Lutein acts as an antioxidant absorbing blue light and inhibiting lipid peroxidation in the deep skin layers. Oral carotenoid intake is needed for this purpose as topical applications (sun-block cream, for example) are unable to penetrate into the endodermis.
HELPS PREVENT CANCER. Lutein has also been associated with cancer prevention. Colon cancer has been found to be lower in subjects with a higher lutein intake. Skin cancer or certain types of melanoma have also been prevented due to the effect of xanthophylls. Breast cancer risk has been inversely correlated, with breast tissue concentrations of lutein indicating the importance of this pigment in women's health. The anticarcinogenic activity of lutein and other carotenoids in part is attributed to their oxidative damage prevention.
Research has shown the need of daily intake of more than 6 mg, and in some cases up to 10 or 20 mg, to have a health benefit. Probably the best way of obtaining the daily requirement is through the diet. Typically, yellow corn and green vegetables are good sources to provide lutein. Kale, spinsch, broccoli, green peas, and green peppers may provide between 1 to 15 mg of lutein per 100 grams, but not all of the lutein is transferred to the blood serum. Most often, people do not meet the needed daily intake due to little attention in the choice of foods or lack of knowledge.
An excellent alternative is to include eggs in the diet. A single egg yolk may provide between 0.12 to 0.18 mg of lutein . Even better, a lutein-enhanced egg yolk may contain 2 to 4 times as much.
And there's more. Lutein from eggs is more bioavailable for humans than from other lutein-rich sources due to the chemical composition of the egg yolk.