Lutein is a pigment that is made by plants and other microorganisms. Similar to lycopene, lutein has antioxidant activity and is classified as a nonprovitamin A carotenoid. This natural substance is also found in human fat cells, liver cells, and in the macula of the eye. It has been used in the prevention and treatment of cancer, heart disease, and macular degeneration. Macular degeneration is a chronic eye disease that occurs when the macula of the eye deteriorates. The macula is the portion of the eye that is responsible for central vision. Lutein provides protective effects on the macula and blood vessels in the eye. In one small study of individuals with macular degeneration, persons who took lutein (40mg per day) for 9 weeks showed significant improvement in their vision.
Lutein can be found in foods such as kale, spinach, winter squash, cruciferous vegetables, cabbage, green beans, yellow/orange fruits, mangoes, papayas, peaches, and oranges. No side effects or drug interactions with lutein have been reported.