Zeaxanthin protects the eyes from age-related disorders and may enhance visual performance in healthy eyes.
Zeaxanthin is a carotenoid that gives some plants a distinct yellow to orange-red color. It supports eye health through:
- Warding off eye disorders. Zeaxanthin may reduce the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts, and improve vision in people with these conditions.
- Enhancing vision. Zeaxanthin supplementation may improve vision in healthy eyes, particularly in low-light conditions.
Zeaxanthin is a yellow carotenoid found in many different plants, including common vegetables and fruits such as bell peppers, corn, kale, and peas. Similar to lutein, zeaxanthin naturally settles in the eye and plays a critical role in healthy vision.
Zeaxanthin and lutein are most heavily concentrated in the macula – a yellow spot found in the center of the eye’s retina that enables sharp central vision. Here, they make up the macular pigment (MP) that helps protect the eyes from damage by acting as a sort of “internal sunglasses.”
Clinical researchers have been increasingly recognizing the importance of zeaxanthin and lutein to eye health, so much so that they are now considered critical to fighting common eye conditions such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts.
And far from just protecting eyes from disorders, these two carotenoids are also emerging as a way to enhance visual performance in healthy eyes. 1
Where do we get zeaxanthin?
Zeaxanthin is usually found alongside lutein in a variety of plant foods, most notably leafy greens and colorful fruits and vegetables:
Best Dietary Sources of Lutein and Zeaxanthin
|Food||Lutein and Zeaxanthin (µg/100 g)|
|Peas, green (boiled)||2593|
|Lettuce (romaine or cos)||2313|
|Brussels sprouts (boiled)||1541|
|Pistachio nuts, raw||1404|
|Egg yolk, raw||1094|
How Zeaxanthin Might Help With Vision
Alongside lutein, zeaxanthin is a major constituent of macular pigment found in the eye’s retina. These carotenoids help safeguard vision through:
Protecting the eyes from blue light
Blue light contains a high amount of energy that can cause damage to the eye’s delicate tissues. Zeaxanthin and lutein act as a sort of “internal sunglasses” that help filter out this light. 2
Zeaxanthin’s second major role in the eye is to act as an antioxidant. This is critically important for eye health because oxidative and photo-oxidative damage plays a central role in eye disorders such as age-related macular degeneration. 3
Zeaxanthin’s Vision Enhancement Benefits
The major research-backed benefit of zexanthin (in combination with lutein) is reduced risk and progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts – the two most common eye disorders in adults over 50 – as well as enhanced vision in people with these conditions. 5
In addition, there is some early evidence that zeaxanthin and lutein can enhance vision in healthy eyes, particularly in low light conditions such as night driving. 6
Clinical and observational studies indicate that zeaxanthin supplementation and increased macular pigment levels can:
- Reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataract development and progression, and improve visual function in people with AMD
- Enhance vision performance in healthy eyes, particularly in low light conditions such as driving at night
This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study examined the effects of lutein and zeaxanthin supplementation in 108 people with early AMD. They were given lutein (10 or 20 mg), lutein plus zeaxanthin (10 mg each) or placebo, daily for 48 weeks. All supplemented groups experienced an increase of MPOD and improvement of retinal abnormalities.
- The researchers concluded that “Early functional abnormalities of the central retina in the early AMD patients could be improved by lutein and zeaxanthin supplementation.”7
This double-blind, placebo-controlled study examined the effects of lutein and zeaxanthin supplementation on vision performance in 34 healthy adults. They were given lutein (10 mg), zeaxanthin (10 mg), a combination of the two, or placebo daily for 6 months, and their vision was tested afterwards. The study found that the 3 supplemented groups showed a trend towards decreased amount of light scatter in the eye and contrast sensitivity, which is particularly useful for vision in low light conditions.
- The researchers concluded that “supplementation with L or Z increases MPOD…supplementation can improve CATs at high mesopic levels and hence visual performance at low illumination.”8
This cohort study examined the link between carotenoid intake and cataract extraction. A total of 36644 men aged 45-75 were studied over 8 years of follow-up, revealing that only those who had higher intakes of lutein and zeaxanthin had a lower risk of having cataracts that were bad enough to require extraction. More specifically, men who had the highest intakes of these carotenoids had a 19% lower risk relative to men with the lowest intake.
- The researchers concluded that “Lutein and zeaxanthin may decrease the risk of cataracts severe enough to require extraction, although this relation appears modest in magnitude.”9
This observational study explored the link between lutein and zeaxanthin levels and AMD. A total of 380 adults aged 66 – 75 were examined for signs of AMD and tested to record their blood lutein and zeaxanthin levels. The researchers discovered that risk of AMD was notably higher in people with lower zeaxanthin levels.
- The researchers concluded that “…zeaxanthin may protect against age-related macular degeneration.”10
This review examined the results of studies on lutein and zeaxanthin supplementation to determine their effects on visual function in people with AMD. After analyzing a total of 8 randomized, placebo-controlled trials involving 1176 patients, the researchers found that supplementation with both carotenoids increased MPOD and was associated with improvements in contrast sensitivity and visual acuity.
- The researchers concluded that “Lutein and zeaxanthin supplementation is a safe strategy for improving visual performance of AMD patients.“11
This observational study examined the link between lutein and zeaxanthin intake and intermediate AMD in women (aged 50 – 79). It was discovered that higher intake of these carotenoids was linked to significantly lower risk of developing intermediate AMD in women younger than 75.
- The researchers concluded that “Diets rich in lutein plus zeaxanthin may protect against intermediate AMD in healthy women younger than 75 years.” 12
Dosage for Vision
- Successful research studies most commonly use 10 mg doses of zeaxanthin and lutein
- Most zeaxanthin supplements come in 4 mg – 10 mg capsule doses alongside 10 mg of lutein
- Zeaxanthin and lutein supplementation is a long-term commitment, considering that most studies require 6-12 months for notable results
- Like other carotenoids zeaxanthin is fat-soluble, meaning that its absorption may be improved when taken with fat-containing foods
- Most supplements are sold as softgels of marigold flower extract because it contains both lutein and zeaxanthin
- Zeaxanthin can also be sourced from paprika extract, especially when sold without lutein
Supplements in Review Says
- Zeaxanthin 10 mg plus lutein 10 mg for vision.
We recommend taking zeaxanthin with lutein for healthy vision. Clinical research suggests that when combined with lutein, zeaxanthin helps protect the eyes from AMD and cataracts. In addition, there is some early evidence that it may also enhance visual performance in healthy eyes.
Research suggests that 10 mg doses are ideal. 10 mg of lutein and zeaxanthin is the most common dose used by successful clinical studies.
- Loskutova E et al. Macular pigment and its contribution to vision. Nutrients. 2013 May 29;5(6):1962-9. ↩
- Abdel-Aal el-SM et al. Dietary sources of lutein and zeaxanthin carotenoids and their role in eye health. Nutrients. 2013 Apr 9;5(4):1169-85. ↩
- Krinsky NI et al. Biologic mechanisms of the protective role of lutein and zeaxanthin in the eye. Annu Rev Nutr. 2003;23:171-201. Epub 2003 Feb 27. ↩
- Bone RA et al. Lutein and zeaxanthin dietary supplements raise macular pigment density and serum concentrations of these carotenoids in humans. J Nutr. 2003 Apr;133(4):992-8. ↩
- Mares-Perlman JA et al. The body of evidence to support a protective role for lutein and zeaxanthin in delaying chronic disease. Overview. J Nutr. 2002 Mar;132(3):518S-524S ↩
- Stringham JM et al. The influence of dietary lutein and zeaxanthin on visual performance. J Food Sci. 2010 Jan-Feb;75(1):R24-9. ↩
- Ma L et al. Improvement of retinal function in early age-related macular degeneration after lutein and zeaxanthin supplementation: a randomized, double-masked, placebo-controlled trial. Am J Ophthalmol. 2012 Oct;154(4):625-634. ↩
- Kvansakul J et al. Supplementation with the carotenoids lutein or zeaxanthin improves human visual performance. Ophthalmic Physiol Opt. 2006 Jul;26(4):362-71. ↩
- Brown L, Rimm EB, et al. A prospective study of carotenoid intake and risk of cataract extraction in US men. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Oct; 70(4): 517-24. ↩
- Gale CR et al. Lutein and zeaxanthin status and risk of age-related macular degeneration. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2003 Jun;44(6):2461-5. ↩
- Liu R et al. Lutein and zeaxanthin supplementation and association with visual function in age-related macular degeneration. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2014 Dec 16;56(1):252-8. ↩
- Moeller SM et al. Associations between intermediate age-related macular degeneration and lutein and zeaxanthin in the Carotenoids in Age-related Eye Disease Study (CAREDS): ancillary study of the Women’s Health Initiative. Arch Ophthalmol. 2006 Aug;124(8):1151-62. ↩