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Lutein supplements are available in tablet or capsule form and are used to add extra lutein to a person’s diet. Lutein is a carotenoid, which means it is a pigment that is naturally present in foods. This particular carotenoid gives certain foods their yellow or orange coloring. Found in many fruits and vegetables, lutein does more than merely add color to foods. It also provides health benefits for a person’s eyes and arteries.
Many people who take lutein supplements do so because it's healthy for their eyes. People who get adequate amounts of this carotenoid may have less risk of developing cataracts, which are clouded optical lenses. They may also have less chance of developing macular degeneration, which is an age-related loss of vision. No one is 100-percent sure why lutein provides this protective effect, but some researchers believe there are a couple of reasons. For example, lutein’s antioxidant effects may reduce eye damage caused by free radicals, which are harmful organic molecules, and help the eyes filter damaging ultraviolet light.
A person may also take lutein supplements to decrease his risk of developing atherosclerosis or even slow the condition down if it has already developed. When a person has atherosclerosis, plaque deposits form in his arteries and cause them to harden over time. This is a dangerous condition that can eventually contribute to a heart attack or stroke.
While many people find it beneficial to take lutein supplements, there is a range of food sources that provide the substance naturally. Among them are yellow and orange fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, oranges, papaya, and squash. This carotenoid is also present in leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and collard greens. Broccoli, romaine lettuce, and eggs are good sources as well.
It is hard to say how much lutein a person needs each day, as many nutritional authorities haven’t set minimum daily requirements. An individual may get enough lutein, without supplementation, by eating lots of yellow and orange fruits and leafy green vegetables. Many nutrition experts assert that it is better to consume lutein through a healthy diet than from a supplement.
Having a lutein deficiency may not directly damage a person’s health. There is some evidence that diets deficient in carotenoids may increase a person’s risk of certain health conditions, however. For example, carotenoid-deficient diets may contribute to the development of cancer and heart disease.