Lutein and Zeanxanthin are an excellent source of Vitamin A in a diet yet they can be confusing. The difference arises from their location in the eye. While zeaxanthin is more prominent at the center of the retina, lutein is found at the edges of the retina.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin are xanthophylls are belong to the family of carotenoids. Xanthophylls are a group of molecules used by plants to modulate the amount of sunlight used in the photosynthesis process. This feature enables them to be able to absorb light at a different waveength.. Lutein and zeaxanthin are commonly found in dark green leafy vegetable, yellow and red-orange vegetables. They are commonly found in the eye, skin, cervix, brain, blood and breast. As a result, they are responsible for good eyesight and the colour of our skin. Discussed below are the sources, side effects and benefits of lutein and zeaxanthin.

Sources of lutein

Lutein is among a collection of at least six hundred naturally occurring carotenoids. Lutein is found in high concentrations, especially in green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, yellow carrots, egg yolks, animal fats, corn, orange pepper, kiwi fruits zucchini, and squash. Lutein is obtained by animals through ingestion via the mouth and directly absorbed into the bloodstream. It is later absorbed from the blood to the macula lutea, a small yellowish area in the retina near the optic disk that provides central vision. In birds, lutein is stored in the animal fatty tissues and later on passed to the feathers giving them their distinct color.

Benefits of lutein

Lutein is mainly concentrated in the retina, although its precise retinal function is unknown. However, research in age-related macular degeneration found out that supplements containing lutein reduced the progression of the age-related macular disease by around twenty-five percent. Lutein was also shown to reduce the risk of developing cataracts. Other benefits of lutein include;

  • It suppresses inflammation
  • It defends one against free radicals and oxidative stress.
  • It enhances the sharpness of one’s vision.
  • It improves one’s visual contrast sensitivity.
  • It reduces glare impairment.
  • Lutein protects eye tissue from sunlight damage.
  • It reduces cell loss and death related to eye diseases.
  • It protects the eye from harmful blue light.
  • It converts light signals into electrical signals in the retina. It aids the transmission of these signals to the visual cortex in the brain.
  • It protects against myopia and preterm infants against the effects of retinopathy of prematurity.

Side effects of lutein

Lutein has no large adverse side effects when taken in the right amounts. Although studies conducted in the United States have found that high dosages of lutein may cause yellowing of the skin. This side effect occurs over a long period of consuming lutein tablets. Other studies have shown that prolonged usage of lutein may lead to the development of crystals in the eyes of older women, although the crystals disappear after the user stops taking lutein supplements. Lutein supplements are generally safe to consume, although more research needs to be conducted to evaluate other potential side effects.


Zeaxanthin is a name derived from Zea mays, yellow corn, and Xanthos, a Greek word for yellow. Zeaxanthin is among the most common carotenoids occurring in nature and is used in the xanthophyll cycle. It is synthesized by plants and some micro-organisms and gives them their characteristic color, yellow to orange-red. Zeaxanthin is an isomer and has a similar structure to lutein, the only difference occurring in the double bond location in one end of the rings. This difference gives Zeaxanthin three stereo-isomeric forms. Zeaxanthin is utilized by green plants to modulate the amount of light energy and perhaps also serve as a non-photochemical quenching agent to deal with triplet chlorophyll which is overproduced at high light levels during photosynthesis. Zeaxanthin is insoluble in water but soluble in fats due to fatty acid esters. It also has a melting point of around two hundred and fifteen degrees Celsius at sea level.

Sources of Zeaxanthin

Zeaxanthin is mostly found in high concentrations in green leafy vegetables or in plant parts that are highly exposed to the sun. It can be sourced from bell peppers, corn, saffron, wolfberries, peas, summer squash, pumpkin, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, asparagus, lettuce, yellow carrots, and pistachios. Animals get Zeaxanthin through ingestion, and being a bet-carotene, it is absorbed directly into the blood via the stomach lining. From the bloodstream, it is then absorbed into the eye as one of the main primary carotenoids stored in the retina of the eye.

Benefits of Zeaxanthin

Zeaxanthin supplements are generally taken on the assumption of supporting eye health. However, there is no regulatory approval in the European Union and the United States for approvals about health claims on products containing Zeaxanthin. Other benefits of Zeaxanthin include;

  • Suppressing inflammation caused by high light concentrations.
  • Defense against free radicals and oxidative stress.
  • Sharpens vision.
  • It improves visual contrast sensitivity.
  • It reduces glare impairment.
  • Lutein protects eye tissue from sunlight damage.
  • Reduces cell loss and death related to eye diseases.
  • Protects the eye from harmful blue light.
  • Converts light signals into electrical signals in the retina. It aids the transmission of these signals to the visual cortex in the brain.

Side effects of Zeaxanthin

There are no known adverse side effects on prolonged usage of zeaxanthin supplements. Although it is clear that long-term users of Zeaxanthin may develop a yellowish skin due to its concentrations in the adipose tissue beneath the skin. Zeaxanthin also has no known reactions when coupled with other drugs. Although harmless, it is always recommended to visit a doctor should the skin start showing signs of yellowing.


Conclusively, lutein and Zeaxanthin are fat-soluble antioxidants and primary carotenoids found in the eye tissues, precisely the retina. They are beneficial to the body and should be added to our daily diet. Their main sources include dark green vegetables, carrots, orange-fleshed sweet potatoes and eggs. While the side effects of their excessive consumption is mainly yellowing of the skin, they need to be balanced in a diet.

Nutritionist, Cornell University, MS

I believe that nutrition science is a wonderful helper both for the preventive improvement of health and adjunctive therapy in treatment. My goal is to help people improve their health and well-being without torturing themselves with unnecessary dietary restrictions. I am a supporter of a healthy lifestyle – I play sports, cycle, and swim in the lake all year round. With my work, I have been featured in Vice, Country Living, Harrods magazine, Daily Telegraph, Grazia, Women's Health, and other media outlets.

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