Zeaxanthin: What is it, the benefits, and how much to take?
Zeaxanthin is a carotenoid, a term given to the pigments that give fruit and vegetables their bright color, and is one of the most common carotenoids you’ll come across.
There’s more to carotenoids than making fruits and vegetables look appetizing; they’re great for the human body because of their antioxidant properties.
But did you know that only twenty of the hundreds of types of carotenoids are found naturally in the human body? Those present in our body come from our diet or supplement intake.
Therefore we must adapt our diet or consider the supplements available to ensure we’re getting a healthy amount of carotenoids into our system.
In this article, we’ll explore what zeaxanthin is, the health benefits it has to offer and why it's one of the top eye vitamins you should be taking.
What are the benefits of zeaxanthin?
As zeaxanthin has antioxidant activity, it will be beneficial for the human body.
However, where this carotenoid shines is its impact on eye health.
The presence of zeaxanthin in the retina is plentiful. In fact, it’s the highest seen among any other human tissue type.
Zeaxanthin helps to destroy free radicals that develop in the retina. These are known as reactive oxygen species, or ROS. Free radicals have unpredictable activity and can damage cells in the body, which in turn cause us to age and get poorly.
Free radicals in the eye can lead to the development of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, amongst other eye conditions.
Zeaxanthin can also help protect our eyes against different types of light. Exposing our eyes to light is inevitable, but some types of light can be more damaging than others.
While best known for enhancing eye health, zeaxanthin does have some additional benefits, specifically for our skin.
Without further ado, let’s explore further the impact zeaxanthin can have on our health and what science has to say!
Zeaxanthin and Lutein
When you read about zeaxanthin, lutein will more than likely closely follow. This is because they both share similarities, such as having antioxidant properties.
However, their most significant similarity is that they’re the only two carotenoids drawn towards bettering our eye health when entering the body.
Studies on eye health don’t often focus on the impact one has over the other. Instead, they usually draw on results when they’re both used together. They’re simply much more effective when they work as a team.
Zeaxanthin and eye health
If you’re fortunate not to suffer from poor eye health in your younger years, it’s easy to forget that it’s a vital organ to look after. As we age, our eyes are more susceptible to deterioration, typically falling under two symptoms; cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
Over time, cloudy patches can form and cover the eye, they develop slowly, but once they do, it can result in loss of vision or blurred vision.
The presence of cataracts can make everyday activities such as driving your car, reading, or watching television difficult.
While surgery is an option, it’s better to take preventative measures instead.
An Australian clinic trial examined the impact that zeaxanthin and lutein together had on 2322 participants with cataracts. The results showed that higher levels of zeaxanthin and lutein had an inverse effect on an existing cataract.
Furthermore, another study specifically on women demonstrates that the participants with a higher intake of both zeaxanthin and lutein had an 18% lower risk of developing cataract compared to those with the lowest intake.
These studies suggest that while zeaxanthin and lutein aren’t an alternative to surgery, it may help cataracts from spreading further if caught at the early stages of development.
Age-related macular degeneration
As we get close to our 50s and 60s, age-related macular degeneration is a common eye condition that develops and affects the middle part of our vision.
While it doesn’t lead to total blindness, like cataracts, everyday activities can become increasingly difficult.
AREDS and AREDS2 studies
Two major studies on age-related macular degeneration are AREDS and AREDS2.
The original AREDS study assessed the effect of a formula of various vitamins and minerals on patients with age-related macular degeneration.
While the AREDS study was a success, a second AREDS2 study was put into action due to beta-carotene in the original formula. Studies show that beta-carotene can cause lung cancer in smokers.
The AREDS2 formula swapped out beta-carotene for zeaxanthin and lutein; because of both carotenoid’s association with good eye health.
In AREDS2, three supplements were tested across a group of over 4000 human participants.
Each participant was over the age of fifty and had either intermediate or advanced AMD.
A combination of 2mg of zeaxanthin and 10mg of lutein were one of the three supplements in the study, to be taken daily. The participants were then followed for five years.
The final assessment concludes there was an additional 18% reduction in the risk of progression to late-stage AMD. This figure is on top of the 25% reduction from the results of the original AREDS study.
The presence of zeaxanthin and lutein in the second study strongly suggests they contribute to good eye health, as the study had an even better outcome than the first.
General eye health
You’re likely familiar with the term ‘blue light.’
Blue light is a term that refers to the relationship between waves of light rays and how much energy they have.
We take in blue light everywhere, the sun being a preeminent source of it.
However, the more we expose ourselves to blue light from our computers, phones, or television at night time, the more harmful to our health it can become.
Staring at screens before bed can reduce our ability to fall asleep, but a long term impact of too much blue light can cause:
- Dry eye
- Age-related macular degeneration
- Poor sleep quality
- Enhancing adrenocortical hormone production (as a result, hormones become unbalanced)
Research suggests that because of zeaxanthin’s antioxidant abilities, it can help reduce photochemical damage caused by blue light and can protect against harm to the lens and retina.
While zeaxanthin may protect your eyes, it’s best to create some habits to tackle the source of the problem - overexposure to blue light.
Some tips to reduce harmful levels of blue light include:
- Avoid looking at screens at least an hour before going to bed
- Take frequent breaks from any type of screen
- Use a blue light filtering app on your devices
Zeaxanthin and healthy skin
While zeaxanthin has a close association with eye health, did you know it could also be beneficial for your skin?
Research has identified that zeaxanthin is present in the skin, and following this, studies on animal participants have demonstrated that zeaxanthin can positively impact skin damage from light exposure, specifically, ultraviolet rays.
In another study, hairless mice were exposed to ultraviolet rays resulting in skin inflammation. A combination of zeaxanthin and lutein was then orally given to the mice, which dramatically reduced the inflammation.
Further research is required to understand the full impact zeaxanthin can have on promoting healthy skin, but these studies suggest that it could benefit more than only the eyes!
What foods contain zeaxanthin?
Foods high in zeaxanthin typically consist of the leafy green vegetables and include:
- Brussel sprouts
- Swiss chard
Eating large amounts of greens doesn't always agree with everyone, and unfortunately, for some can contribute to stomach issues such as bloating.
Fortunately, zeaxanthin is widely available and can provide the same zeaxanthin levels that you can get from your diet.
Does zeaxanthin have any side effects?
There are currently no reported side effects when taking zeaxanthin over either the short or long term.
The AREDS2 study followed participants over five years, and within that time, no significant side effects were reported.
How much zeaxanthin should I take?
While the AREDS2 study used a daily 2mg dose, the recommended daily intake of zeaxanthin will vary from person to person.
If you’re considering taking a zeaxanthin supplement, consult a medical healthcare professional to establish the right dose for you.
Considering our eyes are a primary sensory organ, we must look after them as well as we can; this means, if possible, protecting them before an issue arises.
While a diet full of nutritious greens can help you reach high levels of zeaxanthin, a supplement works just as well, especially as leafy greens don’t agree with everyone!