Lutein is the ultimate vision support nutrient. It is a naturally occurring pigment and antioxidant found mainly in the macula region of the eye. Lutein is classified as a carotenoid (a natural plant pigment), of which kale is the richest dietary source. The greatest eye health benefits associated with the diet come from foods high in lutein.
The development of eye conditions such as macular degeneration, where lenses become opaque, is due to changes in the proteins of the lens as a result of oxidation and exposure to UV light. The presence of antioxidants such as lutein in the lens prevents this oxidation and damage from occurring. Supplemental lutein can increase pigmentation in the macular region of the retina and can lead to significant improvements in such ocular functions as glare recovery, contrast sensitivity, and visual acuity. Diets containing at least 6 mg of lutein per day have been found to reduce the incidence of age related macular degeneration by 43%, and in one study, lutein levels were 40% lower in people affected by age related macular degeneration.
Population-based studies have also found that those who have the greatest intake of lutein had a 22% decreased risk of undergoing cataract surgery. Lutein may also protect the skin against oxidative stress from UV light. All in all, those with a family history or an increased risk of age-related macular degeneration or cataracts may benefit from regular consumption of lutein.