Possible contribution of lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids of the macula lutea, to reducing the risk for age-related macular degeneration: a review
In the center of the retina, where visual acuity is highest, a yellow spot called the macula lutea is visible. The yellow color is due to the presence of the nutritional carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, which accumulate there to a greater extent than in any other tissue. In the center of the macula lutea, the lutein-to-zeaxanthin ratio found in the plasma is inverted, with relatively more zeaxanthin than lutein, whereas in the more peripheral regions of the retina, lutein predominates, as in plasma. The physiological significance of this selective accumulation is based on filtration of potentially damaging blue light, quenching of photochemically induced reactive oxygen species, attenuation of chromatic aberration, and inhibition of apoptosis. It is believed that via these mechanisms, lutein and zeaxanthin can contribute to reduce the risk for age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of irreversible loss of vision in aging Western populations. Epidemiological studies indicate that elevated dietary intake or blood concentrations of lutein and zeaxanthin are correlated with a reduction in risk for this disease. Furthermore, intake of these carotenoids can specifically increase their levels in the macula.
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