Lutein and zeaxanthin are antioxidant pigments found in highest concentration in the macula of the eye where they may help protect it from damage. Dietary intake of about 6 mg per day of these antioxidants has been associated with a reduced risk of macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness and cataracts in developed countries.
Most adults, however, get only 2 to 4 mg per day of lutein and zeaxanthin from their diet. This has led to the popularity of lutein and zeaxanthin supplements in recent years.
"There are many good supplements out there, but people should carefully check the dosage. Products with less than 1 mg won't contribute much and it is not known whether high doses, such as 20 mg, carry added benefit," said Tod Cooperman, president of ConsumerLab.com, which has recently carried out a new study on the antioxidant products.
On the positive side, only one of the 19 lutein/zeaxanthin supplements studied in the review failed to contain its claimed ingredients.
"People trying to reduce the risk of eye disease are advised to get at least 6 mg per day of these eye-specific anti-oxidants. A half cup of spinach, for example, provides this amount," said Cooperman.
US sales of lutein supplements increased to $100 million in 2002 from $30 million in 1999 according to the Nutrition Business Journal.